From enchanting architecture and stylish gardens to historic towns, Germany’s Thuringia, a favourite destination of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, has got it all.
The Ernestine dynasty, which ruled Thuringia for centuries, not only left delightful palaces and gardens behind, but also established links with a great many European royal families through a busy marriage policy. The most famous offspring are Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Queen Victoria, his cousin and wife.
The handsome town of Gotha was one the favourite residences of the Ernestine Dukes and the royal couple and their children were frequent guests. Albert had a special relationship with Gotha, as it was home to his beloved grandmother Duchess Karoline Amalie of Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg. With Friedenstein Castle, the Ekhof Theatre, the Ducal Museum, the Orangery and the gardens, the 16th-century Baroque ethos has survived in the charming town to this day.
Friedenstein (literally, ‘peace-rock’), one of the largest early-Baroque castles in Germany, was completed in 1654. Duke Ernst I started an ‘Arts Chamber’, which eventually produced a collection of international significance. The castle features original royal living quarters and reception rooms, in which visitors can pass through several epochs, from Baroque through Rococo to Classicism.
Amid the various collections within the castle is the world’s oldest Baroque theatre, the Ekhoftheater – nowadays, you don’t have to be royal to enjoy the atmospheric performances. The castle gardens, with their stylish flowerbeds and handsome Orangery, are perfect for a relaxing stroll.
But there’s more still to Thuringia’s fame. The area is largely shaped by its illustrious inhabitants, from composers and musicians such as Bach and Liszt to reformer Martin Luther, poets Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, avant-garde architect and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, painter Lucas Cranach and the philosopher Nietzsche. All of these have left a legacy to explore.
More so than most other German towns, Weimar is an extraordinary reminder of the great Enlightenment. Under the patronage of Duchess Anna Amalia, artists, writers and philosophers from all over the world were drawn to Court.
With a plethora of poets’ houses, monuments and palaces as well as parks and gardens, the town’s Classical sights are now protected by UNESCO. From Goethe’s house – with it’s authentic content and furnishings – to Franz Liszt’s residence, the Nietzsche Archives and the Bauhaus School building, Weimar remains one of Germanys’ most culturally fascinating towns to visit.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses sparked a European Reformation. His subsequent exile at the Wartburg castle gave him time to translate the New Testament from the Greek original into the German language. The Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 1067 and sits high above the nearby town of Eisenach, Bach’s birthplace.
The Bach museum provides fascinating insights into the lifestyle and tastes of a late-17th-century burgher. Manuscripts, portraits and assorted objects recall the life of the great composer and his family.
Thuringia’s capital, 1,300 year old Erfurt, is one of Germany’s best preserved medieval towns, with a 12th-century cathedral. One of the historic highlights is the 16th-century Krämer Bridge (‘the grocers’ bridge’), which still has inhabited houses on both sides.
Fly to Frankfurt with Lufthansa and take advantage of the Fly&Rail offer. This return train ticket from Frankfurt airport will take you to Erfurt in 2½ hours for just €58; more on www.lufthansa.com
Visit www.visit-thuringia.com for further information