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Nürnberg: Destruction in World War II

Nürnberg, Germany

Nazis, anticipating Allied bombing, converted an underground network of beer cellars and tunnels into air-raid shelters not only to shelter people but to protect treasures they’d hidden — from stained-glass church windows to art the Nazis had looted.

Complete Video Script

While this church, along with the rest of the city was heavily bombed in World War II, much of its art survived, thanks to heroic and creative efforts by its citizens.

One part of Nürnberg that avoided bomb damage was underground — its vast and long-established network of waterways, tunnels, and beer cellars. They were outfitted as air-raid shelters. During bombing raids tens of thousands of locals took refuge down here. It’s also where countless art treasures — both local and looted — were safely hidden away.

To learn more about this — and not get forever lost down here — we’re joined by my friend and fellow tour guide Thomas Schmechtig.

Thomas: So, Nürnberg was bombed quite late in the war, and we saw what happened to other cities, so we actually prepared for the war, and reconverted these old beer cellars into air-raid shelters. That, for example, [is] where guards used to be who protected the artworks, which were stored in here during the second world war.

The Nazis hid crates of great art in many different rooms in this sprawling underground network.

Thomas: This is one of the many rooms down here which were filled up with art. Nürnberg was back then nicknamed the “treasure chest of the German Empire.” Plus, the Nazis looted lots of artworks.
Rick: From countries that they’d conquered, and they brought it here?
Thomas: Correct. For example, right in this room, they had the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor.
Rick: So, right here in these cellars were some of the great treasures of European culture.
Thomas: Correct. We didn’t just stash the art treasures down here — they were carefully packed. For example, here Rick, you see the wonderful stained-glass windows from our St. Lawrence Church. They were taken out pane by pane, and then put into those wooden crates.

The humidity was very dangerous for the artworks, so they air conditioned the whole place in here.
Rick: So, this huge duct was made in anticipation of the war?
Thomas: Yes, and already in 1939, before the war broke out.

The bombing, of course, eventually came. And this surviving underground network became the foundation for rebuilding the city.

Thomas: So, it did make sense to rebuild the city on its original footprints. We have miles of underground, which survived the war. They date back to the Middle Ages — that, for example is an old water-conduit system.