Underground walkways and tunnels really fascinate me. They often tell so many stories about life. That’s why I knew I had to go on a tour called „Historische Felsengänge“ (historical rock-cut-cellars of Nürnberg).
Tickets can be picked up in advance in the online shop – we toyed with the idea but rather wanted to stay flexible with our planning. It was a good call. Purchasing the tickets on site saves the online fee and especially on weekends, there are tours pretty much back to back.
The start is at Brauereiladen Altstadthof (brewery shop old town courtyard). The guide picks up his group and leads them to the entrance of the rock-cut-cellars. Behind the Albrecht Dürer sculpture is a staircase that leads to the Nürnberg underground. This is where the tour starts to become very informative as it not only covers how the tunnels were created and used during the war but also covers topics like beer, beer brewing and beer storage.
Rock-cut-cellars Nürnberg (Felsengänge Nürnberg)
The tunnels form a system of passages and cellars that were cut into the rock starting in 1380. Their main uses were beer storage and sourcing water but they were also used to defend the castle (casemate).
The cellars first appeared in documents in 1380. The Nürnberg municipality decided that everyone who brewed beer had to have their own cellar. At this time, there were about 42 breweries in the city and they just about managed to cover the demand for beer in the area. Now all of these breweries dug into the sandstone underneath their houses to create the mandatory cellar. The more the breweries produced, the bigger the cellar had to be. At first, they dug four storeys deep into the ground and later expanded horizontally underneath the neighbouring property. This is how a cellar labyrinth of 25000m² grew underneath the city of Nürnberg.
It was very interesting to see what details the builders kept in mind when constructing the cellars. To keep the beer cool, ice was needed in the cellars. Cooling domes were carved into the rock, spanning multiple storeys, to get the ice into the cellars. Ventilation was also a topic that had to be dealt with. These vents still carry the fresh air from the outside down even today.
The use of the underground tunnels
On our tour, we learned a lot about how the tunnels were used. The tour focused mainly on the use for brewing so I, too, will focus on that.
As cooling machines gained more and more popularity for brewers the cellars were no longer of interest to them. In 1912 a company named Harrer started using the tunnels to store pickles. The gherkins were transported down through a system of pipes and were processed in the cellars. Today, one single, lonely gherkin barrel is a reminder of that period.
In 1940 the cellars were converted into air raid bunkers. Single cellars were connected to the system and emergency exits for the people were added. Visitors walk through one of these connecting tunnels as part of the tour. It is narrow and not particularly high. I was relieved when I came out the other end where a much bigger room was waiting. Estimates say that in the nights where Nürnberg was almost fully destroyed about 35000 to 40000 people sought shelter in the tunnels. It is because of this system of tunnels that many people of Nürnberg survived these night.
Museums and churches had brought artefacts down here, too, to protect them from destruction. But also looted art was stored down there. In these art bunkers, conditions were created that made it possible to store the art for prolonged periods of time. This area can be visited as part of another tour which we have already bookmarked for our next trip to Nürnberg.
After World War II hundreds of homeless people of Nürnberg lived underground. But the tunnels suffered heavy damage. The much-needed ventilation was down to a bare minimum and the seeping water in the sandstone couldn’t dry down. The rock became brittle and as first effects became visible on the buildings above them in 1963 additional safety measures had to be taken and reinforcement applied to the tunnels.
The finale of the tour
The tour ends in the courtyard of the brewery. We had a quick glimpse into the brewery rooms and the whiskey storage. The end of the tour was marked by a sip of beer that we got in exchange for our vouchers. I went with red beer – very tasty!
Is the tour worthwhile? Yes!
We had a bit of background knowledge around beer from other tours like that (Mälzerei Berlin). But the information from the tour was still useful and we learned a lot about the history of Nürnberg.
Monday to Thursday and Sunday: 10.30 – 17.00
Friday, Saturday: 10.30 – 18.30
Multiple tours daily, starting at 11.00. Hourly on weekends!
Discounted prices available