Erfurt

The city of Erfurt emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, with most of its innumerable towers intact. Of all the cities in the region, Erfurt is the most evocative of its prewar self. The city's highly decorative and colorful facades are easy to admire on a walking tour. Downtown Erfurt is a photographer's delight, with narrow, busy, ancient streets dominated by a magnificent 14th-century Gothic cathedral, the Mariendom.

The young Martin Luther studied the liberal arts as well as law and theology at Erfurt University from 1501 to 1505. After a personal revelation, Luther asked to become a monk in the St. Augustin Kloster (St. Augustine Monastery) on July 17, 1505. He became an ordained priest here in 1507, and remained at the Kloster until 1511. Today the Kloster is a seminary and retreat hotel.

The Domplatz (Cathedral Square) is bordered by houses dating from the 16th century.

The pedestrian-zone Anger is also lined with restored Renaissance houses. The Bartholomäusturm (Bartholomew Tower), the base of a 12th-century tower, holds a 60-bell carillon.

The Mariendom (St. Mary's Cathedral) is reached by way of a broad staircase from the expansive Cathedral Square. Its Romanesque origins (foundations can be seen in the crypt) are best preserved in the choir's glorious stained-glass windows and beautifully carved stalls. The cathedral's biggest bell, the Gloriosa, is the largest free-swinging bell in the world. Cast in 1497, it took three years to install in the tallest of the three sharply pointed towers, painstakingly lifted inch by inch with wooden wedges. No chances are taken with this 2-ton treasure; its deep boom resonates only on special occasions, such as Christmas and New Year's.

The Gothic church of St. Severus has an extraordinary font, a masterpiece of intricately carved sandstone that reaches practically to the ceiling. It's linked to the cathedral by a 70-step open staircase

the Krämerbrücke (Merchant's Bridge). This Renaissance bridge, similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, is the longest of its kind in Europe and the only one north of the Alps. Built in 1325 and restored in 1967–73, the bridge served for centuries as an important trading center. Today antiques shops fill the majority of the timber-frame houses built into the bridge, some dating from the 16th century. The bridge comes alive on the third weekend of June for the Krämerbrückenfest.

The area around the bridge, crisscrossed with old streets lined with picturesque and often crumbling homes, is known as Klein Venedig (Little Venice) because of the recurrent flooding it endures.

Erfurt's main transportation hub and pedestrian zone, the Anger, developed as a result of urban expansion due to the growth of the railroad in Thuringia in the early 19th century. With some exceptions, the houses are all architecturally historicized, making them look much older than they really are. Look for the Hauptpostgebäude, which was erected in 1892 in a mock Gothic style.

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