From Bach to Barracudas

By | Category: Travel destinations
an elephant automaton in the Markt outside the Elephant Hotel. Where else? Notice the cobbles.

an elephant automaton in the Markt outside the Elephant Hotel. Where else? Notice the cobbles.

The old town part of the German city of Weimar certainly tests your feet. A lot of it is cobbled; street, pavement and square alike and after a couple of hours walking around I felt it!

My first tip, then, is to wear comfortable shoes.

And with that rider out of the way, the other thing to be said is that you should thoroughly enjoy the place, just don’t think this is a city for a day visit. There is a lot to be seen and do. Come lunchtime for example, and the smell of grilled sausages – rostbratwurst  – seems to be everywhere. They make good sausages in Thuringia – the state that Weimar is in – so much so that they have name protection so when the aroma first wafts by, dismiss it and keep on sightseeing. If you don’t, you’ll start lunch at about eleven o’clock in the morning.

Natasha wrote a story for Just about Travel about Weimar just over a year ago so I’ll add rather than repeat.

lots of famous men lived in weimar - but not Shakespeare despite the name of this resturant/bar. Still it does have Thuringian bratwurst

lots of famous men lived in weimar – but not Shakespeare despite the name of this resturant/bar. Still it does have Thuringian bratwurst

Weimar owes its fame to history. For many it is the republic named after that city that grew up after WWI but which lasted only a fleeting moment. To others it is the fact that it was here that Walter Gropius established the “Bauhaus” movement of architecture after the same war.  For others it is the link with Goethe who is buried in the Poseckscher Garten cemetery or Martin Luther who studied at the monastery here and whose wooden torso adorns many a street seat reminding people that the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is getting close. The composers, Liszt and Bach lived here as did the philosopher Nietzsche and the poet, Schiller.

Where do you start? Despite what I said about the cobbles, walking in the old town is the only way of seeing much of what there is. It is a compact area and the Markt, the centre of the old town is where you should begin. Most days you’ll find a market selling fruit, flowers, plants and other items. In the month before Christmas, this is where you will find the main Christmas market.

In a pretty green edged building in the corner you’ll find the tourist office, as good as place as any to begin your tour and decide what you’ll want to see. As Natasha wrote, there is a lot to see.  I saw just the Schiller Museum and the Weimar City Castle and Gardens, walked along the river bank and visited the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliotek. That occupied me for six hours and I didn’t even stop for a Thuringian sausage loike Natasha did! It is necessary to plan or you’ll miss too much.

In the Markt there is also the Elephant Hotel, a favourite for many people in the past including Adolf Hitler. But that was the old hotel. It was gutted in the thirties and a new hotel arose. But the list of people who stayed here is seemingly never-ending; Tolstoy, Mendelsohn, Goethe, Wagner, Al Murray (the pub landlord) and Hans Christian Andersen to name a few. Wander up to the first floor and there is a timeline from the time the building became an inn in 1696 through the republic and the Nazi days to when the regional government met here in 1946; from when Russia insisted that only Russians stay there to 1955 when Thomas Mann – who had written a novel based in the hotel – returned for the anniversary of Goethe and it became a hotel where anyone could stay. On the balcony outside today is a bronze of Martin Luther and even he was connected to the site before it became an inn!

The Markt also houses the town hall, the Theatre im Gewolbe and a building connected to Duchess Anna Amalia which has an ornate entrance. At the opposite end of the square is the Gingko Museum When sightseeing begins to become tiring, there are street cafes serving coffee, a range of beers and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Thuringian sausages traditionally served in a roll like hot dogs.  And you’ve still not left the Markt!

the Schiller Museum. His house is on the right behind this modern addition

the Schiller Museum. His house is on the right behind this modern addition

Head out of the square at the north end and within a few footsteps, you’ll arrive at the Schiller Museum which has been added on to his former home. At present, there is an exhibition of the works of Lucas Cranach, the painter who decamped to Weimar with his patron when he was eighty and died here a year later. His house was in the Markt, that square that seems to represent so much about the heritage of Weimar.

A bit further on and there is the Wittumspalais, the home of Duchess Anna Amalia. This little-known (to Brits at least) patron of the arts did so much to attracts poets, writers and others involved in the arts to the city that the stature of Weimar rose and rose.  Although her library  which is in a separate building – which Natasha visited – was damaged in a fire a few years ago, much was saved and the façade is intact.

The Theatreplatz is not much further than a hundred metres away and it is dominated by two buildings and a statue of Goethe and Schiller. The theatre is on one side and the Bauhaus Museum, the other. Incidentally, there are statues dotted throughout Weimar some turning up in the most unlikely places. I saw one in a community garden and another of what appears to be a man bathing in a square by a café. This figure was in three parts as though the water had submerged the rest of the body. But why were his features African or Pacific Island looking? There was no plaque to tell me who created it or why it looked this way. But finding these pieces of public art does mean that you are never far away for something to see.

having a bath in the square? One of many public sculpture examples

having a bath in the square? One of many public sculpture examples

The Bauhaus has many works by not only Gropius but other members of the movement. But why settle to see plans and drawings drawing when you can see them yourself. Weimar has plenty of Bauhaus buildings for you to see. In many ways the city is lucky. The Nazis didn’t demolish a lot of the buildings or art like they did elsewhere and the allies didn’t bomb it extensively either. The story is that because the American troops arrived early in 1945, the city was saved from the level of bobbing that was to later to fall on Dresden. It means the city is largely intact and has buildings dating back 500 and 600 years.

One building that doesn’t go back that far is the city castle and museum. Although it originated much earlier, it was badly damaged in a fire of 1744 so much of what you see is the eighteenth century reconstruction. Many of the Lucas Cranach paintings that were in the castle were destroyed and others were acquired by the ducal family. Cranach the elder, was the court painter but some of his works are certainly not flattering, one man looking as though his had was a balloon with hair attached! In Henry VIII’s time in England he might have gone to the block. But then you see the painting of Sibylle von Cleve and the intricate way that he has painted the texture of her hair and the coy look as, chin down, she glances upward and you realise that here was a significant painter. The exhibition runs only until June but the Cranach festivities are being held in other parts of Germany as well.

two lions with big smirks on the faces - quite the happiest lions I've seen - guard the entrance to the castle museum.

two lions with big smirks on the faces – quite the happiest stone  lions I’ve seen – guard the entrance to the castle museum.

Bach‘s influence on Thuringia is hard to underestimate and there are festivals running almost every month from March until October reminding us of his music. He was in Weimar from 1708 until 1717  The Bachbiennale in Weimar takes place in July.  Liszt, a supporter of Wagner (another visitor to Weimar) lived in Weimar each summer for nineteen years and his summer house is open to visitors just as is Goethe’s  (who only lived here for fifty years) so with so much to potentially see, is this going to make a hole in your spending money?  The most expensive to visit is the Goethe National Museum which is combined with his residence. That will set you back €12 whilst the Schiller and the castle cost €7.50. Most other places are €3 or €4.

You can see quite a bit for nothing. There are some alleys with overhanging buildings in the old town and the architecture, whilst typically German in many ways, is clean, well-maintained and very photogenic. Between the museums and the squares, the homes of the rich and the famous and the cobbled squares, there are any number of shops but most locals use the cafes and go shopping up at the Weimar Atrium where you’ll not only find supermarkets but fashion and shoe shops as well.

Bach was one of the many musical influences on Weimar

Bach was one of the many musical influences on Weimar

For those of us in the UK and Ireland, getting to Weimar has probably been why not that many visit the city. There is a service on Germania from Gatwick to Erfurt which is about twenty miles away and a Ryanair service to Leipzig which is about 70 minutes away by train. It might be easier to fly into Dusseldorf, Frankfurt (not the Ryanair one) or Berlin and take the train service which is quite inexpensive compared to our train costs.

I forgot to mention one other annual event which might prompt you to visit the city. Every October on the second weekend and stretching back for over 360 years, they hold an onion fair – zwiebelmarkt.  Onion soup, onion cake, (yes, I tried one so I know that they are real) onions with sausages and onions with just about anything area available over this three day binge. There is even a onion queen – (no jokes about whether she cries the whole time please)  and jugglers who juggle with… You can guess the rest. There are sorcerers and puppets, music and decorations called onion tails. But if you fancy going to this family fun weekend, book early. It is so popular that tens of thousands of people come to the city.

...but then so are the Barracudas. The musical heritage lives on!

…but then so are the Barracudas. The musical heritage lives on!

If nothing else, the zwiebelmarkt demonstrates that Weimar is not just full of a cultural and historic heritage. And that is maintained. I saw two Irish bars and near one, I could enjoy “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble Weimar” with the Barracudas and the Rosis Rockets. That’s a far cry from Liszt and Bach but the cultural tradition continues.

For more information about Weimar, click here.  

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