The J.S. Bach Tourist

10. Weimar

Although, in general, we saw very few tourists in Thuringia, Weimar was definitely the exception. Weimar has a concentration of cultural monuments and attracts sufficient tourists to have a parking problem. If you are not particularly interested in Bach, Weimar is probably the best touristic choice for a short stay in Thuringia. In spite of its fame and its monuments, Weimar is surprisingly small. You can cross the historical section of the town in ten minutes and in two days you can visit the majority of the museums and other attractions.

Mülhausen was not the Bach city but the Thomas Müntzer city, Weimar definitely is the city of Goethe and Schiller, whose twin statue at Theaterplatz has become the landmark of Weimar (see picture on the left below). Since Goethe and Schiller did not sleep on the street, there is a Goethe house and a Schiller house. Other celebrities who gave their name to a house are the great 16th century painter Lucas Cranach (the Elder, the Younger lived in the same house) and Franz Liszt. More great names connected with the rich cultural history of the city are Johann Gottfried Herder, Richard Wagner, Walter Gropius (Bauhaus), Richard Strauss, the great Art Nouveau architect Henry van de Velde, and Wieland. But the personality whose "presence" is felt everywhere is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Compared to this Urgrossvater of German Culture, Bach is almost invisible in Weimar.

This difference in visibility between Bach and the other cultural heroes of Weimar is one of the curious injustices of history. Goethe definitely wrote some immortal poems, his Faust has several quotable lines, some of his theater works are still staged, but outside Germany Goethe is only read nowadays by students of German (and rightly so for the most, one would say). Bach, in contrast, wrote masterpieces in Weimar that are loved by many and available in CD shops all over the world, even in the smallest towns. Weimar is literally stuffed with Goethe's ego, while the real genius of German culture, who lived in Weimar no less than nine years, has only been granted a rather obscure commemorative tablet on a grey wall (see below).

Bach not only lived in Weimar twice, in 1703 and from 1708 till 1717, he also developed his personal style here around 1713 by absorbing the Vivaldi influences into his earlier framework as it was formed by the influences of the Dutch, the French, and the North and Middle German masters of counterpoint. Here in Weimar, Bach wrote his first cantatas in the Italian style and the majority of his immortal organ works.

Most of the castles of the Dukes of Weimar of Bach's time have disappeared, including the chapel where Bach used to work. The only surviving part of the earlier buildings, is the tower plus gateway shown on the picture at the top (right) of this page. These structures are clearly recognizable on the engraving from Bach's time as shown on the Weimar biography page. The rest of the present Schloss was built after Bach's time.

Bach only lived a few hundred yards from the Schloss where he worked, between the Market place and the lovely Park an der Ilm. The house has disappeared, so there is no Bach house in Weimar. Its location was next to the still famous hotel Elephant (on the Market place), which provided lodging to many celebrities, including some sinister ones. The site is indicated by a commemorative tablet (picture on the right above; the picture on the left below shows the wider context: somebody is filming the tablet and Hotel Elephant is to the right of it. The town hall on the market place is at the far right). Note that Bach's first child born in Weimar, his daughter Catharina Dorothea, is not mentioned on the tablet.

A last Weimar site definitely worth a visit in connection with Bach is the city church St. Peter and Paul (now called the Herderkirche). In this church, four of Bach's children born in Weimar were baptized. The church organist here was Bach's friend and relative Johann Gottfried Walther. The church has had a rich musical tradition ever since. The church also has a famous Cranach altar piece.

At the end of our visit, I tried to find a location on the hills east of Weimar, to take a picture of Weimar from above, from an angle similar to the one on the engraving at the Weimar biography page, but without success. Perhaps I overlooked some suitable location, but in general there are too many houses there nowadays, while Weimar itself is largely invisible behind the many trees around the Ilm River.

Practical Information

Weimar has its own highway exit and is close to the Erfurt airport.

Addresses: Former Bach house, next to Hotel Elephant, Markt 19, D-99427 Weimar. Stadt- Schloss, Burgplatz 4, Weimar. Open: Tue-Sun 9:00 - 17:00. Herderkirche, Herderplatz 8, Weimar. Open: Mon-Fri 10:00 - 12:00 and 13:00 - 15:00.

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 (Weimar).

Go to the J.S. Bach Home Page