In cooperation with the World Heritage Region Wartburg Hainich
Mühlhausen is a town rich in history and tradition, whose beginnings date back to the Middle Ages. Even today, the historic fortifications and old half-timbered buildings give a sense of times gone by. Also the many traditional festivals of the city, such as the fountain festival or Germany's largest city fair, make Mühlhausen an attractive destination in the World Heritage region Wartburg Hainich.
The square is still empty so early in the morning. Only a few isolated walkers and cyclists are on the cobbled streets. And so there are only a few who can enjoy the sight of the historic fortifications, behind which the morning sun is just rising and bathing the top of the Rabenturm in golden light. With this peaceful sight of the just awakening city, it is hard to believe that the approximately 800-year-old wall of light-colored stone with two pointed turrets once served to defend Mühlhausen. A total of 2.2 kilometers of the historic fortifications have been preserved. These include the Frauentor (Women's Gate) and the Rabenturm (Rab's Tower), from whose viewing platform at a height of 34 meters you can enjoy a wide view over the town and the surrounding area.
Today, the Blobach, the large square in front of the Frauentor, no longer holds invaders. Instead, the first major celebration of Mühlhausen begins here every year on Easter Saturday: the Spring Festival. - This year, from April 16 to 24. - Then you can hear the laughter of children whizzing through the air on a carousel echoing off the old city walls, and the traditional fireworks display along the fortifications wakes Mulhouse from hibernation with a loud bang. When the medieval town with its carefully restored half-timbered houses and artfully designed buildings is then bathed in colorful rocket light, it is no longer surprising that it was a Mühlhausen architect - August Röbling - who designed the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Anyone who grows up in this setting will certainly have enough architectural inspiration for a lifetime.
The town of Mühlhausen is nestled in the fertile floodplain of the Unstrut, a tributary of the Saale, and between the heights of the Hainich National Park and the Eichsfeld. Anyone driving towards Mühlhausen can count 13 spires towering above the town's red roofs. This imposing sight already gave the town the nickname "mulhusia turrita", the tower-rich Mühlhausen, in the Middle Ages.
The town was first mentioned in a document in 967. In the 11th century the old town with its market settlement was built and in 1200 the town wall with 38 defense and pulpit towers was erected around the town center. Some of these towers were rebuilt centuries later into pretty pavilions with mullioned windows that fill the dark walls with light. Here tourists can enjoy the view over the city and also learn something about the former use of the fortifications. Of the seven double gates, only the Lady Gate remains today. Four archways open the way to the city center. If you walk through and look closely, you may see a child's face behind the embrasures, peeking through the narrow slits in the masonry. The old battlements are open from Easter to October for tourists who want to experience the historical flair up close.
Over the cobblestones, we continue along Herrenstrasse into the city center. Colorful houses with white mullioned windows line the street. The further you follow the street, the taller a tower rises above the red roofs of the close-knit houses. For here in Mühlhausen stands the second largest church in Thuringia: St. Mary's Church. The five-nave Gothic hall church has been a dominant feature of the townscape since the 15th century. If you put your head down on the square in front of the church, you will be rewarded with the sight of hundreds of no turrets and ornate sculptures adorning the bright stone facade.
Whether Thomas Müntzer already paused in amazement at this sight? The theologian and reformer used St. Mary's Church as a podium for his speeches from 1523 to 1525, making Mühlhausen a center of the Reformation. Inspired by Martin Luther, who had translated the New Testament disguised as Junker Jörg not far from Wartburg Castle from 1521 to 1522, the revolutionary strove for ecclesiastical reform and political reorganization. As a result, he became the leader of the Peasants' War in Thuringia. To this day, the church hall of the Marienkirche houses a memorial. The Kornmarktkirche also offers another exhibition on the Peasants' War that is well worth seeing.
Even older than St. Mary's Church is the historic town hall. The Gothic core building, consisting of the town hall and the council chamber, was erected as early as 1270 and has been supplemented over the years by more recent buildings. "Dehr Herr bewahr deinen Eingank unt deinen Ausgank" is written in white letters above the curved entrance gate. This is a wish that should also be called out to the people of Mühlhausen every year at the end of August. Because that's when Germany's largest town fair begins in this otherwise tranquil town. The colorful hustle and bustle, which the town has been staging since 1877, lasts ten days. Then the alleys fill with laughter and the wonderful smell of roasted almonds, cotton candy and Thuringian bratwurst. This year the city festival will also take place from August 26 to September 3.
Similar in size to the fair is the Plum Blossom Festival, which is celebrated annually at Whitsun. After all, Mühlhausen plum puree is one of the most popular in Germany. Every year, 3,400 tons of plums pass through the halls at the plant at the train station, from which 50,000 jars of the delicious fruit puree are produced every day. No wonder, then, that the people of Mühlhausen celebrate the plum blossom so gratefully. Various bands perform on three stages in the city center and fill the city with folk, rock and pop music that echoes through the alleyways until everyone is prancing across the cobblestones with a lively step.
But Mühlhausen will also look familiar to music fans for another reason. And this has to do with the Divi Blasii Church. Built between 1270 and 1290, the church with its two towers is not only one of the earliest Gothic churches in central Germany. From 1707 to 1708, a man also went in and out of here whose musical work is still held in honor around the world today: Johann Sebastian Bach. The composer, who was 22 years old at the time, was the church's organist during this period and filled the old walls with magnificent organ sounds. A sound experience that would certainly be worth traveling back in time. But as long as time travel is not yet possible, this medieval-looking town will also manage to transport visitors to an earlier time for a while.
By train comfortably and without traffic jams to Mühlhausen: Plan arrival.
Cover photo: The defensive fortification of Mulhouse built in 1200. © Tino Sieland
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