Freestate of Thuringia
Thuringia – once part of the communist-ruled East Germany – has developed into a successful and exciting state at the center of a reunited Germany and has managed to overcome the aftermath of dictatorship and a controlled economy. Thuringia is one of Germany’s green hearts, known for its inviting countryside, vast forest lands, but also for its charming small towns and world-class cultural and historical centers such as Erfurt, Eisenach and Weimar.
“Splendid, splendid,” Goethe once exclaimed, gazing out at the vast forests of Thuringia. You can share his impression even today. Whether on foot or bicycle, by water, on horseback, whether skiing down snowy slopes or gliding along cross-country ski runs in the Thuringian Forest, you can enjoy the finest in recreation everywhere in this beautiful landscape.
Erfurt (population 200,000) is the state capital of Thuringia. It was founded in 742 AD by St. Boniface. In the Middle Ages Erfurt’s strategic location at the intersection of old trade routes and its great university, founded in 1392, made the “Thuringian Rome” rich, powerful and a centre of education. Today, many lovingly-restored half-timbered houses and magnificent Renaissance buildings bear witness to the city’s medieval heyday. Erfurt has one of the best preserved medieval town centres in Germany, with many beautiful historic buildings and the famous built-up Grocers’ Bridge (Krämerbrücke) across the river.
Eisenach (population 45,000) is a pretty medieval town located on the western foothills of the Thuringian Forest. The impressive Wartburg Castle – built in 1067 – was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Here, Dr. Martin Luther translated the New Testament into vernacular German. The Luther Room commemorates the work of the great Reformer. Eisenach is also the birthplace of world-famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The Johann Sebastian Bach Museum displays a collection of historical musical instruments (still played during tours) and relics of the Bach family in Thuringia.
Covering an area of more than 2000 square km, the Thuringian Forest with its peaks just below 1000 metres is one of Germany’s most densely forested and largest mountainous woodlands. With the 160-km “Rennsteig” trail and plenty of other well-marked hiking trails, it is the ideal place for an active holiday. It is also perfect for mountainbiking and for winter sports.
Weimar (population 64,000) has always been one of Germany’s most visited towns. The centre of the Enlightenment and “Sturm und Drang” era was honoured as the “European City of Culture” in 1999. You can visit the many places where all the great names associated with Weimar lived and worked, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Johann Sebastian Bach, Friedrich Nietzsche, the painters of the Weimar School, the Bauhaus architects’ school and many others. Weimar is also known as the place where the constitution of the “Weimarer Republik” was drafted, Germany’s first republic after the First World War.
Approximately 10 kilometres northwest of Weimar lies the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald, today a memorial and museum. Between July 1937 and April 1945, altogether 250,000 persons from all over Europe were imprisoned in Buchenwald, including German social-democrats, communists, clergymen, Russion prisoners of war and many jews, mainly from Poland. Internees were exploited in the adjacent weapons factories. Many were also used for medical experimentation. The number of victims is estimated at approximately 56,000. The camp was freed by the US Army in April 1945. In August 1945, Soviet Security Service took charge of the still-existing structural facilities of Buchenwald and erected “Special Camp 2 Buchenwald”. Perpetrators of Nazi crimes, functionaries of the NSDAP, Hitler Youth leaders, members of the “Waffen SS” and officers of the “Wehrmacht” were incarcaterated here to be worked to death. According to official Soviet documents, 7,113 persons died in Special Camp 2 Buchenwald until 1950.