Excursion 1: Eisenach

During the summer program here in Leipzig, we have the awesome opportunity to visit several nearby towns as part of the curriculum. The first of these was Eisenach. Eisenach is a small town, built up during Middle Ages. No real records of its founding exist, but it was mentioned around 1100 in a chronicle or two. Eisenach has two claims to fame: Johann Sebastian Bach was born there, and the Wartburg, home for a time to Saint Elizabeth and Martin Luther.

We took a day trip via bus to Eisenach. It took us about two hours of travel time to get to the city. Our schedule included a tour of the Bach house, time for lunch, and then a hike up the mountain to the Wartburg, where we had a tour and a bit of time before we left. The Bach House is a magnificent museum. We had a special ticket that permitted us to witness two house organs and three different clavichords being played. This was a highlight; it was very beautiful. The museum also offered a look into what life was like back in the time of Bach. Many rooms are preserved or reworked to appear as they did in his time. Another highlight was the glass organ that they had on display.

A side note: one of the interesting things about Germany is the view on old structures. The saying goes “Americans think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans think that 100 miles is a long way.” This is true. There are thousands of old structures here, left to decay or casual repurpose. I recall riding on the train and seeing a plethora of old rail structures, weathering and aging because no one found them significant enough for restoration. When one has many 200 year old or more structures to keep up, one seems to care a bit less for 100 and 50 year old structures.

The Wartburg is a delightful place on the top of the local hill. Spanning back to the late 1000’s, the fortress has seen many rulers. It was the home of Saint Elizabeth (1207-1231) for over a decade; this individual was considered so good, that the Protestants kept her as a saint after the reformation. She was married at an early age to the prince of Thuringia, who then died when she was 20. She took her money, built a hospital, and ran it until her death at age 24. This fortress was also home to Martin Luther during the time that he translated the Bible into German.

The Wartburg was added on to by a large handful of people; as one can see from photos, it is a collection of walls, towers, and buildings, all different. Two disappointing facts: Many rooms are sealed off to the public, even for those whose purchase a tour. Second, the entire castle has been rebuilt a number of times, and the stone masonry on most of it is decidedly modern. One estimate is that 30% of the main hall is original stone. The entire castle has been reworked with the tourist in mind; obvious paving and guard rails kind of break the immersion a bit. A highlight is the restored east tower. This tower covers the main fortress, so that you get amazing views of the Wartburg and the nearby Thüringen Forest.


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