Erfurt 1 – On the Trail of Martin Luther

October 9 –

We traveled out of Berlin on Monday, October 9, to a highly recommended town called Erfurt. Page was especially keen to go there, because this had been his first stop into East Germany on his photo excursion Beyond the Wall back in 1989. He and his fellow photographer stayed only one night in Erfurt, and he took only one photo of the city, from a tall block hotel then called the Inter-City Hotel (now the Radisson).

Photo credit: Page Chichester

We were not in a position to reproduce Page’s photo exactly (we did not go to the Radisson), but here’s a pic of a very small part of what we saw on Monday.

Page noted about these two structures, that they appear as most everything did in the DDR when he crossed the border in 1989, shortly after the wall fell.

Simply for context (and because I find it compelling) I’ve unearthed a bit of history of the city that I’ll include here, and then I have multitudes of photos to share—thus the break into two parts. We spent over 7 hours there, during a day with changing weather—although we did not get rained on and it was what the weather forecasters would have called mostly sunny. It was a grand excursion in an amazing place that is not (yet) overrun with tourists. We don’t regret a moment of it, although I’d recommend that, if you can possibly arrange it, try to choose a day that is not a Monday, when all the museums are closed.

Erfurt (pronounced “ear-fort” or “air-fort”) is the capital and largest city in the state of Thuringia, central Germany, in the wide valley of the Gera River. It is located 100 km (62 mi) south-west of Leipzig, a two-hour ICE train ride south-west of Berlin, and about 250 miles north of Munich. Combined with neighboring cities Weimar and Jena, Erfurt forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia (approx. 500,000 inhabitants).

The Gera River has played a significant role in Erfurt’s history, architecture, commerce, and economy for hundreds of years.

Erfurt’s old town is one of the most intact medieval cities in Germany, having survived World War II with very little damage. We visited several of the many, many churches in the city (including one that was left un-reconstructed after its destruction by bombers), and also Petersburg Citadel, one of the largest and best preserved town fortresses in Europe. Its economy is based on agriculture, horticulture and microelectronics, and its central location has allowed it to become a logistics hub for Germany and central Europe. 

This is what we could see of the intentionally un-reconstructed church, with a creepy plaque (that many have touched and made shiny in spots) so that residents and visitors will never forget.

Erfurt hosts the second-largest trade fair in eastern Germany (after Leipzig) as well as the public television children’s channel KiKa (something like our non-commercial PBS Kids channel) shortened from der KinderKanal (the children’s channel). KiKa’s mascot is the puppet character Bernd das Brot, a chronically depressed loaf of bread. (This note will become more relevant in the second half of this post: Erfurt 2: On the Trail of Sponge Bob.)

All around town were these characters from the children’s channel programming, even in the middle of the river.

The name Erfurt was first mentioned in 742, as Saint Boniface founded the diocese. At the time, the town did not belong to any of the Thuringian states politically. But it quickly became the economic centre of the region. It was part of the Electorate of Mainz during the Holy Roman Empire, and later became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1802. From 1949 until 1990 Erfurt was part of the German Democratic Republic (DDR or East Germany).

A notable institution in Erfurt is the University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule Erfurt) founded in 1379, the first university to be established within the geographic area which constitutes modern-day Germany. It closed in 1816 and was re-established in 1994, with the main modern campus on what was a former teachers’ training college. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was the most famous student of the institution, studying there from 1501. He either stayed or returned to teach in Erfurt, and his translation and reproduction of the Bible in the German vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to the common man. This had a tremendous impact on both the church and German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. In addition, his hymns influenced the development of singing in Protestant churches.

Other famous Erfurters include the Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), and Gunda Niemann (1966- ) three-times Olympic speed skating gold-medal winner.

The entryway to walk the most quaint of all the streets of Erfurt.
Quirky art is tucked here and there and everywhere.
The cellar of this tavern, called the Red Horn, has been documented to have been built in 1386, but archaeologists date the roof and upper part of the structure to 1301. It was restored between 1993 and 1995.

So. There was/is plenty of history in this lovely small city, and we hit the highlights. But all four of us (Page, Ini, Jack, and I) began early by catching the S-Bahn to Berlin Hauptbahnhof to meet Lee in time to catch our ICE (high-speed inter-city) train by 8:20. At about 10:30A we stepped off the train in Erfurt, and walked toward the center of town. Our return tickets dictated that we get back to the Bahn for embarkation (with a train change heading back) by 6:30P, and our day ended (after parting with Lee at the Hauptbahnhof) with our usual walk from the S-Bahn station to the apartment at about 10:30-ish.

Without further adieu (except for comments in the captions) here are half of the scenes and sights from walking along the Trail of Martin Luther.

This fellow had bells around his ankle and so, as he walked through the streets, he jingled and jangled. He was a seller of sourdough pretzels dressed for the historic part. Page spoke to him and bought one of his delicious offerings, and was kind enough to share it with us.
Photo credit: Page Chichester

We passed a lady focused on removing the many stuck-on advertisements from lamp and sign posts in this neighborhood. With her fingernails.

I’ve no clue.

Half of a brewing tun used as a planter in a Biergarten.

By about noon, we’d wandered back to the main square—a wide, cobbled road (with many, many trolleys and sightseeing busses all going helter-skelter) with lovely houses and businesses along it. I was taken by the critters included in this architectural element below a bay window on one building.

Rounding a corner we saw this long truck packed with colorful objects, trying to turn into a fair area that completely covered up the usually open square.
In the next moment, we figured out that workers were dis-assembling the Ferris Wheel (placing the colorful cars by crane onto the semi trucks) and the carnival was breaking up. It was fascinating to watch the take-down of the enormous structure. Jack wanted to set up shop and just watch the process.
But we went to a Octoberfest-themed restaurant for lunch, and were served by a waitress in a dirndl, who ended up drinking more beers than we had. This image was on the wall behind me as we ate burgers and fries and had our beer. The fellow reminds me of my friend Jim K, who always signs his emails, “Prosit!”

After lunch, we headed uphill to a knoll where several churches reside, and Page was hard at work. The views from this hilltop were great, but not as good as those we captured from the citadel/fortress, which was our next stop, and the beginning of Erfurt 2.

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