48 Hours In Weimar

Goethe's question, "Where can you find so many good things in such a small place", still applies to this Thuringian jewel

WHY GO NOW?

At any time of year, this is an absorbing city to visit. Among the greats who lived here were Goethe, Schiller, Nietzsche, JS Bach and Liszt - and this has had a knock-on effect in ensuring that many fine historic buildings have been painstakingly preserved. It was also in Weimar that the Bauhaus school of architectural design was founded in 1919. The city's vibrant cultural traditions are exemplified by the Summer Music Festival (from today to 4 September), with its eclectic programme of music. An evening concert of Russian music in the park next Saturday, 3 July, culminates in a spectacular firework display, while the Goethe Wine Festival runs from 26-29 August, to coincide with the poet's birthday.

TOUCH DOWN

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) flies from London Stansted to nearby Erfurt. Return flights are available in July for £62. A regular bus runs to Erfurt railway station in 16 minutes, and the train journey from there to Weimar station takes 20 minutes.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Weimar is often called "the Athens of Germany", primarily because Goethe and Schiller lived there. It is also described as a huge landscaped park with a small town in it. The English-style park on the east side of the town was planned by Goethe in his capacity as privy counsellor to the Duke Carl August. The park merges into the town without so much as a fence, and the heart of the old town, at Marktplatz, is only two minutes' walk from its edge. Despite having fewer than 70,000 inhabitants, Weimar has an orchestra (founded in 1602), a theatre and libraries, and museums and galleries, all of which would delight the Duchess Anna Amalia; it is thanks to her and her son Carl August that Weimar became such an attractive town to writers, artists and musicians during the second half of the 18th century. Weimar's final creative fling came in 1919 with the founding of the influential Bauhaus school.

From the market square, all the principal buildings and museums of the largely neoclassical town can be easily reached on foot, often through pedestrianised streets. The tourist office is on the east side of Marktplatz and is open 9.30am-6pm from Monday to Friday, 9.30am-3pm at weekends (0049 3643 24000; www.weimar.de; and www.germany-tourism.co.uk).

CHECK IN

Weimar's top hotel is also its most historic: Hotel Elephant dates from 1696 and is on Marktplatz (0049 3643 8020; www.arabellasheraton.com). The hotel, which welcomed JS Bach, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Wagner and Tolstoy, among others, was rebuilt on Hitler's orders, partly to provide a balcony from which he could make speeches. It features in Thomas Mann's novelistic biography of Goethe, Lotte in Weimar, and, more recently, in John Le Carré's Absolute Friends. Doubles from €133 (£95), including breakfast.

The Hotel Am Frauenplan, on Brauhausgasse, is located in the old town, but has a modern interior (0049 3643 49440; www.hotel-am-frauenplan.de). Doubles from €77 (£55), including breakfast. The Amalienhof is also central, in Amalienstrasse, and has doubles from €80 (£57), including breakfast (0049 3643 5490; www.amalienhof-weimar.de).

TAKE A HIKE

Start at Marktplatz, pausing to admire the carillon on the Town Hall, which is made up of 36 Meissen bells. Leave the square by the south-east corner, and stop at the Green Palace. Its spectacular Rococo hall, part of the library created by Anna Amalia, is open Monday to Saturday 11am-12.30pm, but closed from November to March; €2 (£1.40). Nearby is the house of the widow who was a mother figure to Goethe for his first 10 years in Weimar: Charlotte von Stein lived in a house converted from the royal stables.

Next on the route is Goethe's Baroque house on Frauenplan, where the writer lived for 47 years. The house is open 9am-6pm daily except Tuesday; €6 (£4.30). Schiller, however, lived for only three years in a nearby house that he bought from his English translator). Schiller's house is open 9am-6pm daily except Tuesday; €3.50 (£2.50). Turn into Frauenstrasse and then Schillerstrasse, which leads to Theaterplatz. On the corner is Wittumspalais, the modest home of Anna Amalia, now a museum celebrating the artists and intellectuals that congregated there. Open 9am-6pm daily except Monday; €3.50 (£2.50).

Also on the square is the National Theatre, built in 1906. In front of the theatre is the monument to Goethe and Schiller cast in 1857 from the iron of melted-down Turkish cannons captured at the Battle of Navarino.

At the northern corner of Theaterplatz is the Bauhaus Museum, with more than 500 exhibits that reflect the movement's contribution to design. Open 10am-6pm daily except Monday; €4 (£2.85). Finally, walk along Rittergasse and across Herderplatz to the Renaissance Kirms-Krackow House, which exemplifies middle-class 19th-century life. Open daily 9am-6pm, except Monday; €2 (£1.40). All museums close at 4pm from November to March.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

In a 16th-century stone undercroft, the Ratskeller Weimar (0049 3643 850573) on Marktplatz offers a good selection of hearty regional dishes, such as Thuringian sausages with mash and sauerkraut for €6.90 (£4.90).

TAKE A RIDE

A cycle path runs in each direction alongside the river Ilm for 120km. The 38km between Weimar and Bad-Sulza takes about four hours to cycle, and bikes are carried free on trains back to Weimar. Contact the tourist office for bike hire (0049 3643 24000).

WINDOW SHOPPING

The main shopping streets are pedestrianised Wielandstrasse, Schillerstrasse and Windischenstrasse to the west of Marktplatz, but the side streets are better for shops selling old prints or antiques.

The ginkgo leaf is a frequent motif on souvenirs, being the unofficial emblem of Weimar because of the celebrated poem by Goethe, "Ginkgo biloba". Try the shop at the Ginkgo Museum on Marktplatz. For the best selection of Meissen porcelain, try Meissener Porzellan at Neugasse 1, linking Schillerstrasse with Windischenstrasse. Feinkost Hauffe at Kaufstrasse 9-11 has the best selection of regional food and wine.

AN APERITIF

Next door to Hotel Elephant on Marktplatz is Zum Schwarzen Bären (0049 3643 853847), which has been serving beer and food since the 16th century. A pleasant spot to people-watch.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Whether you are staying at the Hotel Elephant or not, its two restaurants are recommended (0049 3643 8020). The cheaper is the Elephantenkeller, situated in a cellar with stone pillars and wrought-iron candelabra. It serves regional specialities such as lamb's lettuce salad with Harz cheese, €6.50 (£4.60), and pike and perch in a creamy chervil sauce, €10 (£7.10).

Upstairs, in an elegant wood-panelled room, the Anna Amalia restaurant destroys preconceptions about German cuisine: the chef Marcello Fabbri has been awarded a Michelin star for his work. The set menu of five courses costs €59 (£42.15).

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

The Gothic church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is the most important in Weimar, dating from c1500. It contains the tombs of many of Weimar's royal family and an altar painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

OUT TO BRUNCH

On Schillerstrasse, Café Frauentor serves breakfast, light lunches and an irresistible array of cakes. A Thuringian breakfast (sausages, cold meats, bread and jam) is €6.80 (£4.85).

A WALK IN THE PARK

The river Ilm could be followed all day, but a walk in the park that flanks the eastern side of Weimar should not be missed. The Ilm winds through the wooded park, and only in winter are you aware of the town above. Before Goethe moved to Frauenplan, he lived in a little house with a garden in the valley. The house is open daily 9am-6pm except Tuesday; €3 (£2.15).

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Palace Museum houses Weimar's impressive art collection. The building itself is remarkable, much of it dating from the early 19th- century reconstruction supervised by Goethe following a fire. Inside, it is lavishly decorated with inlaid floors, elaborate friezes, and a barrel-vaulted ballroom. As Lucas Cranach the Elder spent the last year of his life in Weimar it is not surprising that the museum has an important collection of his work, including his portrait of Martin Luther, at whose wedding Cranach was best man. The museum is open daily 10am-6pm (4.30pm from November to March) except Monday; €4.50 (£3.20).

WRITE A POSTCARD

Pick a striking card of a Bauhaus design at the museum on Theaterplatz, and then sit at a café on the square, in the shade of Goethe and Schiller, for inspiration.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The Bauhaus Am Horn house (looks rather like an iced cake. Designed by Georg Muche, it was built in 1923 as part of the first Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar, which was attended by Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. Situated above the Ilm, the house is open at weekends and on Wednesday 11am-6pm (5pm from November to March); €2 (£1.40).

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