You’ll find Erfurt at about the geographical center of Germany, making it the perfect stopover for our trip from west to east. We would only have one night in the city, but I started researching “Things to do in Erfurt” immediately! (and I found so MANY things to do, that I wished we could stay a few more nights…). Like Görlitz, Erfurt is on the Via Regia, which made it a city with wealth, and like Eisenach, Erfurt is important in Martin Luther’s history . Two massive churches dominate Cathedral hill, the Cathedral itself, and St Severus. The Petersburg fortress with its lovely gardens, overlooks the city, and the Krämerbrücke lined with shops and living spaces is the only one of its kind left in Europe. Erfurt has a great restaurant and bar scene … and the cobblestoned streets in the Altstadt are perfect for wandering.
I booked a tour with Matthias Gose, the Erfurt Nightwatchman (because the Nightwatchman knows ALL of a city’s secrets), put on comfortable walking shoes…. and got to know Erfurt.
But First, a Little History…
One of my history professors used to say “Geography is destiny”, and Erfurt exemplifies this. Erfurt gets its first mention in 724 as Erpesfurt… the crossing place or ford (Furt) of the Erpf river. St Boniface liked the location so much, he asked the Pope to make it a Bishopric. This city on the eastern edge of the Frankish empire grew in strength, first as a defensive city… and later because of its location on the Via Regia. Woad, a blue dye, brought wealth to the city, and in 1430, Erfurt joined the Hanseatic league. Martin Luther went to university in Erfurt, and later joined the priesthood there. The city itself became Protestant after the Protestant Revolution. In the early 1800s, Napoleon controlled the city, sometimes called the “Rome of Germany”. Erfurt fortunately escaped WWII bombing and destruction (meaning much of the Altstadt stayed intact), then after the war, became a part of East Germany. Today, old and new live harmoniously in this beautiful surprise of a city.
Erfurt Germany Attractions
Because I booked a private tour, we met Matthias, the Nightwatchman in the lobby of Hotel Dorint… a modern and comfortable hotel behind Cathdral hill, with a view of the Petersburg Fortress. Matthias wore is nightwatchman cape and hat… carried a walking stick and lantern…and off we went.
Our first stop… Cathedral Hill.
Mariendom and St. Severi
If you look closely, you’ll see that there are two churches on the hill… the Cathedral, and St. Severi Church. Although the Cathedral dominates, St Severi holds the center spot. Both churches maintain their own congregations. St Severi started as a monastery church. The Cathedral, founded by St Boniface in 742 grew so much, they needed to extend the hill to make the foundation big enough for the massive structure. Those 70 steps, called the “Graden”, from the Domplatz to the doors of the Dom are a nice workout! Fortunately, there is a Biergarden at the base of the steps to fortify you for the impending climb. (Also… if you go around to the right side of the hill, you’ll find a shorter road/path).
Inside you’ll find a fabulous Romanesque Marble Altar, a reliquary of St Martin (patron Saint of Erfurt), and the massive Gloriousa… the largest free swinging medieval bell in the world (cast in 1497).
The intricately carved marble Altar of the Mariandom.
Martin Luther would have taken his vows to the priesthood before this Altar in 1507.
Choir Stalls date back to the late 1400s
Reliquary of St Martin of Tours (I do love a beautiful Reliquary!)
This grave marker on the wall of the Cathedral comes with an interesting story that’s been passed down through the centuries. A Crusader came home to his wife in Erfurt with a special surprise. While he was in the Middle East, he was wounded, and healed by a local woman. He fell in love and married her. Then brought her home. In Erfurt, he set her up in a household… then went to break the news to his first wife. She was so happy to see him, and so thankful to the other woman for healing him, that she accepted the second wife. The second wife converted to Christianity. The family of three lived happily to the end of their days… then were buried together in the Cathedral.
What can I say… it’s a legend…. and the marker against the wall of the Cathedral backs it up….
The Universität began accepting students in 1392 to study, Philosophy, Law, Medicine, and Theology (the 4 windows above the door reflect those fields). Martin Luther studied Philosophy there, and graduated with a Masters degree in 1505. (It’s also in Erfurt where Luther, after surviving a particularly violent storm, promised to devote himself to the church). The University closed in the early 1800s when the city fell under the rule of the Prussians, but reopened in 1994.
Walking the cobblestoned ways we came upon a small pedestrian bridge. The gentle grade to the water made it easier for washing in years past. (And it’s the location of a grisly murder hundreds of years ago…. ).
An old mill…
Till Eulenspiegel in Erfurt
Known trickster Till Eulenspiegel pulled one over on the academics of the Erfurt University, so he’s memorialized throughout the Altstadt. As the story goes… Eulenspiegel swore he could teach any creature to read. The University rector said fine, we will pay you to teach this donkey to read! He asked for 21 years to accomplish the feat. And got to work. He put oat between the pages of an old psalm book… and the donkey would leaf through looking for them. When it ran out, he would bray Eeee Awww! Till brought the Rector in to see the animal’s progress. The donkey began to bray as he saw the empty pages. EEEE AWWW…. Eulenspiegel said “see, he already knows two vowel sounds.” The Rector agreed to keep paying him… and Till kept raking in the money. Eventually, the Rector died, ending the contract. Till took the money and ran.
The Narrowest House in Germany?
Not quite….This narrow house measures 3 1/2 meters wide! (The narrowest house measures 2 meters wide! It’s in Eisenach) This takes the tiny house movement to a new level…. and honestly, the neighboring house isn’t much bigger!
The 125 meter long Krämerbrücke dates back to the 13 hundreds, and has been continually occupied since then. Not only does it make the bride one of the oldest secular structures in Europe, it’s also the only bridge of its kind… with both homes AND shops on it. 80 people still live above shops on the bridge (I’m a little jealous! what a cool place to live!) (and for those of you wondering… the Ponte Vecchio in Florence is younger).
Restaurants and open patios make the space next to the bridge and the river a perfect place to enjoy a summer’s evening. Live music livens things up, making it feel like the city’s Living Room.
The Via Regia runs down the center of the bridge. Shops sell all sorts of wonderful things…books, art and antiques, and clothing. You’ll also find small eateries. Originally the shops sold spices (one still does), fabrics and dye, and even medicines. Traders traveling the Via Regia would make purchases or sales here, bringing wealth to the city.
The extended Bach family lived in the home marked by the black horse… Bach himself lived there for a time.
Woad- The Blue Dye.
Today, it’s hard to imagine that blue dye would make a city wealthy. But blue, is not a color normally found in nature… or at least, not so you can use it. The Woad plant, which looks like wild mustard (they are in the same family) provided blue. Blue was special (there are plenty of scholarly works about the color blue, I’ve listed a few below) . The short story is, blue dye is hard to make. (And you can’t use the pigment that’s used for blue PAINT to dye clothes). Indigo needed to be imported from India. Erfurt did a heavy trade in Woad. Growing, fermenting, and creating the desired dye. You’ll find a great display on the Krämerbrücke devoted to this history.
Puppets and a magical Snow White Story
Near one end of the bridge you’ll find the workshop of master Puppet carver Martin Gobsch. Keep an Euro handy for his display window. You do not want to miss this!
The scene opens when you drop in a coin… and the Wicked Witch opens her cape to display a fully animated Snow White story. Dwarves digging in the mine, the prince, the witch, the poison apple, and Snow White….all in motion. Fabulous and amazing!
The center of wealth, and location of the fanciest homes where the richest Burghers lived, is just down the Via Regia from the Krämerbrücke. The beautiful Rathaus anchors one end of the square.
But look around… every home and building seems to outdo the next with its intricate style and carvings. Keep your eyes out for the house with the Red Ox (it’s eyes will follow you where ever you go!) Those little naked chubby figures? They are supposed to be the Muses (yes, I know, Muses are traditionally women, and these ones quite clearly have the wrong anatomy).
Another home on the Fischmarkt has a beautiful frieze of the Five Senses... and underneath a cafe, making it the perfect place to end our evening tour.
There is still so much more to see in Erfurt
The Petersberg Zitadelle with its lovely gardens, and the Augustinerkloster are at the top of the list. But for now, we have wonderful memories of a beautiful city at the crossroads of Germany.
Thank you again to Matthias for showing us his beautiful city… and for the wonderful stories (especially the gruesome ones!) You can find Matthias and his colleagues at Erfurt-Erleben.
You can also find tours here and attraction tickets at the Erfurt Tourist Office, or here…