Love music or literature or architecture or art? Then visiting Weimar, Germany should be be on your list. It has all four by the bucketload. Liszt, Goethe, Schiller, Luther, Cranach (Older and Younger), Gropius, Klee and Kandinsky all lived and worked here. It has 12 UNESCO listed sites part of Classical Weimar and then yet more UNESCO sites associated with the Bauhaus movement. There are so many places to visit in Weimar, Germany. More than that it is home to Germany’s best sausages.
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Why should you consider visiting Weimar, Germany?
Well I can give the three reason why we visited. First reason: As a bookish child who learnt German it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across Goethe. Cue a full blown literary teenage crush. What Stratford is to Shakespeare, Weimar is to Goethe. Second reason: Fans of 20th century design will want to worship at the Bauhaus shrine. Walter Gropius founded the architecture and design movement here in 1919. Third reason: The teens are studying the Weimar Republic in history and we wanted to find out how it got its name.
German Enlightenment and Weimar
The Englightenment dominated eighteenth century European intellectual thought. It wasn’t just art and literature. Economics, Education and Social Reform came in for scrutiny too. Duke Karl-August encouraged these thinkers. First to arrive in Weimar was Johann Gottfried von Herder, poet and philosopher, leader of the Sturm and Drang movement. In his wake followed Goethe and Schiller. Goethe and the Duke were contemporaries. The large number of parks in Weimar, are down to Goethe who believed in the civilising properties of nature. For many Weimar culture, is German culture.
Duchess Anna Amalia Library
Books and Baroque what could be finer. I would like to live in the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. Duchess Anna Amalia founded the library and Goethe managed it. Only 290 visitors a day are permitted into the library, so to be sure of entry book ahead. If you fancy seeing where Duchess Anna Amalia lived visit the exquisite Wittums Palace opposite the National Theatre. As you go out of the library take a look around the square it is lined with Baroque palaces. One of them is now the Franz Liszt Music School and the sound of music often wafts across the square.
- Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Platz der Demokratie 1
- Open: Tuesday – Sunday timed tickets 9am – 6pm
- Admission: €8 adults
- Only 290 people are allowed in a day and tickets must be booked in advance
Turn right out of the Anna Amalia Library and you will come to the Town Palace home of the Neues Museum, another of those 12 UNESCO listed buildings. Gawp around the courtyard or pop inside to find Cranach and friends.
- Neues Museum, Burgplatz 4
- Open: Wednesday – Monday 10am – 6pm
- Admission: €8
For more Cranach, follow your nose when you leave the Town Palace and you will come Herderplatz which was the heart of medieval Weimar. The church that looms over it is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. Inside you will find a triptych painted by both Cranach the Older and Younger. Martin Luther gave sermons here. It is one of those buildings where you can almost feel history that happened here.
The Goethe house is, unsurprisingly, where Goethe lived for over 50 years. He wrote Faust here. These are rooms that he lived and worked in. Simply put it is a literary shrine.
- Goethe House, Frauenplan 1
- Open: Wednesday – Tuesday 9.30am – 6pm except Saturday 9.30am – 4.30pm then 6pm-12am
- Admission: €12.50
Schiller was Goethe’s best friend, not enough for you to want to visit his house. You’ve heard of William Tell, the man who shot an apple on his son’s head, well Schiller wrote that. Here, in this house!
Park an der Ilm
East and South Weimar are dominated by the Park an der Ilm (Park on the Ilm). Goethe had the meandering park set out along the banks of the Ilm in the new natural fashion. We visited in during a very hot summer and the gardens were the perfect place to sit under a shady tree or even a quick swim in the river. Within the park you will find Goethe’s Garden House, which although only a short walk from his main residence was his summer retreat.
From the windows of Goethe’s Garten Haus you can see the Roman House or Römisches Haus, a mock Roman temple where Duke Carl-August spent his summers.
In a less bucolic corner of the park there is Soviet War Graveyard. A somber reminder that World War Two raged across this corner of Germany. Not only that, Weimar and Thuringia ended up in the part of Germany controlled by Russia after the war and were part of East Germany. 640 Russian soldiers are buried here in an immaculately kept graveyard.
Bauhaus and Weimar
Weimar is not only a place of literary pilgrimage, architect and design fans beat a path to Weimar too. Jugendstil, the German equivalent of Art Nouveau was nurtured here. Walter Gropius, founder of the modernist Bauhaus movement lived and worked here. The first ever Bauhaus house was built here.
Henry van der Velde was the architect behind the Judgendstil movement. He was head of the new Arts and Crafts School at Weimar University. Stroll around the street between the university and Park an Der Ilm and you will see a cornucopia of Jugendstil exteriors. Hohe Pappeln was van der Velde’s home and here you can peek inside and see the interior too.
Walter Gropius followed in Henry van der Velde’s footsteps, setting up the Bauhaus design school at the University in 1919. To mark the centenary a smart new museum as been opened to celebrate all things modernist. I remember playing with the famous Bauhaus Building blocks as a child.
Haus am Horn
Haus am Horn was the first ever Bauhaus house to be constructed and the only one in Weimar. It is a stark white cube of a building, you have to pinch yourself and remind yourself that this building is nearly a century old. It must have been jaw dropping at the time, even now it looks uncompromisingly modern.
A little bit of history of Weimar, Germany
Once upon a time Thuringia was ruled by the Wettin family. Instead the oldest son inheriting the whole Duchy it was divided evenly between all the sons. That meant that there were a lot of very small Duchies. To compete for prestige they entered into an arms race of culture. Which Duke could attract the finest minds? The Saxe-Weimar Dukes were patrons of Cranach and JS Bach, Luther spent time here. Then in the eighteenth century Duke Carl-August really went into overdrive this was the time of Goethe and Schiller. If you spoke German and wanted to think Weimar was the place to be.
Why is the Weimar Republic called the Weimar Republic?
This is a question that had background puzzled me for many years. Only when the teens settled down to study the Weimar Republic for GCSE History did the penny (or pfennig) drop. The Weimar Republic is so called because it was at a meeting held at the National Theatre in Weimar that the structure of German government after the fall of the monarchy was decided. Germany at this time was ruled from Berlin, never Weimar, this was just where the Weimar constitution was drawn up, well away from the violence of Berlin at the time.
The National Theatre is still there and a venue for fine operatic and orchestral performances, take a look at the play list and see if there is anything you fancy seeing during your stay. Outside the theatre is a statue of Goethe and Schiller, arm in arm.
A million miles away from rational enlightenment thinking is the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald about 10 kilometres outside Weimar. It opened its gates in 1937 to house ‘undesirables’, in the main these were political opponents of the Nazi regime. 250,000 people were incarcerated here, many forced to work. 55,000 people died before the camp was liberated in 1945. The horror didn’t stop there, after the war the GDR government used the camp to house their political opponents. After the fall of communism mass graves containing 7,000 bodies were found from the Communist era. Now Buchenwald is open as a Gedenkstätte or Memorial to those who died.
If you are visiting Weimar, Germany for a couple of days then the Weimar Card might make sense. For €29.90 you get entry into sixteen different houses and museums. Not including the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. A free iTour, as many trips on local buses as you want and a 10% discount on tickets for performances at the National Theatre. The Weimar Card is valid for 48 hours.
Where to Eat in Weimar, Germany
Thuringian sausages are reputed to be the best in Germany you can, of course, eat them sat down in a restaurant but the ones I enjoyed most were the ones purchased from a market stall in the Market Square.
Erbenhof, Brauhausgasse 10
Erbenhof has a delightful courtyard, essential when we visited during a heatwave, where you can eat traditional locally sourced Thuringian food. Vegetarians are catered for, but be warned German food is heavy on the meat.
Creperie du Palais, Am Palais 1
If all that sausage and meat gets too much for you head for Creperie du Palais on quaint cobbled street. Here you can eat classically French galette and crepe.
Where to Stay in Weimar, Germany
Art Hotel Weimar, Freiherr von Steim Allee 3a/b
We stayed in the Judgendstil area, just a short walk from the centre of Weimar at the Art Hotel. Our vast family room was at the very top of the building had a sitting area as well as beds. Breakfast was eaten downstairs and there was a pleasant outdoor bar area.
Hotel Elephant, Markt 19
If you want to be in the centre of Classical Weimar and have cash to splash then Hotel Elephant is for you. Every passing poet, artist and politican has spent time here since the sixteenth century. It has recently undergone a total renovation, so expect all mod cons.
Getting to Weimar
We drove all the way from deepest Surrey via the Eurotunnel. In one fell swoop it would take 11 hours, we didn’t do this! We drove home stopping for the night at Waterloo, taking time to visit the battle site before heading home. Catching a train from St Pancras would take you just shy of 9 hours and involve changing at Brussels, Frankfurt and Erfurt. You could fly to either Berlin or Leipzig and hire a car and drive. From Leipzig it will take you an hour and a half and Berlin just over 3 hours.
Our stay in Weimar was part of our summer holiday. You can read about our adventures at Landschaft-Park Nord, a vast steel plant that has become a public park, Berlin and Colditz Castle. If, like me, you like to read books set where you are visiting when you are travelling check out The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood about students at the Bauhaus. For a full review and other ideas for German reading check out my books to read in Germany post.