Of the first four cities I've toured in the Thuringian province of Germany, three of them (Eisenach, Erfurt, and Weimar) were cleaned up and restored to their old selves -- albeit with some modern structures added here or there. The fourth, Jena, was the only one that I would call completely modernized -- more of a mini-Frankfurt than a mini-Heidelberg. I believe that was true for two reasons, if I was interpreting my observations correctly. The first being that Jena's history lay with science and technology where the others were in literature and music. Indeed, Jena's role in the advance of German technology was very important -- more on that later. Second, it seemed that Jena didn't survive the wars or the Communist era intact, so several blocks of old buildings have been razed and the way paved for modern replacements. The result is a mix of old and new, some of it not mixed perfectly perhaps. However, it is clear that the city is being rebuilt, and with more steel-and-glass, not concrete.
Jena attracts far less attention than its more touristy Thuringian sisters, so much so that it is little more than a dot-on-the-map along Autobahn 4 and the Berlin-Munich train lines. Tourism seemed to be lower on the city's agenda, that instead appeared focused on commerce and industry. The first three pictures show the clearest evidence of this -- although the first photo didn't quite turn out right. The ghostly apparition at the right side is the Intershop tower, Jena's first skyscraper, located in the center of the downtown. This is a corporate office building with several very prominent European companies establishing offices there. Surrounding this tower was about two city blocks worth of construction as the city is building a parking lot and convention center on the site.
Across the street was the Goethe Galeria, second photo -- a massive shopping center built using an air-hangar motif, and filled with replica gliders and other reminders of Jena's technical past. A functioning planetarium was set up behind me when I took this photo, and demonstrations of it occur regularly. The planetarium was set up as a history for the Carl Zeiss Optical Works, Jena's famed industry, and the city's Optical Museum contained therein.
There was no comparing the crowds of people at the Galeria versus the more traditional marketplaces about three blocks away... the Galeria was clearly the place to be downtown, and the locals were there in numbers. The traditional old market square was empty, while other areas have been cleared for parking lots.
The main marketsquare is shown in the third photo. Unfortunately the position of the sun prevented me from taking a picture of the best structure there -- the colorful Gothic town hall. But as you can tell from this picture, a number of the structures were definitely not original.
Also, several structures from the "older Jena" were clearly renovated. I found several of them in the downtown... the tan tower in the first photo being a good example, and the Pulverturm in the fourth photo being another. Both represent the old city wall, little of which has survived. The Church of St. Michael was in the background, and was also given a total facelift.
I found that if I wanted to see the real "older Jena", I had to wander further out, and it was worth the walk. Downtown Jena is situated in a beautiful valley along the Saale River, with the outskirts and suburbs perched high on the nearby hills. The Jakobskirche was undergoing renovation, but another church across the street hosted the city cemetary which was quite impressive, filled with 16th and 17th monuments. The University of Jena campus is to the northeast, marked with a very impressive university building that is surrounded by monuments to its famous students or faculty -- Schiller being one. The riverfront also has some old-style manor houses, the fifth and final photo being an interesting example.
But the modern flavor still overwhelmed. Jena had several theaters -- including a classic theater in the Stadthaus behind the Goethe Galeria, but also the rather clunky-looking Theaterhaus Jena (that looked like a red barn with the name of the place in huge white block letters), and the ultra-modern Cineplex. Several modern hotels have appeared, each of which looked brand new or renovated. In my travels, I found construction everywhere -- especially including and around the train station. No doubt about it, Jena was a growing place, clearly focused on the future.
Compared with the other cities I've visited in Thuringia, I wouldn't rate Jena highly as a place to go. But I found it interesting as an example of how former East German towns are trying to grow and modernize.
Trip taken 27 October 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin