Nuremberg, Dealing With an Uncomfortable Past

by Pia Parolin

Nuremberg and Nice have been twin cities for 65 years, even though the majority of citizens of either city probably ignore this fact. I have been living near Nice for 15 years now, and those to whom I spoke about my upcoming trip were rather surprised: “Really? Nuremberg? That’s the city where Hitler…” and that’s where their knowledge ended. In fact, Nuremberg was chosen by the horrible dictator as the city to represent the Nazi regime because of its central position.

What most people outside of Germany do not know is that Nuremberg is extremely committed to dealing with its past, and they have done a great job. It is a beautiful medieval city with the most openminded, friendly people you can think of. It has a large university and lots of students strolling by on their bikes in the green belts along the picturesque river in the city centre. It is part of Bavaria, so hanging around in the beer gardens is a must and a pleasure.

Nuremberg © Pia Parolin

The city has more than 500,000 inhabitants and is known for its culinary and cultural richness, for its beautifully rebuilt old town, and for important citizens like Albrecht Dürer and Maria Sibylla Merian.

Loads of international tourists find their way to the medieval castle on top of the hill. Everything is in walking distance and within the pedestrian zone, so it’s a really nice location for walking, taking photos, and meeting other people.

The city is colorful, vibrant, with a happy communicative atmosphere and consistently positive. Just like Nice, the formerly Italian Mediterranean sister city with its equally picturesque old town, flooded by tourists from all over the world, and the Promenade des Anglais which stretches along the blue Mediterranean, full of life and colours even after the devastating attack 3 years ago.

So both cities share a dramatic past, be it decades or just three years ago, and developed their strategies to recover a normal, positive outlook on life.

Nuremberg © Pia Parolin

In 2018 I was contacted by the French Cultural Institute and then by the International House of Nuremberg to make an exhibition of my series “Promenade Moments” in Nuremberg. I was immediately thrilled. As a native Italian with a German passport living in France, I feel deeply European. It is my intention to contribute to international understanding and to combat generalizations and ignorance. It is important to me to see our beautiful Europe united and open, tolerant and laughing instead of surrendering to populist thinking and building up walls and demarcations. This also came to my mind when I read the invitation. So I immediately agreed.

The series of photographs intended for the exhibition shows minimalist colourful pictures of the promenade, looking straight at the sea, with people passing by, often with intentionally inserted motion blur, full of colours and movement and life.

Pia Parolin, Promenade Moments

Things happen for an ephemeral moment and in the next second they are already presented differently. This is also the core of street photography, which I am discovering in recent years. After a life as a scientist, with a Ph.D in biology, lecturing at the University of Hamburg and making research in the Brazilian Amazon region, I now discover the world at my doorstep with my camera. And that’s just as exciting!

My vernissage at the International House in Nuremberg was a great success. The gallery is a bright large room with a view of half-timbered houses and the Pegnitz river, ideal conditions for an exhibition. My photos were printed on 35x35cm paper and framed for this exhibition. Previously I have had exhibitions with huge flashy photos printed one meter wide on shiny metal, without frames, and reflecting the light. But the gallery in Nuremberg opted instead for the small paper prints, and I was curious about what it would look like. I was amazed: even on paper, the colours look beautiful, calming and happy at the same time.

Nuremberg © Pia Parolin

A well-attended vernissage was organized by the International House. The visitors were thrilled, full of questions and admiration. A huge pleasure shared also by the Nuremberg Unposed Collective, a collective of street photographers, whose members came along. The photos will be on display until the end of July, then they will go to Bonn, to be exhibited at the French-German Institute where they will be visible until October.

On that evening in Nuremberg I made many new contacts, talking about the beautiful sea but also about terrorist attacks and dealing with the past. I find it very satisfying to see my photos displayed and admired in a beautiful setting. However, much more important and more satisfying to me is the intellectual exchange that accompanies this.

Nuremberg © Pia Parolin

That’s why I travel across Europe and the world, because I care about European countries getting to know each other. Neighbouring countries should not be stuck in prejudice. Existing long-term connections should revive and be fertile instead of slowly dying, like the twinning of these two cities.

I left with many ideas are buzzing in my mind: artist exchanges, mutual invitations to exhibitions, joint photo projects, barbecues with collectives getting to know each other, and photo walks in the two cities.

Nuremberg © Pia Parolin

Most of all, I wanted to get to know Nuremberg better, and used two free afternoons during my stay to explore the background of the Nazi regime and the workup done by the following generation. I went to the Documentation Center on the Reichstagsgelände with the huge Congress Hall, the enormous Aufmarschstraße and the endless Zeppelinfeld.

It took me several hours to circumnavigate the entire area in a walk of more than 10 km. While walking I realized even more what an absurd megalomania this reign of right-wing terror propagated.

After coping with the oppressive feeling of walking a lot, I found my own way of portraying and ridiculing this gigantic Nazi project. I do not mean to say that the fascist regime and its millions of murders are ridiculous. What looks like a funny colourful triviality in the photo, for me is the symbol of “Flamingos instead of cannons! Bright colours instead of hate slogans! ” – just my form of dealing with it.

Nuremberg © Pia Parolin

People in Nuremberg deal with it in a similar way. They installed this fun park all around the old Nazi buildings. The main building is larger than the Colosseum in Rome and represented the nucleus of the planned powerful empire. Today, the vast empty spaces are used for large folk festivals, beer parties and rock concerts.

The symbols left behind are integrated in modern educational museums. The Nuremberg trials were the beginning of international criminal law, still in the early stages of its development worldwide. Here, the first court cases were held with judges from different countries. The Nuremberg Trials produced the world’s first charges of crimes against humanity. I wish more countries on this planet would pursue genocides following the example set at Nuremberg.

It is a great way to raise awareness, intensively deal with all the details, but then return to a free and light-hearted life. Despite the bad things that happened in the past, we have the privilege of living in peaceful countries, leading lives without fear. I enjoy my life without being afraid of diversity. On the contrary, I am curious and open about everything different and new. This is why I deal with the Nazi past in Nuremberg and with the terror attack in Nice by taking colourful photos.

Nuremberg © Pia Parolin

Tired after walking all those kilometres in the summer sun, I found my way back to the city centre of Nuremberg. I discovered wonderful modern buildings near the train station, museums with reflective glass facades, plays of light and shadows, perfect for toying with my camera and getting inspired for street photography. Now I will travel back to the warm colourful Nice, full of new impressions, enriching encounters and creative ideas in my head.

I am looking forward to the next time I visit Nuremberg and will try my best to motivate people from abroad – and specifically from Nice – to discover Nuremberg. After all, 65 years of twinning correspond to two human generations and thus represent an incredible basis for reciprocal understanding and exchange.

Born and raised in Italy, Pia Parolin studied biology in Germany and in Brazilian Amazonia. A passionate tropical ecologist with PhD, she always carries her camera with her since the day her father gave her the first Minolta at the age of 9. Living on the French Riviera since 2005, she loves to capture light, colours and movements.

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