Weimar is one of the former East Germany's greatest treasures now available to the public. Like its fellow Thuringian cities Eisenach and Erfurt, Weimar has lots of great architecture, wonderful shopping, and many museums and activities. Also like those cities, Weimar is being rediscovered by large throngs of German tourists, as well as foreigners. It's proximity to cities in the former West make it very accessible, and I strongly recommend it to those looking for a great historical excursion.
I wanted to go there because this 'little' town in central Germany has a history that greatly exceeds its size. Certainly, most Americans are familiar with several of the major events in Germany during the first half of the 20th Century -- from World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, to Adolf Hitler and his defeat in World War II. But sandwiched in between is a lesser-known but extremely important event, the establishment of Germany's first democracy in 1919 in the town of Weimar. It was the failure of this democracy, called the Weimar Republic, that helped fuel Hitler's rise to power.
But Weimar's history goes much further back as a center of great culture. The prominent German writers Goethe and Schiller are buried in Weimar's Historical Cemetary, shown later in this travelogue. The great composer Franz Liszt lived here for 13 years, Johann-Sebastian Bach for nine. Monuments to these are other famed intellectuals are scattered throughout the town.
But as I alluded to earlier, Weimar is a 'little' town, a pleasant community residing along the Ilm River. I was quite surprised at how small and compact it is, the pedestrian zone was only a couple blocks long -- the bus parking lot was bigger than the marketsquare (first photo)!
Indeed, on a day that was rather brisk, overcast, and cold, Weimar was descended upon by busloads of German tourists. I can honestly say that this was the second city I've visited in Germany where the tourists were all indigenous (Schwerin was the first, another former East German city). Trailing a couple of the tour groups, I noted the fascination with the homes of Weimar's famous residents. Frankly, I was more fascinated by the bigger, jaw-dropping architecture like the town hall.
Restoration work is not quite as advanced in Weimar than it is in nearby Erfurt, but that should not be surprising as Erfurt is Thuringia's capital. On the other hand, I sorta liked some of the attractions that were still uncleaned -- like the Weimar Town Palace, second photo. While the main palace building (at right) is undergoing a full renovation, the tower and gate house (at left) are untouched and therefore rather interesting structures. Tours inside the Palace are available (but not cheap), and the interior decor is fabulous.
There are multiple palaces in Weimar, by the way, that have been given rather unimpressive names -- the Yellow Palace, the Red Palace, and so on. The names were a little misleading, these palaces were simply large houses. But they were still worth looking at, such as the entrance gate to the Red Palace, shown below. The whole exterior was undergoing renovation, but they made sure they cleaned up the portal first. Smart move.
Monuments to Weimar's famous residents are everywhere. Goethe Square is located at the entrance to the pedestrian zone toward the train station, and it hosts the German National Theater -- in front of which is a large sculpture of Goethe and Schiller standing side-by-side. Smaller monuments to Bach, Liszt, and other lesser-known poets are scattered about, either in the city, or in the large Park an der Ilm, the large park running the length of Weimar along the Ilm River. A more recent, and more interesting, monument is of Thomas Mann -- his statue is painted bright yellow and placed on a balcony of a house on the Marketsquare. I wasn't sure if that was a publicity stunt or if that was a sanctioned monument, but the tour groups were being told about it so it obviously had meaning.
The outskirts of Weimar have a lot to offer, as well -- two castles and the aforementioned Historical Cemetary. I only had time for the latter of these, shown in the fourth photo. This photo shows two adjacent structures, a Russian Orthodox chapel at left, and the Crypt at right. The Crypt can be visited for only a couple Euro, but I found myself satisfied just visiting the monuments around the cemetary itself.
Other places worth visiting include the Platz der Demokratie (Democratic Square), which hosts the city library and several impressive residences, the Roman House inside the Park an der Ilm, and the Schillerstrasse (final photo) that connects Goetheplatz with the heart of downtown. Schillerstrasse is where most of the shopping lies, but it is also home to a few 'tourist traps' that I suggest avoiding. Weimar already has so many interesting places to go and museums that visiting these traps are unnecessary. Nearly every renowned residence has been converted into a museum, after all. There was no shortage of tourist attractions.
Once I was done touring, it wasn't had to figure out what to do next -- eat! And as Weimar is in the center of Thuringia, there was no better option that to down a real Thuringian bratwurst! Yes, bratwurst stands were everywhere, but these were broiled on an open flame so they were much less greasy that I've normally encountered.
Weimar fascinated me from start to finish, and I highly recommend a visit, especially if you are interested in the classic German thinkers.
Trip taken 26 October 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin