Weimar, where German history collides

There is no more potent symbol of the disaster that befell Germany when the Nazis came to power than the city that defines Germany’s Age of Enlightenment. During the 18th century’s Age of Reason, as it was also known, Weimar was the absolute epicenter of one of the greatest cultural flourishings Europe has known. It is also, famously, home of the Weimar constitution, a progressive, liberal response to the horror and turmoil at the end of the First World War.

A short trip outside the city limits though, brings you to the antithesis of everything those two historic periods represent. Weimar was an important symbol for the Nazis on both counts: a hatred of the Weimar Republic that was founded here as an enlightened, liberal response to militarism; and pride in the city as a centre of German culture. Perhaps that is why they built Buchenwald concentration camp just 10km away.

Marktplatz, Weimar, Germany
Weimar, Germany
Goethes Gartenhaus, Weimar, Germany
Liszt statue, Weimar, Germany
Duke Carl August and Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Germany

Weimar was the first stop on our one way trip from Berlin to Brussels. Our belongings were already in the back of a van en route to our new home, and we had a few days to make the same journey at a more leisurely pace – only when driving from Germany’s far east, to its far west do you realise how big it is. As someone who’s a little obsessed by the history of the inter-war years, Weimar was top of the list of places to break the journey.

Weimar is also home to another great German cultural flourishing of the time, Bauhaus. The Bauhaus School was founded here in 1919, allowing Weimar to proudly proclaim itself as the birthplace of Modernism. That though didn’t last long. The Bauhaus movement was despised by the Nazis and, when the city council was taken over by the the far-right, the school was forced to move to Dessau.

Oddly, there’s only one true Bauhaus building in Weimar, the Haus am Horn. Its flat roof and cubist shape are very distinctive. We visited it and the excellent Bauhaus Museum, opened to celebrate the Bauhaus centenary. Haus am Horn was a radical concept, shocking to some, glorious to others. It still feels special today. Weimar Bauhaus is one of the town’s two UNESCO World Heritage Site designations.

There is so much more to explore in Weimar than Bauhaus though. It quickly became apparent that the two days we’d given ourselves was nowhere near enough time to do justice to the town. One reason for that is the intellectual and creative powerhouse that Weimar became in the 18th century, a period known as Classical Weimar, also designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The roll call of luminaries who came to work and live in Weimar during that period is nothing less than epic: Liszt, Strauss, Goethe, Bach, Herder and Schiller. Luther and Cranach were earlier visitors. Nietzsche, Gropius, Feininger and Kandinsky came later. All men, of course, but at least in the 18th century they came to Weimar because of a truly outstanding woman.

The widowed Duchess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was the visionary behind the procession of the greatest musicians and intellectuals of the age making Weimar their home. The Rococo Hall that houses her library is one of the highlights of Weimar. Here you can stand where Goethe and Schiller stood amidst a collection of over a million books and manuscripts.

Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Germany
Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Germany
Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Germany
Bauhaus Museum, Weimar, Germany
Haus Am Horn, Weimar, Germany

The library stands at one end of the lovely Park an der Ilm, close to Schloss Weimar (shut for renovation). A stroll through the park takes you past numerous historic buildings and monuments, none more significant than the garden house where Goethe wrote several poems. Finally, we sat down in the historic Marktplatz to plan the rest of our visit over a Ehringsdorfer Ritterbräu, a local beer brewed to a 175 year-old recipe.

12 thoughts on “Weimar, where German history collides

  1. Bauhaus now? One learns somethng everytime in your posts. Cheers.

    1. They got around the Bauhaus! I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with the house, the rooms were quite small and felt a little cramped. Hope all’s well, Brian? It appears that Mexico has decided to go in the opposite direction to Texas, which is an interesting turn of events!

      1. My late son-in-law who was an architect liked Bauhaus, but only as a source of inspiration. The end result of Bauhaus is often a place where you can’t hang a painting on the wall.
        Since I cut off the news almost completely, I don’t know what you mean about Texas… I’ll look it up. Au revoir.

        1. Ah, well it was a big deal for the feminist movement I believe, and Mexican civil society. Whereas, Texas, not so much so. Bauhaus can definitely feel a bit unhuman at times, but I am a bit of a fan.

  2. I suspect you’re going to be trying to find ways to get back to this part of Germany as often as possible to take in all the things you haven’t managed to yet. And then you also have to try and see as much of Belgium as possible… You’re going to be busy! Weimar looks wonderful so far – I assume you’ll have more to say about it yet. I look forward to it.

    1. Germany just keeps on surprising me, there is such a wealth of fascinating places. The region around Weimar is littered with historic towns and villages, and Weimar itself was a real eye opener. I’ve just posted another Weimar piece, but there is a lot we didn’t get to do.

  3. What a gorgeous place!

  4. Any reader who has the opportunity to visit lovely Weimar should also visit Tiefurt Castle, which is only a few kilometers away from the city.
    Tiefurt was once the “place of the Muses” for Weimar’s court society. Duchess Anna Amalia of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach made the rural estate her summer residence in 1781. Far from the constraints of ceremonial life, she passed the time with art and music and received numerous guests, most prominently Goethe, Herder, Wieland and Schiller. The spacious park, which together with the mansion is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Classical Weimar”, is an important example of an early sentimental landscaped garden, complete with picturesque niches, sculptures and memorial stones.

  5. Marvelous views of the library.

    1. The library was wonderful including the big slippers they insist you wear that go over the top of normal shoes. It’s like wearing clown shoes.

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