Erfurt and Weimar by Train

Uncategorized | October 21, 2009

If you’ve never travelled by train in Germany, you should.  It’s the way train travel should be: fast, clean, quiet, comfortable, and as you would expect in Germany, efficient. 

We boarded the ICE train at Frankfurt airport, sadly not the one we had our seats reserved on as our luggage was so delayed coming off our flight we missed it.  A problem we wouldn’t have had had we taken the train from the UK, yet we simply didn’t have that amount of time at our leisure.  It’s a good job our tickets were still valid for the next train, and there were sufficient free seats for us not to worry.

As we raced through the Thuringian countryside I remember how nice I thought it was that we were provided with a leaflet providing information regarding the journey: journey times, arrival details, station plans and facilities.  Despite my lack of German it was still nice to know the precise time we were due to arrive in Erfurt, and the names of the smaller stations we would pass through on our way.

In just 1hr 30mins we pulled into Erfurt, and after a quick check in we were off to enjoy the wonderfully preserved medieval city, and its magnificent Gothic Cathedral.  It towers over the city, and really gives you an insight into the power it had hundreds of years ago, when it was the biggest Cathedral for over 200 miles around.  It truly is a sight to behold.

The whole area is rife with an amazingly rich history.  Erfurt was once one of the biggest trading stops in Europe, between the Holy Roman Empire and France and Spain to the West and still has the uniquely decorative trading houses. Whilst nearby Eisenach boasts the original fairytale castle of Wartburg, once the home of Martin Luther, and the childhood home of Johann Sebastian Bach where it is possible to catch a daily performance of Bach’s work on traditional instruments. (It may not sound that interesting, but even to such uneducated ears as my own it was quite impressive!)

After a good night’s rest we were off again, this time heading to a city which I am sure we are all familiar with from our memories of school.  As we sped past the unimposing yet poignant Buchenwald memorial, we arrive into Weimar, a city synonymous with positive German culture and history.

With no time to lose we checked into the 4* Dorint hotel, part of which is the old Russian Embassy, and then headed out to take in the sights from the comfort of a traditional horse and carriage, accompanied by a bottle of bubbly.  As we bumped our way through the cobbled streets I was overawed by the fantastic contrast of Weimar.  It not only boasts numerous fantastic examples of baroque architecture, but some wonderful  and large open spaces, luscious park areas and beautiful gardens.  Great for a gentle stroll in the evenings, taking in the peace and quiet and fresh air.  You understand why Weimar’s two universities are so recognised around the world, being surrounded by such inspiring spaces.

As we finished our champagne it was time to explore the city by foot. It is at this point I feel must give you a little piece of advice. If you are unsure of the works of either Goethe or Schiller, keep it under your hat.  These guys are (and rightly so I may add!) held in high esteem by the people of Weimar.  I am embarrassed to say I did voice my lack of knowledge in this area, (‘so apart from Faust…’ is not a good way to start a conversation here) which was met with the sharp question: ‘Pah!  Who is this Shakespeare!?!’

It is hard to escape these guys in Weimar, and rightly so, such is their importance in ‘Weimar Classicalism’ and world literature.  One must also never underestimate their importance in other fields also, they truly were thinkers ahead of their time and have had a profound effect on Western culture.  Both Goethe’s and Schiller’s old houses are now great museums, which are indubitably worth a visit as well as the library of Anna-Amalia, which thankfully survived a fire in 2004.  This library houses such an amazing collection of original works by Goethe and Schiller, first prints of manuscripts and maps from hundreds of years gone by that numbers of visitors are limited to under one hundred a day.

Sharing the same square as the National Theatre House, and a statue of both Goethe and Schiller is the original Bauhaus museum.  It is often overlooked that Weimar was the original home to the Bauhaus movement, and still boasts the Bauhaus University which of course is a gorgeous building itself, from the sharp lines of its exterior to the minor details of the light switches inside it is designed to perfection.  It’s well worth a visit if only to catch some of the ever changing displays or exhibitions by today’s students, carrying on the contemporary ideals of Bauhaus.

That evening we dined in the warm and intimate ‘Alt Weimar’, a sumptuous little restaurant which still echoes back to the days of Goethe.  A meal of the highest quality.

After a sound nights sleep, we sadly only a few hours more to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the main square and an early traditional sausage lunch, until our time was up and we were to leave.  Our ICE sped back to Frankfurt airport and I found it hard to take my mind off Weimar.  I can honestly say it was a place of which I had very little expectations before visiting, yet I had come away hoping that I hadn’t missed anything, and wanting to return to before the crowds find out!