I've encountered many towns in Germany where the town's identity came via a single impressive landmark that attracted all the tourists and attention, while the rest of the town was perhaps overlooked. Eisenach definitely fit that mold. While busloads of people made the winding climb up to the top of the hill to visit Wartburg Castle, the beautiful downtown Eisenach was left for the locals to enjoy. A shame, all of Eisenach was fabulous, and I recommend it highly.
Like other Thuringian cities, Eisenach has had its fair share of famous denizens -- among them were Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, and St. Elizabeth of Thüringen -- so not surprisingly the city has loads of monuments and museums. The Lutherhaus and Bachhaus are both historic buildings in the downtown, dutifully accompanied by a statue. The Bachhaus is the site of the city's bus parking lot, surrounded by a number of obvious tourist trappings -- restaurants and souvenir shops. Busses were plentiful on the day I went despite it being a really crappy day weather-wise.
The first three photos show scenes of the downtown. Coming out of the train station, the first monument reached was the Nikolaikirche and Tor, shown in the first photo. This large sprawling structure made up the east end of the square hosting the Lutherhaus and Lutherdenkmal. Being away from the tour-bus haven of the Bachhaus, this square had more of the traditional restaurants and stores.
The rest of downtown has retained a significant number of its famous old landmarks. For example, the second photo shows the city palace at left and the Rathaus at right, both very traditional in their appearance. You can see how the Palace is being restored with the brilliant white-and-yellow panels to the left contrasted with the neglected rest of the facade. Looking the other way, you have the scene in the third photo of the Georgenkirche, another partially restored building.
Eisenach's streets were tight and windy, and I got lost a few times (it didn't help that several streets were completely dug up at the time). But what helped me was that Eisenach's routes were very well marked. After my tour of the downtown, I had no difficulty making my way to the city's main attraction -- Wartburg Castle, located about a mile to the west.
I thoroughly loved Wartburg Castle (fourth photo), and hereby declare it a must-do location for anyone visiting Central Germany. It is one of the most interesting castles I've visited because it's museum is more than just a bunch of pretty rooms and furniture. It has several very unique features and a wonderful history. My personal favorite was the Elizabeth Bower, a room dedicated to the life of St. Elizabeth of Thüringen. The walls and ceiling were decorated in brilliant mosaics depicting the arrangement of her marriage, the departure of her husband for the Crusades, and her living in self-imposed poverty until her death at age 24. The bright gold walls and columns and the colors of the stones were simply brilliant!
Other rooms in the Wartburg worth a strong mention included the Festival Hall and the Lutherstube. The Festival Hall was significant because it served as the inspiration for the Bavarian King Ludwig II's festival hall in the famous Schloss Neuschwanstein. Having visited both, I found the similarities very striking.
The Lutherstube was Martin Luther's apartment for the year following his famous refusal to recant his Theses at the 1521 Diet of Worms. Not surprisingly, Martin Luther lived a very spartan lifestyle there, with bare wooden floors and walls, and minimal furnishings. Several rooms in the museum displayed a broad range of portraits of Luther. The guided tour did not extend to the Lutherstube.
Wartburg Castle was located a fair distance from the downtown, but not so far that it couldn't be walked. I enjoyed the climb up and down through the woods and rocky valley, finding them very scenic particularly with the yellow leaves falling. The fifth photo shows some of the surrounding residences, mostly large manor-style houses. Mind you, the final climb up to the Castle is steep and not for those out of shape -- if that's you, take bus #10.
By the way, barely visible in the photo is the Burschenschaftsdenkmal (if you look just left of center on the ridge line when there's a dip, you'll see a whitish tower structure).
Eisenach, especially Wartburg Castle, was a great place to go. Being a short distance from Fulda, it is well within reach of anyone in the former West Germany, and with the throngs of thousands descending upon Germany's southern castle, Wartburg is a worthy alternative. But don't forget to visit the rest of the city.
Trip taken 27 October 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin