We discuss the use of seeing-limited near-IR spectroscopic imaging combined with high resolution millimeter and submillimeter wave observations, as a diagnostic in the study of the nuclear interstellar medium in starburst galaxies and active galactic nuclei. As an example, recent near-IR spectroscopic imaging of the starburst galaxy NGC 253 is analyzed. It is shown that the central ~ 100 pc of NGC 253 contains a number of giant star forming complexes, the stellar content of which is at least as large as that of the 30 Dor region in the LMC. We suggest the use of the [FeII]/Brγ ratio as an approximate age indicator for such complexes. The warm component of the nuclear molecular medium in NGC 253 detected in submillimeter CO spectra and in near-IR rovibrational lines of H2 is probably heated by stellar UV radiation or slow shocks in star forming regions, rather than by supernova remnant shocks. There are indications that molecular material is being removed from the nuclear region by the “superwind” observed in optical emission lines.