The Nuremberg Meat Bridge – A Masterpiece of Engineering and Main Transport Connection to Boomtown Nuremberg since Early Modern Period
Where did the meat come from which was consumed in medieval Nuremberg? A little medal guides us to the Fleischerbrücke of Nuremberg, which each of the Hungarian cattle had to cross in order to reach the slaughterhouse.
Come along with us on our journey through the world of money. Today we are stopping in Nuremberg. We are in the years after 1612.
This is no coin, but a little silver medal which was struck in commemoration of a very special event. If you want to know where it was minted you have to look at the coat of arms.
At lower left you see one of the municipal coats of arms of Nuremberg: an eagle with a crowned human face. It used to be the head of an emperor, Nuremberg being a free imperial city under the emperor’s direct control. Over the course of decades, however, the head became increasingly female in appearance, and the eagle’s chest got female breasts. The citizens of Nuremberg tried to explain these female features by identifying their city which never had been taken by storm with an untouched virgin.
To the right, the lesser coat of arms of Nuremberg is depicted: a split shield with half of the imperial eagle on the one side and six diagonal bars on the other.
Obviously, the medal refers to Nuremberg. But when was it struck? To answer this, we need to look at the shield at the top.
It shows the imperial eagle with a small central shield pointing to the reigning emperor. It is Mathias of the House of Habsburg, who was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1612, and entered Nuremberg with pomp and circumstance on June 2 that year to be rendered homage. When entering the city, he crossed a bridge, the great pride of all citizens of Nuremberg back then. With one single arch, the bridge crosses the Pegnitz River. Its construction had been a master stroke. Despite its clear span of 27 meters, the bridge does not require a central pillar.
This technical marvel had cost 82,172 gulden, which was an enormous amount considering the fact that a servant earned an annual salary of about 7 gulden and Albrecht Dürer spent 570 gulden for his town house in Nuremberg.
This bridge is shown on our medal. The inscription states its year of completion: 1598.
Underneath the bridge, you see the Pegnitz River from which two men in a boat retrieve fish with a large net. On top of the bridge, a farmer goads horses, which pull a heavily loaded carriage. But what is this? Virtually in the center of the bridge we see an ox led by a farmer to a building. This ox points to the name of the bridge. Up to the present day, the citizens of Nuremberg call it the Meat Bridge.
It was given this name because it led directly to the slaughterhouse and the adjacent meat market. An ox was depicted above the gate to the slaughterhouse.
When this medal was struck, beef cattle were the most important source of meat for the urban population. 60 percent of the demand was met with beef. 20 percent was pork, 10 percent was the meat of goats and sheep, and wild game made the final 10 percent.
Back then, cattle were much smaller in size. Today, an animal needs less than a year to reach its optimum slaughter weight of 600 kilograms, whereas, around 1600, that weight ranged between 100 and 150 kilograms. However, back then every kilogram was used. Today roughly 50 percent of the animal are processed.
Nuremberg got its meat from the Hungarian lowlands from which almost 20,000 cattle embarked every year, only to end their lives on the slaughtering blocks in Northern Italy and in major cities in Southern Germany. As indicated by their long horns, both the cattle on the Meat Bridge and the ox above the Ox Gate belong to the Hungarian Grey Cattle breed. They all were goaded on across the Nuremberg Meat Bridge, to finally arrive at a small footbridge leading to the slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse was situated directly above the Pegnitz, which the butchers could dump their waste straight into.
Right next to it stood the co-called Meat House, a roofed meat market. At 73 tables, the butchers offered their products for sale. Every year in the middle of the fasting period, these tables were raffled off to the butchers.
Only butchers from Nuremberg were allowed to take part in the lottery. The butchers coming from outside the city walls had their own meat house roughly 300 meters away.
According to regulations from the 15th century, only the Meat House on the Meat Bridge was entitled to produce and sell the famous Nuremberg Bratwurst. Yet, the Bratwurst was (and still is) not made of beef but of pork.
The Meat Bridge became the main transport connection in boomtown Nuremberg. Thanks to its sound construction, it even survived the bombing of Nuremberg.
With good reason, the citizens of 16th century Nuremberg were proud of this masterpiece of engineering that was outclassed only by the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
Thank you for listening. And you can find more podcasts about coins and money on the Sunflower Foundation Web page.