Weimar: a hidden corner of culture

By | Category: Travel destinations
the market square in Weimar

the market square in Weimar

Eastern Germany isn’t perhaps the first place that comes to mind when planning a weekend away. However, time flies, and this year is particularly special as it is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain.  You can enjoy the country without spending a fortune, and there is plenty to see, particularly if you are like me, a culture vulture. A bonus too is that Germania has recently started direct flights from London Gatwick into nearby Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia.

Weimar is a lovely little town, which has been a hotbed of culture since the eighteenth century. It is where Goethe, the German equivalent of England’s Shakespeare spent the majority of his life as did Friedrich von Schiller and the musician Franz Liszt. Johann Sebastian Bach spent nineteen years here, and visitors included the likes of church reformer, Martin Luther and novelist Hans Christian Andersen.

The old part of Weimar, which coincided with the peak of German national literature from 1775 to 1832, known as Classical Weimar, encompasses one of the largest UNESCO World Heritage sites in Germany. Homes, palaces, the park and the library as well as artifacts come under its protection.  In recent years the town has also had the accolade of being a Capital of Culture, and in honour the buildings have been spruced up. The streets are cobbled, with some pedestrianised, and virtually where-ever you are, there is something of interest to visit.

An historical but not so pleasant side is that Adolf Hitler set up the local Gestapo headquarters in the town. These buildings have since been demolished but a memorial denotes the site. The largest concentration camp in the German Reich, Buchenwald was located just ten kilometres from the town.  Although I didn’t visit, a memorial on the site includes three museums.

Bauhaus Museum

Bauhaus Museum

The market square has the town hall on one side and facing it, the tourist information centre. Here it is possible to hire an audio guide, well worth it, as with everything in walking distance, I was able make sure I didn’t miss anything. There is also a Weimar card, which enabled me to go into museums either for free or at a reduced rate. As the name of the square implies, market stalls are set up here particularly on the days towards the weekend. One stall not to miss is the one that sells Brutwurst sausages, a Thuringia delicacy. My sausage was cooked in front of me. It has to be at least 15 cm long, and is served in a bun, and is delicious with a dollop of mustard. It was on the menu in most of the restaurants I visited but, I was assured, the right way to eat it is as I did, in the square.

On the balcony of the Elephant Hotel overlooking the square is a statue of Henry van de Velde, a key figure in the early development of the Bauhaus movement.  In 2015 the statue will be replaced by one of Martin Luther as part of the commemoration festivities for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It is said that Hitler, who occupied rooms at the hotel, also addressed his followers from here.

Politically Weimar was also centre stage when in 1919 the first German Republic National Assembly was held here, and from where the expression the Weimar Republic comes. Sadly, the Republic only lasted into the ‘30s when the Nazi party won the election.

one of many statues in the Bauhaus

one of many statues in the Bauhaus

In the same year as the Republic was established, the Bauhaus movement was founded in the former School of Fine Arts. The building was designed by Henry van de Velde, and is now part of the Bauhaus University. A museum is dedicated to the movement, considered to be the most significant school of design in the 20th century, and related to the Arts & Crafts movement in the UK. With over 13,000 pieces including pictures, furniture, lighting, and crockery at present there is only one percent of the collection on display. There are plans, however, to move to a larger building. It was van de Velde who appointed Walter Gropius who realised the innovative ideas in relation to the structure of education, design and architecture. Gropius invited both Paul Klee who currently has an exhibition at London’s Tate Modern, and Wassily Kandinsky to teach at the school.

The town also boasts the first Lutheran church St Peter & Paul in Germany. A painting by Lucas Cranach of the crucifixion in which Luther is portrayed holding a bible takes pride of place on the alter.

In the eighteenth century, Duchess Anna Amalia, a great supporter of the arts, created the right environment for intellectuals. She had the Court library taken from the Castle to a more public building now known as the Herzogin Anna Amalia Library to make it easier for people to borrow the books. The library is worth visiting if just for the décor. A centre for research, it has over a million books, the oldest dating back to the ninth century.

Anna Amalia Library

Anna Amalia Library

Anna Amalia’s son, Duke Carl August carried on her good work. He invited Goethe to Weimar and made him Minister of State of the Dukedom of Saxon, Weimar and Eisenach. Goethe’s home for almost 50 years until his death in 1832 has been kept as it was, and forms part of the museum that covers his life. A section is devoted to versions of his most famous literary work, Faust. Goethe invited Friedrich von Schiller, the author of the play, William Tell to come and live in Weimar. His home too is now a museum. Bach was appointed court organist and concertmaster, and wrote three quarters of his organ compositions in the town. Years later Franz Liszt in his capacity as pianist, conductor, composer, teacher and music organiser helped put Weimar on the musical map.  His home too can be visited. As well as seeing how he lived, there is also an exhibition on his life and work as a composer, pianist, conductor and educator. The music school, which is sadly not open to the general public is, however, housed in a visually lovely building, and carries his name.

Shopping or at least window shopping always plays a part in any of my trips, and dispersed among the places to visit there are shops of every description. Notably high street brands are not allowed. If being outside is as important as soaking up the culture, a few minutes walk from the market square is a park with a river running through it.

after a busy time me - enjoying a bratwurst!

after a busy time me – enjoying a bratwurst!

Apart from it being a place to relax, in its grounds is a house that was occupied by Goethe when he first arrived in Weimar, and known as his summer residence.

Weimar has so much to see that sadly I didn’t have time to visit the castle, which houses the town’s art collection – a reason to return

 

 

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