Tucked away behind the Pantheon in the 5ème Arrondissement of Paris, there is a bar. This bar is small and unpretentious, wallpapered inside with yellowed posters in an anarchy of papier mâché. There are two rooms: first, a narrow bar for sipping cheap imported beer, and second, just past a collage of passport photos (as if when folk arrive here, they decide spontaneously to stay), the back room, sectioned into table enclaves, where live music plays.
The Rodolphe Raffalli Trio, every Monday night
It is asparagus season in Erfurt. Which is not to say you need to eat asparagus for breakfast, or make it to the Domplatz farmers market to procure the fat, white bundles for yourself. Spargelzeit is everywhere. Nearly every restaurant offers a special Tageskarte, or daily menu, with variations on the theme.
Fountain centerpiece of the Wenigemarktplatz.
Erfurt is the capital city of Thuringia (or ThàÆ’ ¼ringen), an old Germanic settlement that became a major trading crossroads and, after centuries, was appropriated by the GDR. It is the city nearest to the geographical heart of Germany and, like many nearby towns, is famous for its Christmas market. Now, however, it is spring, so bands and farmers crowd the market squares instead. Because it is small and slightly overlooked, and just a three hour ICE train ride from Berlin, Erfurt is an ideal spot for wandering-either on its own or part of a Thuringian country tour. It is pleasant and placid, with distinctive bustle, personality-except on Sundays, of course, when all is shut.
It is morning. You’ve either woken up in Erfurt or have arrived into the Hauptbahnhof. Likely it is sunny, hot out in the open, cool in shade, the sky a perfect robin’s egg. Grab a pastry and a latte macchiato at the first café you see, maybe one with outdoor seating on the Gera river, which trickles, one foot deep, through the city center, its smaller tributary dribbling along behind it. You will have to cross a thoroughfare, the wide Juri-Gagarin-Ring, which separates the medieval city center from rest of town. The BahnhofstraàÆ’à… ¸e gets you pretty far, as it gives into SchlàÆ’ ¶sserstraàÆ’à… ¸e. This leads you straight into the Fischmarkt, with the stately Rathaus (city hall). From there you’re free to wander off in each direction. Don’t worry, you will not get lost.
For the morning hours, a stroll. Not much English is spoken in Erfurt, but a tourist information center located on the Benediktsplatz offers user-friendly maps and pamphlets for your troubles. While here, consider booking tickets for the opera or an evening concert. Chase the ghost of Martin Luther through the streets, the university, or the Augustinerkloster.
Alte Synagoge (the old synagogue) in Erfurt, over 900 years old.
Make sure to visit the Alte Synagoge, the oldest standing synagogue in Europe, or wander along the famous KràÆ’ ¤merbràÆ’ ¼cke, or “Merchants Bridge”, once the residential center of this town. Today there are 32 houses on the bridge, mostly antique and artisan shops. Behind it is the Kreuzgasse, a tiny, cobbled cross street with places to buy mustards, meats, and chocolate souvenirs. If you look carefully, you’ll find a charming coin-op puppet show built into the bricks.
For lunch consider picnicking. Bakeries or DàÆ’ ¶ner shops are plenty; grab some sandwiches (and Bier from a GetràÆ’ ¤nkemarkt!) and trace your way along the Gera to an ideal picnic park. Take off your shoes and plunge your feet into the brook.
Mosey back toward the KràÆ’ ¤merbràÆ’ ¼cke, past the medieval bakery, toward the Augustiner Biergarten. You’re looking for the workshop café of the Goldhelm Schokoladen Manufaktur, which will be unmistakable with its white iron café tables and its ice cream counter with a lengthy queue. Sample any flavor you like, but bear in mind the bitter chocolate is unbeatable. If there happens to be a chill in the air, sit and order HeiàÆ’à… ¸e Schokolade instead, a hot chocolate so dense with cocoa that it coats the cup sides.
If you haven’t made it to the Domplatz yet, afternoon is ideal. Wander along MarktstraàÆ’à… ¸e until it empties into the wide expanse of stone. Scale the impressive steps to the Mariendom cathedral, saving its sister sanctuary for last. Here are two extremely stylish churches, vaulted ceilings, cold stone floors, rows of wooden pews, a breathtakingly ornate altar, and perhaps an errant bird or two. Just across the courtyard, the Dom St. Severi is nothing to be sniffed at; admire the unfinished carvings on the tombs you’ll tread.
Just a short walk from the cathedrals is the Erfurt citadel. Even if you don’t bother with the history lesson, the view is worth the walk. Here is all of Erfurt laid out beneath you, the dark forests visible on the hills. Treat yourself to a Rhabarber-Schorle (half rhubarb nectar, half sparkling water) or an icy aperitif at the Glas HàÆ’ ¼tte to inaugurate your evening.
Whether you choose a typical Thuringian restuarant dinner (I recommend Zum Wenigemarkt 13, al fresco dining on the square and plenty of Spargel on their Speisekarte), a Biergarten (Zum Goldenen Schwan, just near the Michaeliskirche-high marks for authenticity and charm), or more casual fare, your dinner will be moderately priced and fresh. Expect creamy sauces, doughy ThàÆ’ ¼ringer KlàÆ’ ¶àÆ’à… ¸e (dumplings), curly green leaf lettuce, plus meats and bratwurst of the highest pedigree.
Theater Erfurt is located just behind the Domplatz to the left of the Mariendom cathedral; follow the flock of well dressed Erfurters as they clack their sandal heels on the cobble stones-you cannot miss the theater’s glass faà§ade. (Our visit coincided with the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Die Zauberin, but there are ample choices. Just note: the titles are in German, so maybe choose an opera you are familiar with.) Treat yourself to champagne or Schwarzbier at intermission, and another ice cream afterwards. You’ll have earned it with all your wandering around.
And remember, Erfurt is alive at night, but the streets are rarely crowded. The 203,333 residents and additional tourists are easily dispersed among its alleys and its charms. As you make your way back to your accommodations or your outbound train, take your pick of charming cafés and cocktail bars. (I recommend Modern Masters for imaginative cocktails, and Hemingway for Cuba Libres and cigars). If you have time, don’t miss the unassuming Noah, hidden on Grosse Arche 8. A ship’s prow dominates the door. Pick your way through the kitschy dark wood inside to the outdoor garden. Choose a bench and order a stein of something local. The barmaid will mark your tab in tick marks on a cardboard coaster. Clink tankards to cheer your day in Erfurt, and don’t forget that, when you’re here, it’s “Prost!”
Not surprisingly, Weimar is a tourist destination. Small and walkable, with history on every corner. Home of the German National Theatre and some 20 other landmarks and museums, it is the town of Goethe, Schiller, Ginko biloba and the grande dame Duchess Anna Amalia’s library (so impressive only 290 persons may visit per day and those spots are filled months in advance). It was once the seat of the celebrated Weimar Republic, later claimed as a rallying location for the Third Reich, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also the birthplace of the Bauhaus movement, Germany’s most important contribution to international art and modern culture in the 20th Century.
Behind the Anna Amalia Ducal Library (Weimar, Germany)
Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919 when Walter Gropius invited an internationally renowned faculty to bridge the gulf between art and technology in the wake of World War I. Although the movement would only reach its prime in Dessau in the late 20s, then Berlin in the early 30s, Weimar was the cradle for this infant avant-garde. The school admitted anyone, regardless of social status, high school graduation, even sex, to study with the masters. (An excellent monograph was published to coincide with the MoMA’s Bauhaus exhibition in 1999, addressing the all but forgotten Weimar women, who are represented as an afterthought in the Weimar museum. Make sure to Google Alma Siedhoff-Buscher.)
I visited on a Tuesday in late May, when universities were still in session and blossoms were still on the trees, and had the place almost to myself. Currently housed in a coral-colored former coach house on the Theaterplatz, just across from a formidable bronze of Goethe and Schiller chumming it up in the afternoon sun, the museum is small-home to but a fraction of its massive collection of Bauhaus documents and artifacts.
The handheld guided tour device narrates (in lush British tones) all things Bauhaus-from the evolution of the signet design by student contest, to the ideological and artistic differences of the members. It describes the Bauhaus mission to reunite art and craft, to eliminate the distinction between form and function in the service of producing aesthetically useful objects to both beautify and simplify everyday life for everyday people.
I lingered at every headset icon (particularly the one next to the unassuming Paul Klee oil painting, Wasserpark im Herbst and the jagged Gelmeroda XI by Lyonel Feininger, rescued from Nazi confiscation) and finished the tour in a little over an hour. Particularly delightful is the bright and tiny Kandinsky study, just shapes on paper, but stunning all the same. There is also a film, however-sadly-it’s in Deutsch. The lobby, dominated by Johannes Itten’s colorful Turm des Feuers, conceals a stylish gift shop offering prints, postcards and art books, not to mention souvenir trinkets and fabulously well-designed hats.
Plans are under way to move the museum to a more auspicious location in the future, which will accommodate the collection in its entirety. But Bauhaus isn’t all about artifacts (chairs, lamps, puppets, children’s toys and aesthetically-satisfying teapots). It is ultimately about architecture. Gropius’s 1919 Manifesto states that “the ultimate aim of all artistic activity is a building!” The Bauhaus building-of-the-future would combine “everything in a single form-architecture, sculpture and painting-” and would, one day, “rise towards the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith.” Most of this architectural innovation took place once the Bauhaus epicenter moved on to Dessau and Berlin (and of course, in its resulting spread across the world), but one project was carried to completion-and still stands in Weimar, the Haus Am Horn.
A schlep through the lovely Park an der Ilm (worth it for the sprawling waist-deep meadows and enormous, stately trees) revealed that the house is only open certain days. But, rest assured, the climb rewards you with a Biergarten for an early afternoon pick-me-up. The house itself sits (almost comically) next to a more typical ThàÆ’ ¼ringian mansion, but a walk around the wire fence reveals its perfect placement: squarely on a rise, just beside a towering red maple.
Once you’ve whet your palate with a little Bauhaus history, you’ll swear you start to see it everywhere-in the bookshops and the balconies of Weimar, incandescent in the early evening light.
The rest of your evening is all yours to explore. Stop by the Giancarlo artisan eiscafé for one of over 100 flavors of artisanal ice cream and homemade kuchen, but don’t spoil your appetite for dinner at Anno 1900, a charming ThàÆ’ ¼ringian bistro just off the central Goetheplatz.
Cafe tables outside the Anno | 1900 restaurant
And remember, in Weimar, a platz by any other name is still a Goethe platz.
Get in touch with the author @msmeghanbean.
Glamis Castle and the Strathmore Estate on an afternoon in Spring (Angus, Scotland)
The Castle Glamis (pronounced “glamz” ) dominates the end of a long driveway, at the edge of a quaint town by the same name. There is a small shop and post office, with knit bears visible through the windows, and a warm pub that smells of butter-baking fish and roast potatoes, with deep red and wood-paneled walls, the Strathmore Arms.
Of literally hundreds in Scotland, Glamis Castle is perhaps the most grand. It is off the beaten path: two hours northeast of Glasgow by rented car, through Perth and Dundee. While most travelers look no further than Stirling or Edinburgh for their castle gawking-needs, the enterprising soul who makes the weekend trek will have the Vale of Strathmore almost to herself, sweeping views of rolling rapeseed-iridescent hills, hirsute Angus cows, and all the flowers of spring. (more…)