Classic and Modern Weimar in 24 Hours
Weimar in 24 hours is brought to you courtesy of my middle-of-summer Germany stay-cation. This summer, I volunteered to work at a festival which is taking place in Weimar. Great, I thought, Weimar, a place literally close to my heart, great for history, Germany culture, etc. etc.
Although it is not a major itinerary item for most visitors to Germany, it makes a nice stopover on your Germany trip, and it’s not too crowded even at the height of summer! So, here is how to to the best of Weimar in 24 hours.
Why visit ? And can you see Weimar in 24 hours?
In a nutshell, Weimar is known throughout Germany for three pretty separate things.
Firstly, for the period “Weimarer Klassik”, influenced by the quartet of writer-philosophers Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Johann Gottfried von Herder and Christoph Martin Wieland. They are important representatives of the period of Enlightenment, finding its way into split and scattered Germany very late. Interestingly, the period in Weimar was kicked off by a rather open minded monarch, the Countess Anna Amalia of SAchsen-Weimar-Eisenach who asked Wieland to teach her sons. Goethe followed – initially also as a teacher, but later as the secretary, chief garden planner and librarian to the countess.
Secondly, for being the birthplace of the Bauhaus movement, when Walter Gropius was called to be director of the local arts school and not only did he teach but he also designed them a new building which may not have been that radical, but radical were the ideas he and his contemporaries (Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and many others taught at the school.
And, lastly but sadly, for being the site of the largest concentration camps in Germany during the National Socialist and Soviet regimes. Parts of the camp have been preserved as a museum. It is one of the most thorough and most detailed museums on the National Socialist Regime – having said, that, I have been to Terezin and Mittelbau-Dora and cannot compare with any of the others but Buchenwald was certainly the most haunting one.
To see, everything, absolutely everything Weimar has to offer, you can go to the Website of the “Stiftung Klassik Weimar” which is quite tidy with an English option and sometimes up to date opening times. Make you rown Weimar in 24 hours itinerary. The one below offers a bit of classic, a bit of modern Weimar, most of it free, with plenty of walking in green spaces and pit stops along the way.
Arrival and Orientation
Chances are, you will arrive by train. Outside the train station is a large bus stop – most buses will go to central Goetheplatz.
The Goetheplatz is dominated by the large Deutsches Nationaltheater and a larger-than-life statue of Goethe and Schiller, real life mates and crowd pullers of Weimar. It was erected just a few years after the death of Goethe in 1832. The theatre is very active most of the year except summer but unfortunately unless you are able to understand German, there isn’t much to garner your interest – you might catch an Offenback operetta, Clockwork Orange or a concert if you are lucky but most is spoken word rather than music.
The Goetheplatz is great for people watching and has a number of the appropriate cafes to do so. If you then follow the main pedestrian road into tree-lined Schillerstrasse, you will see to the left the house Schiller lived in his short life in Weimar , three years, to be exact, before passing out in his study. The house is quite modest and compact and decorated how it would be in Schillers lifetime, quite nicely and sparse.
As the house is very small, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) built a new glass and steel extension behind it. It was the only new build of a literary museum in GDR and was THE bees knees in the 1980s, and quite rightly, I got dragged there as a little schoolgirl although Schillers works were some of the most boring literature I ever read, probably only superseded by Maxim Gorkis “The Mother”. Not to put you off, I think the museum is a nice bite sized introduction into Weimar classicism – unlike Goethe’s house which is rather uninspired.
Schillerstrasse and Frauenplan
Now, walk along the pleasant tree-lined pedestrian Schillerstrasse. You won’t have to go far. Have a coffee, look at the bookshops – there are two – or perhaps a little souvenir shopping? Strangely, 3D postcards have a renaissance in Weimar. I still have a stack from the Soviet Union because they were quite popular there. Here, on the Market and in parallel Windischenstrasse you find most shops with some touristic interest, but let’s talk about that later.
The Goethe Residence and Goethe National Museum (Goethe House am Frauenplan)
Alright, poet and philosopher No.2 that shaped Germany’s development from random melange of mini and micro states, of whom maybe Prussia and Bavaria were kinda significant, to what’s now a quite reasonable democratic country. Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. Why was he so important? To be honest, his literature is mostly incomprehensible to the average reader and not much fun to read. However, this middle-class lawyer who practices law, wrote prolifically and garnered influence on the small court of Weimar, advised the Duke on matters cultural on political and wrote not just poetry and drama but also researched nature and travelled widely.
The pretty spacious house on Frauenplan in the middle of town is there Goethe spent many decades of his life. Nowadays it has a museum about his work attached, whereas for many years, it was just a sparsely decorated residence without many educational exhibits. I would say, nice to know, but one of the poets houses would be plenty to get an idea of late 18th Century middle class lifestyle.
A pretty fast and low-key visit, but it is kind of on your way. If you are really into the Bauhaus movement and want to learn a lot about it and view some of the design projects, I suggest a visit to the Bauhaus Museum which is in a totally different part of town – halfway between train station and Goetheplatz, a somewhat ugly concrete monolith pairing up with the equally ugly “Weimar Atrium” , a run-of-the-mill shopping mall. To be honest, both buildings look like a forgotten Albert Speer design, and I am not saying this lightly.
Like the Bauhaus Museum Dessau, it was opened for the Bauhaus Centenary in 2019 and I don’t know which one is the uglier of the two. I had absolutely no motivation to leave the bus and walk in the blazing sunshine across some concrete square to either, so I don’t know, there are a lot of models and posters and bits of furniture on shelves that you are not allowed to touch.
I admit I am biased here. I much prefer “working museums” like, for example, the Studio Aalto where you can actually sit on Aalto furniture, or the Bauhaus buildings themselves, seeing that they are very much in use.
Anyway, take a last chance for a break and a cup of coffee before you enter the park, with the pretty vine-covered gardeners’ house where the composer Franz Liszt worked from the late 1860s until his death.
Park an der Ilm and Goethes Gartenhaus
The Park an der Ilm is a nice example of English garden architecture, with gentle landscaping, native species and well-planned out lines of sight. Nothing like the “classic” English gardens at Chiswick House, Stowe or Stourhead – there is no central mansion here. Carl August, the son of Anna Amalia (of the library) and successor to the throne in the micro states of Sachsen-Weimar and Sachsen-Eisenach, apparently gifted Goethe (the poet) a house on the estate in the late 1770s and Goethe took it upon himself to start planning the garden, inspired by Italy rather than England yet still in the “fashionable English style”.
They did not have far to look for inspiration, as the ruler of another micro state, Leopold III. Friedrich Franz von Anhalt-Dessau, was a decade ahead in building his English garden in Woerlitz after having actually visited England.
If you have been to Woerlitz, this is a rather meagre example yet pleasant enough for a nice shaded walk to the Goethes Garden House, a sizeable detached house on the other bank if the Ilm river. The house is sparsely furnished and the real attracted are the setting of the house and the garden here.
Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek
Yeah, save the best for last! If there is one reason to make a trip to Weimar especially, it would be to visit this library. Tickets are timed and should be purchased in advance in the Stiftung Klassik Weimar Online Shop. The 8 Euro it costs to see this amazing mid-18th Century Library, one f the first in Europe to be accessible publicly. It has been in existence since the mid-17th Century, but it was Anna Amalia who supported the library financially, and eventually, gave it today’s name.
What you cannot see today when you walk the gilded yet light Rococo Hall is that the library lost abmost a third of its books in the 2004 fire and subsequent water damage from firefighting.
For those that want to do some actual study (literature and general German culture are its specialty) they can do so in the tasteful modern extension across the road from the original building, and it’s free to use.
To be honest, I didn’t really shop on this trip. I bought Tony’s Chocolonely Chocolate from Rewe supermarket. If you don’t know it, this is by far the best non-artisan chocolate available in Germany. They even have a couple of vegan options without the ridiculous price points asked for other vegan chocolates.
However… souvenirs from Weimar range from the kitsch to the very useful. Let’s start with small, portable souvenirs. There are a couple of jewellers in town who have marketed Goethe’ s beloved gingko tree for decades. Based on a Goethe poem from 1815, the gingko leaf has been marketed since I can remember – even during Eastern German times when it tended to be copper or silver (gold was scarce), now it’s more like silver or gold. So, Etsy, it was Weimar jewellers first. You can find various designs, all naturalistic-classic, and a silver gingko leaf make s a nice wearable souvenir, from the babe to the granny. Two jewellers in shouting distance sell it, I marked them in the map below. They both have displays outside, so it is worth you go have a look and compare designs and prices.
Also, one of them has more East Germany-inspired jewellery…. for the first time, I have seen the Himmelsscheibe of Nebra turned into a wearable piece of art. For the original, you will have to travel to Halle, though, two hours north. Also, various Bauhaus-inspired designs, among them the famous Max Bill Watch. Perhaps best to stick to the gingko leaf. A classic that never tires.
Windischenstrasse has a pleasant tea and coffee shop with some Weimar-themed mixes that looked nice. The whole shop smelled nice. Probably not to much for the tea purist looking for Gyokuro and Pu Erh and the finest Darjeeling, but a nice shop with mass appeal.
Last not least, why not take the opportunity to bring home a Bauhaus design? The Bauhaus Store next to the museum has tons and tons of designs to inspire you, at a price. Better to look in “normal” shops for Bauhaus designs. For tea drinkers, the Rosenthal TAC tea pot is a nice one. A lot of “Jenaer Glas” products are Bauhaus designs or Bauhaus-inspired, from the very 1930s Sintrax Coffeemaker to Wagenfeld’s iconic egg poacher. Even the humble veggie peeler allegedly has Bauhaus origins.
This would not be a complete post about Weimar if I left out the Buchenwald Memorial. This is about 5km from Weimar, and you can easily reach it by city bus. Buchenwald was the largest and most notorious concentration camp where up to 280.000 opponents of the Nazi regime and prisoners of war were forced to work in ammunition factories, tortured in “medical research” or plainly murdered. Reconstructions of much of the “camp” make this one especially haunting. I visited last as a teenager, before 1989, when Eastern German historians failed to mention that Buchenwald, like many ex-German concentration camps, served exactly the same purpose under the Soviets well into the 1950s.
Weimar in 24 hours- Where I stayed
Strike of luck was when I needed somewhere to stay very fast, that the Hotel Schillerhof had rooms available. I booked a room on my mobile and when I pitched up about ten minutes later, reception was informed and my room ready. For the 69 Euro I paid for a single, I got a superb large bright room with a double bed, air condition with individual control, a sparkling clean bathroom with a walk-in shower, ample room to store my clothes, a small desk, armchair… just perfect! The decor was kinda international-restrained modern, and it appears that the hotel was redone recently, as I have seen similar style in several new-ish hotels in the past couple years.
Moreover, bed was very comfortable. I somehow miss the crisp cotton bedlinen, as some hotels now tend to use thin fleecy linens for duvet covers – its a bit like sleeping in a Tyvek suit – but I am really nit picking here.
Getting to and from Weimar
Weimar is well placed on the Easter German rail network, with trains to Erfurt and Leipzig at least once every hour. IN Erfurt and Leipzig, you connect to the high-speed rain network to all major cities. In Leipzig you have decent connections to the intercity trains to Dresden and Prague. From Berlin, the fastest way is to take a high-speed train to Erfurt, from there, it’s just a few minutes to Weimar by local train.
The town is relatively compact and walkable. A network of buses from the train station takes you to the central “Goetheplatz” from where you can walk to all central attractions. There is abus at least every half hour to Buchenwald (Line NO.6 to Buchenwald, takes about 20 minutes).
Where to Eat
Weimar is a small-scale tourist city, with offerings to match. I don’t think anywhere will totally rip you off, but in the nice pedestrian-only area between Goetheplatz, Markt and Frauenplan you will find predominantly pretty German and Italian restaurants and cafes with multilingual menus.
Also, usually on street stalls or in restaurants, you will find the “Thueringer Rostbratwurst” , made from pork and grilled onan open spit and served with a white roll and mustard. Sadly, unlike the Berliner currywurst, there is no vegan version (yet). Another local specialty is the “Rostbraetl” a pretty tough piece of pork neck marinated in beer, mustard and marjoram then grilled and served with grilled onions. God, how I was tortured with the stuff as a child. The local dumplings, half raw and half cooked potatoes and basically the consistency of a slimy rubber ball, added to the torture when we were visiting family in Thuringia.
Anyway, not to slam on the local specialties, many really are not very veggie-friendly. So my recommendations are mostly non-Thuringian. All are in the map below.
A bit harder to find but worth it for the convivial atmosphere, killer cocktails and German menu that caters to vegetarians. All in all, my favourite restaurant in Weimar. Their opening hours are a bit restrictive, usually for dinner only from Tuesday to Saturday.
A nice all-purpose cafe right in the centre, this is not a bad choice for a nice cup of tea, a cultured cocktail, a pricey bite to eat. They cater to almost anyone including vegans and while they are quite expensive, it is rather a lovely olde-worlde yet unstuffy place for a bit of a rest right in the centre.
36 Pho Co
A Vietnamese restaurant that isn’t going the usual Eastern German Sushi-Thai-Everything route but has a fine Vietnamese menu of pho, rolls and bao burgers. Plenty of vegan options available in a really lovely restaurant. It is right on the market square and impossible to miss.
There are two other Asian restaurants worth mentioning but I have not been. One is called “Sen” in SChillerstrasse and is also Vietnamese, the other is called “San” and is Korean. Both are highly rates with vegetarian and vegan options.
Or: Fast Food in hipster surroundings. For little money, you can chip yourself out, not quite as good as in Belgium but pretty close. Also good if you just fancy a small greasy snack not a full meal. Also… a good range of vegan sauces.
So hip it hurts. I mean, I paid nearly eight Euro for a small capucchino and a bun and although they tasted fine, I don’t think they were worth the eight Euro. I am adding it here because they actually do make their bread on the premises using quality ingredients which is sadly becoming a rarity in Germany. Saying that, you will get a perfectly fine bun or sourdough stick from one of the local bakeries, Helbing or Rose, for probably half the price.
The Small Print
I visited Weimar several times over a period of 30-ish years, my last stay being in August 2022. I paid my way as usual, using my “Genius” status on Booking.com. The hotel link is an affiliate link to Booking.com. All other links including shop links are non-affiliate no follow.