Erfurt – just waiting to be discovered

By | Category: Travel destinations
St Mary's Cathedral and the Church of St Severus by night

St Mary’s Cathedral and the Church of St Severus by night

2014 sees the celebration of 25 years of the reunification of the former East Germany and the Federal Republic. With the start of direct flights with Germania to Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia this is a good time to visit an area of Germany that was once behind the Iron Curtain. Two hours flying time from the UK, the destination is ideal for a short-break holiday with hotels and food comparatively inexpensive.

Erfurt still has the remains of the fort that in times gone by protected the city. This area has undergone extensive restoration, and today is one of the largest fort complexes in Europe with hundreds of passages that lead to arrow slits, listening posts, and supply stores.  Alongside it, St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Church of St. Severus dominate the skyline, and is where Martin Luther was first ordained. Every summer the Cathedral Steps running between the Cathedral and the Church are transformed into a festival stage.

the mosaic windows of St Mary's

the mosaic windows of St Mary’s

The Gothic cathedral with its towers dating back to the Roman period, and the largest freely swinging medieval bell in the world sits on a hill overlooking the City. The stained glass windows, some dating back to the late fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, are brightly coloured and sparkle, having recently been given a good cleaning. Next to the cathedral is the chapel where Martin Luther was ordained as a priest. Nearby the Augustinian Monastery where he lived before he was ordained, is now a guesthouse where visitors can stay for €52. History tells us that Luther came to study law at the city’s university. While he in Erfurt he was caught in a thunderstorm, and the lightening struck right next to him, but leaving him unharmed. He felt that he had been saved, and so became a monk in the church adjoining the monastery where he studied theology. In its cloister’s is an exhibition of his time in Erfurt charting his entry as a monk in 1505, to his ordination in 1507. In 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated with numerous exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, readings and other events throughout Thuringia. A Lutherian hiking trail will lead past venues associated with him.

the recently discovered synagogue

the recently discovered synagogue

Erfurt has for a long time had religious connections. A synagogue dating back to the fourteenth century was only recently discovered hidden behind a wall. The three storey building which was until recently used as a restaurant and dance hall is undamaged. Restored by the local authorities, it is said to be the oldest fully intact synagogue in Europe. In 2009, the building was opened as a museum commemorating the culture and history of the city’s Jewish community during the Middle Ages. On display, in addition to old manuscripts, is a treasure trove of silver and jewellery, which was also discovered in the area, and thought to have been hidden during the pogroms of 1349.  Items include over three thousand silver coins and bars, more than 700 items of Gothic goldsmiths’ work as well as exquisite pieces of jewellery. The highlight is a decorative early 14th century Jewish wedding ring made in pure gold, which was then an essential part of the Jewish marriage ceremony. Although the museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, (including Saturday), it is worth checking out the city-run guided tour on Jewish History as some of the places can only be visited as part of a group.

The old part of the city has largely retained its medieval appearance, Near the Fish Market, the centre of the city where the town hall is located, there are still some ornately decorated mansions that belonged to the rich woad traders that date back to the Renaissance period.

a merchant's house near the fish market

a merchant’s house near the fish market

While the buildings have retained their decorative appearance from the outside, the interiors are now shops, art galleries and restaurants.

Near to the tourist office in the centre of the old town, a ‘must see’ is the Merchants’ Bridge, which is lined with shops, with living quarters above. It is said to be the longest row of inhabited buildings on an European bridge. Check out the Goldhelm Schokoldade shop for their handmade chocolates. Worth investigating too is the coffee shop at the end of the bridge for their delicious cakes, particularly the cheese cake! The Gera River is not seen when walking along the bridge. However, when I got to the end I was able to see the bridge from the exterior, as there is a little park area behind with places to sit down. On the opposite side of the river a medieval mikveh, the ritual bath where Jewish women come to clean themselves, has also recently been discovered.

Although not obvious when in the old town, but easily accessed via a winding street is an area with lots of modern shops. Many of the well-known high street names are represented alongside those of local origin.

Erfurt also has one of the largest flower and horticultural parks in Germany. As well as one of the largest planted flowerbeds in Europe, there is also a butterfly house, greenhouses containing tropical plants and cacti, and a Japanese rock and water garden. Youngsters are catered for with a playground and children’s farm.

the Merchants' Bridge

the Merchants’ Bridge

Food specialities of the region are not for anyone worried about their weight. Dumplings, which are supposed to be made from a minimum of two-thirds grated potato, but to me tasted very doughy, are one of the specialities. However, Thuringian sausages, cooked on charcoal, which are long,  and traditionally served sticking out on either side of a roll, are more to my taste. Apparently, the recipe is legally protected throughout Europe!

A tram goes through the city. Worth checking out is the Erfurt card which gives unlimited travel on routes in zone 10; admission to the municipal museums, and a guided walking tour of the historical city plus reductions on specific guided tours.

For more information about Erfurt, click here.


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