The thick trunks of the ancient beeches are like the supporting columns in a great cathedral. The canopy of leaves fans out the sun's rays into luminous diagonals. It is pleasantly shady in the Hainich National Park. This unique German primeval forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - as are the Wartburg in Eisenach, which is just a stone's throw away. That's how it often is here, in the geographic center of Germany: cultural and natural treasures lie close together in Thuringia. Or let's simply quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The poet and native of Frankfurt spent a large part of his life in Weimar and wrote about Thuringia: "Where else in German lands can you find so much good in such a small spot?"
This is still true today. Thuringians love their nature - just as much as they love their dreamy, culture-savvy towns, where you can stroll around so leisurely. So welcome to a land of short distances! You could form great, geographically close nature-culture pairs, almost like in a memory game. In addition to Wartburg Castle and the Hainich, there are, for example: the wonderful Panorama Museum in Bad Frankenhausen and the Kyffhäuser Mountains, the Bauhaus sites in Weimar and the enchanting Ilmtalradweg, which runs along the river through the city. The old town of Mühlhausen and the Eichsfeld, Ilmenau and the Thuringian Forest or Jena and the Saale valley with the Dornburg castles. And the in-between is almost always beautiful as well: There are small, intact villages, waving lush fields and meadows, and wide vistas await travelers with castles and palaces as anchor points.
Because Thuringia is not that big, you can experience a lot in a short time: you can stroll through the small streets of Weimar in the morning and hike a part of the Luther Trail in the afternoon. Can in the afternoon still in Jena and in the evening go out to eat in Erfurt's old town, which is one of the most beautiful in Germany. Or like this: buy a bratwurst from the charcoal grill at noon, fine dining in the evening.
Who or what else do you meet when you travel up and down the country? Thuringia is the home of great artists, visionaries and thinkers - some were born here like Johann Sebastian Bach, others spent part of their lives in Thuringia: Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach, the great poet duo Schiller and Goethe, Franz Liszt, Henry van de Velde, Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius and Friedrich Nietzsche, to name just a few. Many authentic places throughout the country invite you to search for traces, there are concerts in original Bach churches, the Bauhaus Museum and the residences of Schiller and Goethe in Weimar or masterpieces from the Cranach workshop in Gotha. And alongside all this rather classical culture, you can discover small, casual, cleverly devised cultural and pub projects all over the state - most beautifully during the summer months. Just let yourself drift, everything is close together.
With an area of around 16,200 square kilometers, Thuringia is one of Germany's small states. 2.1 million people - only 2.6 percent of the German population - live in the Free State. But the tourism potential is huge: 214 official museums, more than 400 medieval castles, castle ruins and palaces (thanks to the small state!), 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most of which are in Weimar, 18 spas and health resorts, around 7,500 kilometers of hiking trails, and more than 1,500 kilometers of Long-distance cycle routes. The most important hiking region is of course the Thuringian Forest with the famous Long distance hiking trail Rennsteig (169.3 kilometers). You can cycle along the Ilm, Werra, Saale and Unstrut rivers, for example. A few more interesting numbers about Thuringia? With a length of 7,917 meters, the Rennsteig Tunnel is the longest road tunnel in Germany. The highest mountain in Thuringia is the Schneekopf with 978 meters - on top you can eat well and also stay overnight in the Neue Gehlberger Hütte. The famous Krämerbrücke, the longest bridge in Europe that is continuously built with houses, measures 120 meters - if you want to experience it silently, don't come before 7 p.m. in the evening. And it took Martin Luther only 11 weeks in 1521/22 to translate the New Testament into German. He not only translated, he also "invented" the written German language and gave it many expressive words. Wartburg Castle, the site of this exciting, yet also quite lonely event almost 500 years ago, is located pretty much exactly in the geographical center of Germany. And even the 350,000 or so visitors that the famous castle icon normally has every year can't take anything away from its special aura.
And that's another impressive figure: every year, about 400 million bratwursts are produced in Thuringia. The Thuringian Rostbratwurst is the best-known specialty of the state, but that there is only one original Thuringian Rostbratwurst is, of course, nonsense. In every region it is made differently - with marjoram, with caraway seeds, even with chili. And then, of course, there are the Thuringian dumplings, for which there are probably about as many recipes as there are family traditions. Just so much: Generally, some of the potatoes are processed raw for this purpose. Thuringian dumplings taste good with hearty meat dishes, such as roulades. However, it is also a rumor that Thuringians eat dumplings all the time, because they are much too time-consuming to prepare. People look forward to dumplings when they are invited to their grandmother's house or when they go out to eat. Which brings us to the topic at hand: Traditional cuisine is also simple, good and hearty in the middle of Germany - but of course many young top chefs interpret this tradition in a new, different and lighter way. Just two are recommended here: Daniel Reichel from the Landgrafen in Jena, for example, or Björn Leist at the Rhön Embassy. Other important stops in the state are Goldhelm chocolate in Erfurt, mustard specialties from Kleinhettstedt, Germany's northernmost winegrowing region around Bad Sulza, plum jam from Mühlhausen and delicious Köstritzer Schwarzbier.
So first of all: Thuringian is not Saxon, even if it may sometimes sound quite similar to outsiders. The Thuringians have the following to say on the subject: "It's a real cheek to lump everyone together." And: the Thuringian dialect doesn't really exist anyway. The state is also linguistically extremely diverse; scientists from Jena speak of nine language areas. But the "purest" Thuringian is probably spoken in the Erfurt-Ilmenau-Gotha area. And here is a small sample to practice and memorize:
no (with deep, short O) - yes
no freilich - yes of course
one annerschter - another
nüscht - nothing
fiddle - to make mischief
heem - home
That's really cool. - That's great.
Atöpfel - potatoes
Galba Rohm - Carrots
Bagash - Group/Troop/Unit
demmeln - ride a bike
Cover photo: Wartburg Castle above Eisenach has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999 © Regionalverbund Thüringer Wald e. V./Dominik Ketz
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