Thuringia is both the birthplace and the stomping ground of some of Germany’s most brilliant minds. Johann Sebastian Bach, Martin Luther, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe have all called a town or city in this central German state home at one point or another in their lives. And — you’ve guessed it — their proud history can still be traced today. For a culture-filled trip, here’s where to find the preserved, renovated, or recreated haunts of the Greats.
Arnstadt: Bach’s Intro to Fame
The works and influence of Baroque composer and musician Johann Sebastian Bach endure to this day in classical music, film, theater, and even pop culture. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” has been sampled in Disney’s “Fantasia,” the 1962 adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera,” and, more recently, a 2015 Chrysler commercial. You can figuratively travel back in time to the early 18th century when it all began by visiting the New Church (the “Bach Church”), in the more than 1,300-year-old town of Arnstadt — the oldest town in Central Germany. It was here, when he was just 18 years old, that Bach’s musical talent began to garner recognition. Having learned to play the harpsichord, organ, and violin at an early age, the young court musician was offered his first position as an organist at the Bach Church in 1703, after giving an impressive performance on a new Wender organ. Today, you can look up to the third floor balcony to see a recreation of the model.
Admission is free.
Arnstadt is also the location of the only unaltered Bach House, in which the composer actually lived, still in existence. But to find the location of the oldest and largest museum dedicated to Bach, you’ll need to travel approximately 60 km northwest to his native town of Eisenach. Make sure to set your watch, because the Bach House Eisenach plays live concerts on baroque keyboard instruments — including Bach’s favorite, the harpsichord — at the top of every hour. Then head over to the museum’s adjacent exhibition building for more interactive experiences. Sit back in the hanging “bubble chairs” upstairs, slide on the seat’s accompanying headphones, and listen to the soothing sounds of Bach’s music — or stroll into the room’s 180-degree multimedia installation for a “walk-in composition” of four Bach performances.
Admission is free for Bach House in Arnstadt and €8.50 (approximately $9.19) for Bach House Eisenach.
Eisenach: Martin Luther’s “Dear Town”
Next year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. From Eisenach, you can trace Luther’s path before he began the Protestant Reformation and his subsequent exile to Eisenach. Luther House — one of the oldest half-timbered buildings in the region — was young Luther’s former residence from 1498 to 1501, when he came to town for a formal Latin education at 15 years old. The residence is now a modern, recently refurbished museum dedicated to Luther’s life, with “Luther rooms” memorializing his school days, rare books, and paintings and letters. Don’t miss the new “Luther and the Bible” permanent exhibition — dedicated to Luther’s famous translation of the New Testament of the Bible into German. We love how the exhibit’s touchscreen device, which lets you try your own hand at translation, gives a glimpse into the difficulty of Luther’s undertaking.
Admission is €6 ($6.43).
Next, in the Thuringian Forest, see the modest room at Wartburg Castle that Martin Luther called home. The 1,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site is where Luther took refuge in 1521, under the guise of “Squire George,” after being excommunicated by Pope Leo X and outlawed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for his refusal to recant his Ninety-Five Theses. English tours are offered daily at 1:30 p.m.
Admission is €5 ($5.41); tours are €9 ($9.73).
Weimar: Goethe’s Indelible Mark
A man of many titles, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is credited with being a writer, poet, playwright, novelist, philosopher, and government minister. The literary giant moved to Weimar as a young man during the city’s Classical period (1775-1832) and the peak of German national literature (around 1800), when a number of writers, artists, and scholars from around the world flocked to the burgeoning cultural hotspot. Many of the resulting buildings and parks that were occupied and constructed in the surrounding area are now recognized as Classical Weimar, a World UNESCO Heritage Site. Highlights here include the Baroque house where Goethe lived for almost 50 years, whose 18 accessible rooms have remained largely preserved for more than a century. As you meander through them, look out for the massive marble bust of the ancient Roman goddess Juno in the Juno Room, a re-creation of a piece Goethe admired in Rome; the cushion on the large desk in his study, where he would rest his arm when reading; and Goethe’s extensive collection of personal mementoes, including hand drawings, Italian paintings and ancient bronzes.
Admission is €12 ($12.98).