The J.S. Bach Tourist

2. Eisenach

Eisenach is a charming little town of 44.000 inhabitants. It is dominated by the Wartburg, a castle on top of a mountain, which is a real shrine for many Germans, because Luther was a voluntary prisoner here when he translated the New Testament into German during only six weeks. Squalor of the communist period is only minimal in Eisenach, it has some nice half-timbered houses and also some 19th (early 20th) century charm, thanks to a short career as Kurort (Germans used to take the waters everywhere).

Eisenach is a good place to start your Bach tour because of the Bach house, Bach's alleged birth house at Frauenplan 21, which has been owned by the Neue Bachgesellschaft since 1906. The house is only Bach's birth place according to an oral tradition. Actually, Bach's father Johann Ambrosius owned a house in the former Fleischgasse close by (nowadays Lutherstrasse 35) between 1675 and 1695, which, therefore, is the more likely candidate of being Sebastian's birth place. Also, the house at Ritterstrasse 11 (behind the Bach house), was owned by Sebastian's father (1671-1673).

The Bach house, which was badly damaged during the war, has been well restored and is a nice museum now, exhibiting musical instruments, documents, and living quarters in authentic 18th century style. There is a guide at the house, who gives information (in German) about Bach's several career stations with musical examples. Some of the musical examples are recorded, but the guide also plays some instruments himself, during our visit the chamber organ, the spinet and the clavichord. In 1995, there were also information leaflets in English (and, typical for this part of Germany, in Russian) (for the information material available since 1996, see below under "Practical information").

We particularly liked the garden at the back of the house (picture on the right), which was full of wonderful flowers at this time of the year (early August). The souvenir stand sells booklets, post cards, and music tapes and CDs.

Close to the Bach House is the friendly book store of Karl Dieter Wagner (Marienstrasse 13) (closed on Mondays), which has one of the best collections of Bach books I've ever seen. Unfortunately, they only have books in German (they could sell many more if they would carry English books as well).

The second major Bach site at Eisenach is the Georgenkirche at the market square. This is the place where Bach was baptized on 23 March 1685. It also contained the Georgenschule, which counted both Luther and Bach among its pupils. Several members of the Bach family were organist at this church. At the entrance hall, there is a somewhat pompous Bach statue, not unlike the big statue next to the Bach house.

The Wartburg can be reached by foot (30 minutes), but also by car or by bus (after which you still have to climb stairs and slopes for 10 minutes, which is not all that easy for older people). A visit to the Wartburg is worth your while because of its historical significance, but also because the splendid view you have from there over the Thuringian landscape. Without any doubt, Johann Sebastian Bach must have enjoyed this view as well at some point. The historical past cultivated at the Wartburg is not the authentic Middle Ages, but the Romantic Middle Ages of Wagner and King Ludwig of Bavaria.

Practical Information

Eisenach is less than an hour by car from Erfurt (airport), Weimar. Ohrdruf, Arnstadt, or Mühlhausen. The environment is beautiful, especially the Thuringian Forrest to the South, with real gems like the small town Schmalkalden.

The Bachhaus informs me that as of 1996, all information about Bach and the historical instruments is given in English and German. Leaflets are available now in German, English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Dutch. The excellent souvenir shop has posters of Bach and musical instruments, all kinds of books, pictures of Bach and his sons, and coins of various materials.

Addresses: Bachhaus Eisenach, Frauenplan 21, 99817 Eisenach. Opening hours: Mon 12:00 - 17:45, Tue-Sun 9:00 - 17:45 (Apr-Sep), Mon 13:00 - 16:45, Tue-Sun 9:00 - 16:45 (Oct-Mar). Georgenkirche, Mariental 8, 99817 Eisenach. Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7:00 - 12:00 and 13:00 - 16:00.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Eisenach 3. Ohrdruf
4. Lüneburg Heath 5. Lüneburg 6. Lübeck 7. Arnstadt
8. Dornheim 9. Mühlhausen 10. Weimar
11. Köthen 12. Leipzig

Further information:

Go to the map or Bach's biography (Eisenach).

Go to the J.S. Bach Home Page