Weimar: a cultural tour from Bach to Bauhaus

This charming German city wears its illustrious artistic past lightly, says Mark Rowe

Economic catastrophe and devalued currencies may be on the minds of European governments at the moment, but the central German city of Weimar has been there and bought the T-shirt. In the 1920s, it became synonymous with hyperinflation and was the birthplace of the ill-fated Weimar Republic that gave way to the Nazis and the Third Reich. But today, Weimar is a charming destination, with a delightful architectural ensemble that attracts visitors, a busy programme of arts and music festivals and an easy-going pace. From Liszt to Goethe, Martin Luther, Nietzsche and Strauss, the list of those of old boys (and it is mostly boys) reads like a who's who of the German high arts. Another, Johann Sebastian Bach, is commemorated by the annual Bach Weeks festival (thueringer-bach wochen.de), a series of concerts running until 14 April. As this walk demonstrates, you can quickly settle into a life-affirming rhythm of museum, café, museum, park and just perhaps another café.

Set off from Goetheplatz, where it's worth peeking into the lobby of the landmark Russischer Hof hotel (russischerhof-weimar.de) to admire its pre-revolutionary decor of chandeliers and rich tapestries, before moving south along adjoining Wielandstrasse to the Theaterplatz. Here on your right stands the stately Deutsches Nationaltheater, where the Weimar Republic's parliament sat, while opposite stands the Bauhaus Museum (00 49 3643 545 400; das-bauhaus-kommt.de; €5; closed Tuesday). Even though it is housed in a distinctly un-Bauhaus 18th-century theatre carriage house, the museum reveals an overlooked side to the movement – the social dimension, so look out for the eye-catching displays of two-million Mark notes from 1923 when one US dollar was worth an eye-watering four billion Marks.

Leave Theaterplatz along the pedestrianised Schillerstrasse. If you feel the need to mop your brow in between these lofty arts and sights, pop into Frauentor café (00 49 3643 511 322; cafe-frauentor.de) at Schillerstrasse 2, an atmospheric dark-wood haunt where a coffee and a generous slice of cake come in at about €5.

Turn left to reach Weimar's gently sloping Markt, a gem of a market square whose pastel shades, stucco façades and swirl of gables – some wafer thin, others more blancmange in dimensions – are exceptionally easy on the eye. There's usually a statue of an artistic figure on the balcony of the Elephant Hotel, the city' swankiest address, while next door is Bach's former home and scene of a monumental hissy fit in 1718 when, overlooked as leader of the city orchestra, he flounced out, taking his genius elsewhere.

We need briefly to retrace our steps back up Frauentorstrasse to reach Frauenplan, the location for Goethe's house at No 1 (00 49 3643 545400; weimar.de; €10.50; closed Monday). The writer and politician, who died in the city, is perhaps best known as the playwright behind the Faust plays. The house where he lived for 50 years is worth nosing around, not least to admire his curious choice of interior colour schemes. Turn right out of the house and squeeze down the narrow Seifengasse, or Soap Street, where medieval washerwomen once scrubbed the pantaloons of Weimar's cerebral greats. Cross Ackerwand street and strike out across the graceful open spaces of the Park an der Ilm, a parkland with wonderful sightlines that stretches either side of the River Ilm.

To get a flavour for the park, make for the closest ruins, the remnants of an orangerie and teahouse designed by Goethe and his patron, the city's count, in an attempt to emulate an English garden. Drop down through another ruin – an artificial one this time, but again built on Goethe's orders – to cross a footbridge. Head across the park to the isolated, picturesque house ahead of you – Goethe's old garden house – and take the sloping track up to its right to reach Weimar's most exclusive residential street, Am Horn. Just to your right at No 61 is the Haus am Horn (00 49 3643 583000; weimar.de; €5 open Wed, Sat-Sun, April-September), a grey-white square building that happens to be Weimar's only house designed by the much-trumpeted but penniless Bauhaus artists.

Follow the road back to the city and turn left across the stone bridge above the Ilm to reach the Schloss, or former residence palace (00 49 3643 545400; weimar.de; €7.50). Developed by Weimar's main patron of the arts, the 18th-century Duke Carl Augustus, it's a sumptuous building with a striking collection of Old Masters.

Summon up one last morsel of energy to stagger through the front door of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library at Platz der Demokratie 1 (00 49 3643-545401; weimar.de; €7.50 tickets are allocated by time slot, so arrive early; closed Monday), an exquisite Rococo library beautifully restored after a fire in 2005. It's crammed with centuries-old dusty parchment books and has the feel of a church, but was in fact one of Europe's first public libraries when it opened in 1761. Look out for the intriguing life clock, which unsettlingly calibrated the time lived by its owner, right down to the last second.

Weimar finds it hard to let its hair down, but there are echoes of its more decadent past to be found. Cross the road to the cosy Residenz café at 4 Grüner Markt (00 49 3643 743270; residenz-pension.de). Pull up a wicker chair by the windows overlooking the park and schloss and order a slice of a butter-rich cake and a glass of the local dry white Saale-Unstrut, from Germany's smallest vineyard. It's a friendly place, often crowded with students – and there was once a violin student who frequented here, by the name of Marlene Dietrich.

Fresh cuts

The big spring and summer offering is an exhibition of the work, life and times, of Henry van de Velde, the Belgian Art Nouveau artist who paved the way for the Bauhaus movement. Housed in the Neues Museum (00 49 36 43545; klassik-stiftung.de; Tues-Sun 10am-6pm, €5.50/£4.60), the exhibition runs until 23 June.

Family Hotel at Seifengassse 8 (00 49 3643 4579 888; familienhotel-weimar.de) is a new offering with both a breezy Mediterranean restaurant and swish self-catering rooms. This is a slice of pine-based low-energy Scandinavian chic shoehorned between the chunkier Renaissance neighbours. Doubles from €85 (£72).

Travel essentials

Getting there

Mark Rowe travelled with the German National Tourist Office (germany.travel), flying to Frankfurt from Heathrow with Lufthansa (0871 945 9747; lufthansa.com), which offers returns from £190 and overnighting at the Frankfurt Airport Motel One (00 49 69 6 60 53 60; motel-one.com), which offers B&B from €84 (£71). A return rail ticket from Frankfurt to Weimar costs from €58 (£49) (bahn.de).

Alternatively, Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Leipzig/Halle, the closest airport to Weimar, about 47 miles away. Travel with Deutsche Bahn from Leipzig/Halle airport station to Weimar from €23 (£19.50) return.


Staying there

Elephant Hotel (00 49 3643 8020; luxurycollection.com/elephant) offers doubles from €121 (£102), including breakfast.

Go guided

The tourist office at Markt 10 (00 49 3643 745; weimar.de) offers free guided tours in English as well as an audio-guided walking tour (€7.50/£6.30).

More information

Buy tickets for the Bach Wochen at Weimar tourist office or through the city arts booking service (00 49 36 43545; klassik-stiftung.de).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable