Nuremberg, Germany – She’s old, but she’s aged with grace and beauty. Once revered by kings, she suffered a period of disgrace but has bounced back with courage. Atlanta, meet Nuremberg, your German sister.
Most Americans are unacquainted with the 1,000-year-old city’s charms. In the Middle Ages, it was an important inland trading hub, a portal for treasures coming from Asia‘s Silk Road through the ports of Venice and into the heart of northern Europe.
It was also preferred by rulers. In 1356, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV designated Nuremberg as the place where newly elected emperors would convene legislative councils. A restored version of the castle where Charles IV often stayed sits at the apex of Nuremberg’s old city. See photos on GlobalAtlanta’s Facebook page
Sadly, though, many in the U.S. know this charming city of cobblestones and turrets only for its place in a more infamous era: 1933-45.
Before World War II, Nuremberg was a jewel of Germany’s ruling Nazi Party. With a legacy as a center for German history and culture, Adolf Hitler chose the city to show his regime’s supposed continuity with rulers of old.
After his rise to power in 1933, Hitler began building a sprawling complex of extravagant structures that would host annual Nazi conventions and serve as eternal monuments to the party’s glory. His grandiose designs went unfulfilled, but crumbling structures remind Nuremberg’s citizens of a dark era their city is still trying to overcome.
Every two years, Nuremberg’s government invites writers from its 14 twin cities around the world to spend two weeks learning about the city. I represented Atlanta on this year’s program, which focused on the theme of remembrance.
Such a cataclysm is impossible to forget, said Leibl Rosenberg, who oversees the Jewish Community Library of the Nürnberg Stadtbibliothek, or city library.
A native of Nuremberg, Mr. Rosenberg spends his days with a unique collection of dusty books. The more than 8,000 tomes aren’t ancient, and they’re not composed by famous authors. Their intrigue is in the scandalous history that brought them together.
Many were stolen from Jewish families as German troops advanced throughout Europe. Soldiers sent the books back to Julius Streicher, a raving anti-Semite and close friend of Hitler who wielded heavy influence in his hometown of Nuremberg.
Streicher, who made a fortune publishing “Der Sturmer,” an anti-Semitic newspaper, had a large collection of Jewish cultural items, ironically because he wanted to wipe out the memory of the Jews, said Mr. Rosenberg.
Mr. Rosenberg is working to reunite the books with the descendants of their rightful owners. From an economic perspective, his work is “crazy,” he says, but it shows the type of city Nuremberg is trying to become.
“This town is very interested to be seen as an open-minded town, for everyone to discuss with us what has happened. It’s necessary to be honest in every way,” he said.
For Nuremberg, which bills itself as a progressive city, that can be difficult. In 1935, laws stripping loyal German Jews of their citizenship and abridging their rights based on ethnicity were codified in Nuremberg.
After their victory in the war, the Allied Forces held the first war crimes trials in a now-famous Nuremberg courtroom. See video of the courtroom
“Before, the German people wanted to hide away history, but at the same time, we knew that we are part of this history and this history is part of us,” Nuremberg Lord Mayor Ulrich Maly told me.
Building on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, Atlanta is also working to overcome a rocky, segregated past to become a beacon of civil rights. That shared interest has been a rallying point for the sister-city relationship, which was launched 12 years ago.
“Nuremberg and Atlanta are cities that have a lot in common and have similar goals: Atlanta is the city of civil rights and has an extraordinary commitment to diversity, to human rights and to civil rights,” said Christina Plewinksi, who handles the City of Nuremberg’s relationships with its English-speaking sister cities: Atlanta and Glasgow, Scotland.
“To the same extent Nuremberg has a very large commitment to human rights. Atlanta and Nuremberg are both very progressive and growing cities, committed to green space, committed to transportation.”
Still, look at the cities, and the reasons for their twinning aren’t obvious. Atlanta is less than 200 years old. It’s known for gleaming skyscrapers, the 1996 Olympic Games, Coca-Cola Co., “Gone With the Wind” and of course, congested highways.
Nuremberg has one skyscraper, aptly labeled the Business Tower. The city is better known for its medieval churches, huge Christmas market and thumb-length Nürnberger sausages that are protected by a European Union trademark.
But the cities’ similarities run deeper. Both have had to rebuild from wartime destruction. Atlanta was burned by Gen. William T. Sherman‘s army during the Civil War. Nearly a century later, at least 70 percent of Nuremberg’s old city was destroyed by Allied bombers.
Both cities have risen from the ashes to become important commercial centers in their respective regions.
Today, about half of Nuremberg’s economic output is in exports. In the post-World War II years, integrating with the global economy became a return to the city’s pre-modern roots, said Markus Loetzsch, CEO of the Nuremberg Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
More than four centuries ago, Nuremberg established a board of influential merchants whose power came from wealth gained in international trade.
The city became a “driving force” behind European integration, which was sparked by cross-border business, not political alliances, Mr. Loetzsch said.
“The old routes, the golden routes going through Prague and further on, those were the veins where the European spirit sort of pulsed,” he said.
Now the city is looking to emerging markets like Russia, China and the “home market” of the European Union in addition to traditional export markets like the U.S.
Still, the U.S. is the biggest investor in Nuremberg, and with the strong presence of German manufacturing companies in the Southeast, it’s natural to continue focusing on Atlanta, Mr. Loetzsch said.
“We’re promoting Atlanta and the southeastern part of the U.S. We did this and we keep on doing this,” he said, adding that the sectors with the best potential for further cooperation include renewable energy, manufacturing and services.
Already, many Nuremberg companies have set up shop in Atlanta. NürnbergMesse, one of the top 20 exhibition companies in the world, put its North American headquarters in Atlanta in 2008.
Other Nuremberg firms with U.S. operations in Atlanta include Baumüller Nuermont Corp., which makes and installs factory machinery; IK Hoffman USA Inc., a staffing firm, and Rödl & Partner USA, a consultancy with more than 100 employees in Atlanta.
For more information on Nuremberg and its international efforts, contact Christina Plewinski of the Nuremberg Department for International Relations at Christina.Plewinski@stadt.nuernberg.de.
To help promote the sister-city relationship, contact Shean Atkins, chair of the the Atlanta-Nuremberg Sister City Committee, at Shean.Atkins@atlantahousing.org.