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The oldest secular building in Erfurt is not only unique as a building ensemble. The attitude to life of the people who live and work on the Krämerbrücke is also different from anywhere else. Description of an endearing microcosm.

You can see right into the heart of the Krämerbrücke. There, in the depths of the bridge pillars, lie the merchants' cellars. So descend the well-worn stone steps, duck your head as you enter - and see the waters of the Gera. Through a window in the rock, you can look down on the river, which jumps cheerfully over the stones under the bridge. In the past, this was also the place where the merchants on the Via Regia, the trade route from east to west, stored the stuff they sold to travelers. Stuff, in those days, meant small, valuable things like spices, precious metals and paints. The merchants still use the bridge cellars for storage.

Living on the Krämerbrücke

This cellar is empty, it belongs to the "House of Foundations", Krämerbrücke 31. Here you can not only look at a model of the bridge, but also look around undisturbed to get an idea of life above the water. For example, you have to know what you're getting into if you want to live here. Because in summer, up to 5,000 tourists a day stroll across the Krämerbrücke - Europe's longest bridge continuously built with houses. During the day, it belongs to the big, wide world. And if you leave the door of your house open just for a moment, a few people will wash in, wanting to see what a quaint half-timbered house looks like from the inside.

Colorful souvenirs

"During my bookseller apprenticeship," says Beate Kister, "I often strolled across Krämerbrücke after work and imagined how happy I would be if I could live here." Today, the woman with the bright red scarf in her hair is a painter - and a tenant in the house with the address Krämerbrücke 25. Her eyes light up: The dream was filled with life when it came true in 1996. Beate Kister now uses watercolor pencils to paint pictures with animals and mythical creatures that look heartbreakingly colorful and decorate her store. This is actually just a window with a bell, from which she peeks out as if from a kiosk, explaining her paintings and also her life.

Only special stores

32 half-timbered houses stand on the Krämerbrücke, and almost all of them belong to the state capital. You can't rent anything here just like that. You have to submit an application. Preference is given to unusual business ideas, artisans, creative people. And so there is something in the middle of Erfurt that has not been achieved elsewhere: a gem without fashion stores and souvenir stalls. Each store is a little world of its own: left-handed store, jewelry design, gallery, ceramics, antiques, bookstore, delicatessen, chocolate factory, Thuringian specialties - the Krämerbrücke is a place where the merchants are not out for a quick buck, but tinker with a successful life plan. This flair is also transmitted to the visitors. They seem to slow their step when entering the bridge and still gain time - to look, to rummage, to marvel. 

Here all the dolls dance

There is the puppet maker Martin Gobsch, who you can look over his shoulder in his workshop. The man makes marionettes for small and large Thuringian theaters. And there is Bettina Vick, who sells Thuringian specialties in house No. 19. If you turn into Kreuzgasse at the end of Krämerbrücke, the smell of bread rolls caresses your nose. A historic bakery has opened there, where the bakers don't start at 5 a.m., but instead bake all the breads and rolls with natural ingredients in a stone oven - which pleases the clientele. And so they also accept that the first rolls are only available around 9:30.

The mikvah was recently rediscovered

Sometimes you feel like you're traveling back in time. Back to where the Krämerbrücke began - as a wooden bridge with stalls. Because of the crafts and the oil lamps, the construction torched again and again. From 1472 onwards, the houses that stand here today were finally built on the bridge, which by then was made of stone. Down by the river, near Kreuzgasse, once stood the mikvah, the Jewish immersion bath from the 13th century, which was rediscovered and excavated only a few years ago. One can visit the jewel again today. 

Stories around the Krämerbrücke

The Krämerbrücke and the alleys around it are full of stories. For example, when Alex Kühn, the inventor of Goldhelm chocolate, tells how he poured his first chocolate on marble stone on Krämerbrücke because there was no money for molds, and how he sat in front of the TV in the back room because customers seldom came - it's simply impossible to imagine. The man runs a medium-sized company with many employees, makes not only chocolate but also incredibly delicious ice cream, cakes, liqueurs and stages culinary events. Crazy, creative and young in mind, the man has remained. Only one thing is different: He no longer lives on Krämerbrücke. "The concept that only special stores come here is great," he says, "but at some point it got too tight for me."

Evening silence

About 50 people live on Krämerbrücke and everyone knows each other; Kühn even has family there. His brother does the "Mundlandung", a delicatessen with a bistro - where you can even have a wine in the evening. Because the day doesn't last that long here over the water. While behind the bridge on the Gera many people squat on the riverbank, between 6 and 7 p.m. it becomes quiet on the bridge. The stores close, the big, wide world retreats. The microcosm is left to its own devices. Regenerates. Draws breath.

Purely a matter of feeling

Meanwhile, one corner away, Christin Ballenberger is preparing for the evening. The journalist has fulfilled a childhood dream: a bistro with Mediterranean cuisine where she cooks herself. And so you sit at one of the tables, enjoying a veal piccata with tarragon aioli, and take a look at the wonder of the world above the Gera from the back. You read the menu and taste it: This woman belongs right here, because she also brings the big, wide world to Erfurt - in culinary terms. And her credo also fits the Krämerbrücke microcosm. Christin Ballenberger laughs: "What's my concept? I don't have one, this is all purely a matter of feeling."

By the way, you can find tips on how to travel comfortably and inexpensively on long-distance and local trains with Deutsche Bahn here.

Cover picture: In the evening it gets cozy on the Krämerbrücke © Gregor Lengler/Thüringer Tourismus GmbH

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