Cultural discoveries in Thüringia and Saxon-Anhalt

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June 21st 2018
Published: June 22nd 2018
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Some people prefer the Bratwurst. Others like the wines of the valleys around the Unstrut and Saale rivers. And there are people who are interested in celebrities like Goethe, Schiller, Bach, Mendelssohn and Luther. We come for all three of them. One problem: we had just one week. That is far too little for such an overpowering supply of culture. So we had to make a selection.

Eisenach sits at the western edge of Thüringia. It's a little village where Maarten Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach once lived. We took our old bikes and drove to the sacred spots of the past, shaking and trembling over the cobblestoned roads. At least you have to suffer a little as a pilgrim.

In the Georgenkirche at the Marktplatz Luther used to preach. It's a simple church not far from the Luther house, the house where Luther spent his schooldays. No ornaments like in the catholic. churches. Almost 200 years later Bach would be christened at the very same church. Exactly on March 23th 1685. You can still see the baptismal font.

Bach was born in Eisenach. We visited the Bach house at Frauenplan 21. The museum consists of the
Georgenkirche, EisenachGeorgenkirche, EisenachGeorgenkirche, Eisenach

Maarten Luther prayed here.
original house and a modern part. There is a nice collection of music instruments which were used at the time. During a little concert some baroque keyboard instruments came to life, like two chamber organs, a clavichord, a spinet and a harpsichord. Someone from the public had to help the organ player to produce wind by treading the bellow.

It's a short drive from Eisenach to Erfurt. Erfurt is far bigger than Eisenach. It's the capital of Thüringia. In Eisenach we focused on Bach, now we have Luther in mind.

Our tour starts with the Erfurter Dom, which dominates the center of the city. The lower parts are clearly Romanesque. These are older than the upper parts which are Gothic. In this cathedral Luther was ordained as a priest. That was at April 1507. Inside you can still see the medieval stained glass windows. Luther must have seen them with his own eyes. They are almost 19 meters high. During WW II they were stored in the crypt. Under the windows are the choir stalls made of dark oak with representations of the Old and New Testament. One sculpture represents the victory of Christianity over Judaism, which
Georgenkirche, EisenachGeorgenkirche, EisenachGeorgenkirche, Eisenach

Johann Sebastian Bach was christened here. You can still see the baptismal font.
refers probably to the pogrom against the Jews in 1349/1350. Other original objects are the Wolfram candelabra and a stucco altar representing the Madonna. The first is made of bronze and the oldest free standing cast work of Germany. The latter looks like Etruscan work with Bethlehem as background.

In the Old Synagogue we learn more about the pogrom against the Jews in 1349. The synagogue was converted in a warehouse at the time and mainly used for pleasure.The original appearance has been changed completely since then. However it's the best preserved medieval synagogue of Europe. Nearby is a Mikveh, a bath where the Jews used to immerse themselves to achieve ritual purity. You can find it near the Krämerbrücke, the bridge over the Gera river with houses and touristic shops on top.

More about Luther we find at the Town Hall at the Fischmarkt. Here in a series of paintings the life of Luther is depicted. It has a hall with paintings on the wall and the ceiling, representing the history of Thüringia.

We bike over the Krämerbrücke to the Augustinerstrasse. At number 10 is the Augustine's monastery, where Luther was ordained as a Augustine monk. He lived there from 1505 until 1511. After the reformation the church of the monastery was used by the Lutheran congregation of Erfurt. At 2 May 1507 Luther read here his first mass. There is a little shop where you can buy books not only about Luther but also about Meister Eckhart, the theologian, philosopher and mystic and more.

A remarkable concentration of German intellect has chosen Weimar as a residence: Bach, Liszt, Richard Strauss, Wagner, Berlioz, Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Luther, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Steiner, Feyerabend, Gropius, Kandinsky, Klee and also Marlene Dietrich and Nina Hagen. Who didn't live here? In every corner of this little village you can smell culture. It's called the focal point of German Enlightenment and home of the Weimar classicism, a synthesis of romanticism, classicism and enlightenment. Of all these celebrities we singled out just one: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, statesman, scientist and above all writer.

We visit the the Goethe-Nationalmuseum at Frauenplan 1. It's one of the houses he used to live in. We learn how he became fascinated by the Roman culture while he was travelling across Italy. You can still see the sculptures he collected. But art wasn't the only thing he collected. He was fascinated by art forms in nature as well. As a scientist he collected minerals and shells. And from this he developed his scientific ideas, rather based on intuition than on measurements. That is why he had a view on colors which was completely opposed to Isaac Newton's theory. Goethes writes: "...and I spoke as if by instinct directly loud and clear for myself, that the theory of Newton is wrong." Goethe believed that everything in the world is to explain by polarity: colors originate by the polarity between light and dark. It might work in literature - as the polarity between good and evil in Faust- and sometimes it works in nature like magnetism and electricity, but in general it doesn't work at all.

We leaveThüringia and enter Saxon-Anhalt. In Naumburg at the confluence of the Saale and the Unstrut we find an excellent hotel called "Zur Henne". It has the atmosphere of the 19th century with its dark wooden walls and creaking stairways. In the garden they offer classic food, like "spargels" (asparagus) in sauce Hollandaise. It sits in the middle of the wine region. So we went to one of the wineries (Herzer) to buy some boxes of Riesling. They come in two varieties: Grossjenaer Blütengrund and Naumburger Steinmeister, dependent of the kind of soil: limestone (Muschelkalk) or sandstone. Anyway we like them both very much.

It's only 15 minutes driving from Naumburg to Goseck. But why should you do that? In Goseck is nothing to do. Well, there is a castle. I mean a little castle. Actually the castle is very very small. But there is something special. And that is the Goseck Circle. A henge. That is a circular construction. Like Stonehenge. But the circle is not made of stone but of wood. So Woodhenge would be a proper name. And what makes the Goseck circle so special is that it is about 7000 years old. The oldest of Europe. Stonehenge is only 5000 years old. The people used it as a solar observatory to find out when the winter and summer solstices took place, so that they knew what to do as a farmer and specially when to do those farmers things. According to DNA-research those farmers came from Syria 8000 years ago and mixed with the hunter-collectors who lived there already.
The circle has a

When the dance master couldn't play because he had to explain some movements, he put the little violin in his pocket.
diameter of 75 meter and has been found recently and is only since 2005 open for visitors. Near the castle is a visitors center with a lot of information.

Goseck might be astonishing, but maybe even more fascinating is Nebra. Also in Nebra is nothing to do. Only 3300 inhabitants. And also Nebra has a castle. Nebra though has become worldwide famous for its disk. The Nebra sky disc. It's about 3600 years old. It was found in 1999 by treasure hunters with a metal detector. The disc has a diameter of only 30 centimeter and is made of bronze with a blue-green patinalayer and inlaids of gold. It represents the sky with a lunar crescent, a full moon, 32 stars of which a group of seven stars representing the Pleiades. The Pleiades has in ancient cultures been an important timekeeper for farmers.

In East Germany 3600 years ago the farmers saw that the Pleiades disappeared from the sky just around 10 March. A new moon was next to them. The Pleiades reappeared around 17 October while there was a full moon. This phenomenon triggered the farming year in Europe.

Another thing is that a moon year is 11 days shorter than a solar year. To synchronize them you have to insert a month every now and then. And that is exactly when instead of a new moon appears next to the Pleiades a thicker moon appears which is a few days older. And that is after three years, which corresponds with 32 missing days, the number of stars on the disk.

At the west and east side of the disc two arcs are added which corresponds exactly with the solstices of the Goseck circle. That means a angle of 82 degrees between the summer and winter solstice.

The original disc is at the State Museum of Prehistory at Halle. At Nebra on top of the Mittelberg where the disc was found a modern museum has been raised, called Arche Nebra.

Our last destination on this cultural trip is Leipzig. Let's say it right away. Leipzig is great. We feel a freedom here like we felt when we were in Berlin some years ago. We have a nice apartment in the "Schlafgut Appartement Hotel". It's just between the Augustusplatz with its Opera and Gewandhaus and the Grassimuseum. Just around the corner is the Mendelssohn-Haus with its Biedermeier furniture. Finally you can be a conductor. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy invites you to test your conducting skills. The faster you move the faster the music. Apart from a composer Mendelssohn was once the conductor of the famous Gewandhausorchester. Mendelssohn was also the one who rediscovered the Mattheus Passion of Bach. He was the first who revived it after Bach's death. That was in 1829. He was only 20 years old at the time.

The Grassi Museum consists of three musea: the Ethnography Museum, the Musical Instruments Museum and the Applied Arts Museum. It's far too much to see it all at once. So we did the last two, which is already too much. Most appealing is the Applied Arts Museum. Applied art from the Egyptians via medieval times up to art nouveau, art déco, bauhaus and recent times. Everything so beautifully exhibited and so well explained. It's a real joy to walk here.

At the very moment we were in Leipzig the Bachfest were taking place. Everywhere are concerts, like in the Thomas church where Bach was once a conductor and where he is buried. From all corners of the city well dressed people appear on their way to one of the concerts. We found the last two seats free in the Opera, where the Gewandhausorchester played the Boléro of Ravel and Le Sacre du Printemps of Strawinsky linked to a ballet of the Leipziger Ballet. The Choreographies were of Johan Inger and Mario Schröder. It was absolutely top and a worthy end of our trip. After dinner in the restaurant of the Opera we sat a little at the Augustusplatz enjoying the breeze of the evening. Completely overwhelmed.

Additional photos below
Photos: 52, Displayed: 29


Bach at schoolBach at school
Bach at school

96 days Bach was absent in one year.
Pedigree of the Bach familyPedigree of the Bach family
Pedigree of the Bach family

Almost everyone of the Bach family was a musician.
Erfurter DomErfurter Dom
Erfurter Dom

Luther was ordained here as a priest.
The Fischmakt, ErfurtThe Fischmakt, Erfurt
The Fischmakt, Erfurt

At the right hand side is the Town Hall.
Town Hall, ErfurtTown Hall, Erfurt
Town Hall, Erfurt

Notice the name of Maarten Luther.

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