Sitting at the southwest corner of the former East Germany, the state of Thuringia (Thüringen) was once the front line between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. With Germany's reunification has come many tourists seeking the grand capitals of Eastern German culture -- normally Dresden and Berlin. This is a very good thing, but it means that many of those flocking eastward are missing some of the East's great treasures along the way.
Erfurt, the largest city in Thuringia, is one of those places. Largely unscathed from World War II, loaded with beautiful buildings and sights, and filled with great restaurants and cafés, Erfurt is not to be missed. I spent a half-day there while coming back from another destination, and left wishing I had devoted a full weekend.
Erfurt's downtown largely follows along one major road running from the Hauptbahnhof (train station) in the southeast to the massive Zitadelle Petersburg in the west. Along the way, you will encounter three major market squares -- Anger Square (on Bahnhofstrasse), the Fischmarkt (along Marktstrasse), and the Domplatz. The city's vast transportation network is centered on Anger Square.
The Fischmarkt is shown in the first photo, dominated by the beautiful Rathaus but surrounded by beautiful and intricately decorated cafés and shops. This photo was taken around noontime, when it was chilly, but as the day progressed the weather warmed and there was not a seat to be had.
The Domplatz, shown in the next two photos, is the dominant feature of the city. The size of several stadiums, the Domplatz is big enough to host the thousands that come for the city's annual horticultural show, the Gartenbauaustellung. The two monuments in the third photo are a statue of Minerva and a simple romanesque Obelisk. Standing over the Domplatz are two large Roman Catholic Churches show in the second photo, the Mariendom on the left and the tri-spired Church of St. Severus on the right (Severikirche). It was somewhat surprising to find such dominant Catholic buildings in such a heavily Lutheran area.
The Zitadelle Petersburg sits on a large, wide hill off the north side of the Domplatz. The Zitadelle is a great place to view the Domplatz and the city. It is undergoing significant renovation, as is evidenced in the fourth photo by its beautifully reconstructed entrance. Meanwhile, many of the barracks buildings at the top show their long-standing neglect. The Zitadelle has its own museum and shops.
Churches (primarily Lutheran) and Renaissance architecture dominate the rest of the downtown. Erfurt has almost a dozen churches, most of them small, while a casual walk along the small side streets will take you among some beautifully restored houses -- some of which are Chalet-style like in the final photo, others have beautifully decorated concrete facades. Erfurt also has a large number of memorials (denkmals) scattered around the city.
Easily the most unique of Erfurt's attractions is the Krämerbrücke, shown in the final photo. The bridge plays host to two rows of buildings with a narrow cobblestone street running down the center. These buildings are mostly souvenir stands. It is reminiscent of the old days of London Bridge.
A couple other items worth looking for: the Neue Mühle (new watermill) also sits on the Gera River, and the main highway looping around the city is named after the famed Soviet cosmonaut -- Juri Gagarin. Yes, just a hint of that old Warsaw Pact influence remains.
Erfurt is a beautiful place, well worth a visit whether it be a destination unto itself or as a stopover on the way to Leipzig or Dresden. There's plenty to do, plenty to see, and plenty to eat and drink. Once you've been there, you will be amazed to see how far Erfurt has come along since the days of it being on the wrong side of the West-East German border.
Trip taken 21 April 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin