Weimar

Weimar

Sitting prettily in the geographical center of Thuringia, Weimar occupies a place in German political and cultural history completely disproportionate to its size (population 63,000). It's not even particularly old by German standards, with a civic history that started as late as 1410. Yet by the early 19th century the city had become one of Europe's most important cultural centers, where poets Goethe and Schiller wrote, Johann Sebastian Bach played the organ for his Saxon patrons, Carl Maria von Weber composed some of his best music, and Franz Liszt was director of music, presenting the first performance of Lohengrin here. In 1919 Walter Gropius founded his Staatliches Bauhaus here, and behind the classical pillars of the National Theater the German National Assembly drew up the constitution of the Weimar Republic, the first German democracy. After the collapse of the Weimar government, Hitler chose the little city as the site for the first national congress of his Nazi party. On the outskirts of Weimar the Nazis built—or forced prisoners to build for them—the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp.

The Wittumspalais (Wittum Mansion) , is the surprisingly modest home of the widowed countess Anna Amalia. In the late 18th century the countess went talent hunting for cultural figures to decorate the glittering court her Saxon forebears had established. Goethe was one of her finds, and he served the countess as a counselor, advising her on financial matters and town design. Schiller followed, and he and Goethe became valued visitors to the countess's home. Within this exquisite baroque house you can see the drawing room in which she held soirées, complete with the original cherrywood table at which the company sat. The east wing of the house contains a small museum that's a fascinating memorial to those cultural gatherings.

A statue on Theaterplatz, in front of the National Theater, shows Goethe placing a paternal hand on the shoulder of the younger Schiller

Goethe spent 57 years in Weimar, 47 of them in a house two blocks south of Theaterplatz that has since become a shrine attracting millions of visitors. The Goethe Nationalmuseum (Goethe National Museum) consists of several houses, including the Goethehaus, where Goethe lived. It shows an exhibit about life in Weimar around 1750 and contains writings that illustrate not only the great man's literary might but also his interest in the sciences, particularly medicine, and his administrative skills (and frustrations) as minister of state and Weimar's exchequer. You'll see the desk at which Goethe stood to write (he liked to work standing up) and the modest bed in which he died. The rooms are dark and often cramped, but an almost palpable intellectual intensity seems to illuminate them.

The Schillerhaus, a green-shuttered residence and part of the Goethe National Museum, is on a tree-shaded square not far from Goethe's house. Schiller and his family spent a happy, all-too-brief three years here (he died here in 1805). Schiller's study is tucked underneath the mansard roof, a cozy room dominated by his desk, where he probably completed Wilhelm Tell. Much of the remaining furniture and the collection of books were added later, although they all date from around Schiller's time.

Goethe's beloved Gartenhaus (Garden House) is a modest country cottage where he spent many happy hours, wrote much poetry, and began his masterly classical drama Iphigenie. The house is set amid meadow like parkland on the bank of the River Ilm. Goethe is said to have felt very close to nature here, and you can soak up the same rural atmosphere on footpaths along the peaceful little river.

Goethe and Schiller are buried in the Historischer Friedhof (Historic Cemetery) , a leafy cemetery where virtually every gravestone commemorates a famous citizen of Weimar. Their tombs are in the vault of the classical-style chapel. The cemetery is a short walk past Goethehaus and Wieland Platz.

On the central town square, at the Herderkirche (two blocks east of Theaterplatz), you'll find the home of Lucas Cranach the Elder. Cranach lived here during his last years, 1552–53. Its wide, imposing facade is richly decorated and bears the coat of arms of the Cranach family. It now houses a modern art gallery. The Marktplatz's late-Gothic Herderkirche (Herder Church) has a large winged altar started by Lucas Cranach the Elder and finished by his son in 1555

Weimar's 16th-century Stadtschloss (City Castle) is around the corner from the Herderkirche. It has a finely restored classical staircase, a festival hall, and a falcon gallery. The tower on the southwest projection dates from the Middle Ages, but received its baroque overlay circa 1730. The Kunstsammlung (art collection) here includes several works by Cranach the Elder and many early-20th-century pieces by such artists as Böcklin, Liebermann, and Beckmann.

The city is proud of the Neues Museum Weimar (New Museum Weimar) , eastern Germany's first museum exclusively devoted to contemporary art. The building, dating from 1869, was carefully restored and converted to hold collections of American minimalist and conceptual art and works by German installation-artist Anselm Kiefer and American painter Keith Haring. In addition, it regularly presents international modern-art exhibitions. <

Walter Gropius founded the Staatliches Bauhaus, or Bauhaus design school in Weimar in 1919. It was Germany's most influential and avant-garde design school, and it ushered in the era of modern architecture and design just before the start of World War II. Although the school moved to Dessau in 1925, Weimar's Bauhaus Museum is a modest, yet superb collection of the works of Gropius, Johannes Itten, and Henry van de Velde.

Gedenkstätte Buchenwald. Just north of Weimar, amid the natural beauty of the Ettersberg hills that once served as Goethe's inspiration, sits the blight of Buchenwald, one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. Sixty-five thousand men, women, and children from 35 countries met their deaths here through forced labor, starvation, disease, and gruesome medical experiments. Each is commemorated by a small stone placed on the outlines of the barracks, which have long since disappeared from the site, and by a massive memorial tower. In an especially cruel twist of fate, many liberated inmates returned to the camp as political prisoners of the Soviet occupation; they are remembered in the exhibit Soviet Special Camp #2

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