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On the Thuringia tourist trail


By Ron Smith


The state of Thuringia is in the very heart of Germany. It is packed with forests, more than 450 castles and fortresses, 16,000 kilometres of marked hiking trails, 1700 kilometres of cycling trails, loads of breweries, and its speciality is a sausage about 35cm long!

With these credentials it is a great place to explore, and here are some of the delightful towns to see.

The magnificent town hall of Erfurt, with replacement statues for the originals stolen at the end of the war.
The magnificent town hall of Erfurt, with replacement statues for the originals stolen at the end of the war.

Erfurt

This is the capital. It is around 1260 years old so has loads of old buildings, including a medieval bridge, 125 metres long with 35 houses built on it, the longest in Europe that still has people living on it as well as shops.

Nearby is the Late Synagogue Museum, recalling the times of the Nazi era. There are two huge churches on a ridge dominating the market square. St Mary’s cathedral and St Severus church are angled slightly away from one another, leaving a massive triangular staircase to connect with the square below.

The magnificent town hall of Erfurt, with replacement statues for the originals stolen at the end of the war.
The magnificent town hall of Erfurt, with replacement statues for the originals stolen at the end of the war.

To the right is the squat large fortress, built to dominate the whole town. The Augustinian Monastery is also spectacular. More modern is the Ega Park, which has the largest flower bed with ornamental flowers in the whole of Europe. There are Bauhaus design buildings here, but to find out more about this go on to...

Weimar

This is the centre of culture, democracy, literature, and also where the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp is. After World War I, the great desire for change resulted in the first German democracy being started here. Also, the Bauhaus school of modernism (still modern today) created a way of thinking for artists, designers, architects and technicians to work together to create an all-embracing way of making things.

The Anna Amalia library in Weimar.
The Anna Amalia library in Weimar.

It all started here and there is much to see, including the brand new museum opening this year. Haus am Horn, the first house built to Bauhaus principles, is here, and homes of Goethe, Liszt, Schiller and many others are open for you to explore. There is also the Duchess Anna Amalia library with more than a million books. Each October they hold an onion fair, elect an onion queen, and eat loads of dishes all full of onions!

Eisenach

Towering over the town is Wartburg Castle (the most German of castles, it is said) where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. In the town there is the ancient Martin Luther house, and Bach’s house and museum.

JS Bach’s house in the centre of Eisenach.
JS Bach’s house in the centre of Eisenach.

It is a great town for inspiring musicians – Richard Wagner composed Tanhauser here. It has also produced cars for over 100 years, (Wartburg cars came from here amongst many others) and there is a museum of car manufacture. There is lots to see and many events held here throughout the year.

A well cared for Wartburg car in Muhlhausen.
A well cared for Wartburg car in Muhlhausen.

Meiningen

When you leave the railway station you immediately walk into the formal “Englisher Garten” with old ruins, trees, lawns, a lake with fountain and peace. This little town is a gem. It has a castle, which is a sprawl of a building, ornamental, not military at all. There is an important theatre with concerts, plays, opera, and performances throughout the year.

Just one of the many lovely old buildings in Meiningen.
Just one of the many lovely old buildings in Meiningen.

The town is also famous for the railway workshop here. German railways kept steam locomotives going longer than us, and so the workshop kept the skills to serve them. Today it has an order book as long as your arm, repairing and building steam locomotives for the world. It can be visited too.

Meiningen also claims to be the place where the Thuringian dumpling originated. These dumplings, in endless varieties, can be found on the menu everywhere.

Jena

This is “science city”. It is home to Germany’s optics industry, has the Abbe centre for Photonics, the Schiller University (dating from 1558), and the Karl Zeiss planetarium, the world’s oldest.

The first planetarium, in science city Jena.
The first planetarium, in science city Jena.

It also boasts the world’s second-oldest botanical garden. With such a concentration of skilled industry, Jena suffered pretty badly in World War II, but has rebuilt. Today it is a bustling city, with many students, a spectacles museum with more than 1000 pairs of glasses showing 700 years of development, a philharmonic orchestra, and the town museum explains the social revolution that started here in 1869 and continued to 1918.

Nordhausen

This is a bonny town with one main claim to fame (well, for me anyway!) – it is a terminus of the Hartz Bahn. This is a network of narrow gauge railways that run daily public services with steam locomotives as well as diesel railcars, serving all the area, and especially spiralling up the Brocken mountain.

Deep in the forest of the Brocken mountain, a diesel railcar arrives at Alexisbad on the metre gauge Hartz railway.
Deep in the forest of the Brocken mountain, a diesel railcar arrives at Alexisbad on the metre gauge Hartz railway.

The Brocken is forested, and beautiful at any time of year. Riding the small coaches with end balconies, listening to the large steam engines working hard up the hill is a wonderful experience, spell binding for children who have never experienced it before.

There are many more towns, too many to list here. Go to Thuringia and explore for yourself!

Getting there

I flew on the KLM from Aberdeen (the airline also flies here from Inverness) to Dresden, or you can go to Berlin. From either it is an hour and three quarters by train to Erfurt.

I used this as a base and travelled about by train, which is more frequent and much cheaper than in the UK.

For more information about the region, including the Thuringia Card which gives you free entry to hundreds of places, see www.visit-thuringia.com



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