By the end of my time exploring the Martin Luther Trail in Germany, I wasn’t sure if there was anything left to learn. I felt as if I’d seen and done it all, but then I arrived into my final city of the journey, Eisenach. Truly saving the best for last, Eisenach isn’t really a household name, but it’s a city in Germany that deserves some attention not just for Luther, but for everything else the city has to offer. Spending the day exploring this Thuringian city was one of the highlights of my Luther journey in Germany, so I thought I’d share some experiences that meant the most to me and why, ultimately, I think Eisenach should be on everyone’s Germany travel to-do list.
Place of Legends
Located at the edge of the massive Thuringian Forest, Eisenach feels as if it’s at the crossroads of a Grimm Fairy Tale. Since the home of the Grimms isn’t too far away, Eisenach may have indeed inspired them, just as it has inspired generations of others. But Eisenach isn’t home to Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White, no, it’s home to some very real legends of thought and music. Since I was in Germany in order to retrace the life and times of Martin Luther in this, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, my first stop in town was to learn more about his time in the city and what it meant to him and the world. What fascinated me about Luther were the many serendipitous moments in his life. He died in the same town where he was born, although he didn’t live there at the time, and where he spent his formative years studying is also where he accomplished his greatest intellectual feat. Yes, Eisenach played a pivotal role in Luther’s life, starting early when he was sent there for his studies. To learn not just about his formative years, but his entire life, I spent the morning at what is honestly one of the best curated museums I’ve visited, the Luther House in Eisenach.
One of the oldest surviving half-timbered houses in the region, today the Luther House isn’t just where Luther lived while in Eisenach, but now it’s an amazing center of education and learning. Combining the architectural integrity of the historic building with modern museum design, the visitor experience is truly exceptional. Although I’d spent an entire week learning about Luther’s life in at times excruciating detail, the Luther House accomplishes the same feat in ways that are engaging, interesting and even fun. Multimedia exhibits, artifacts and more all take the visitor not just through Luther’s life, but what his work meant to world history. That’s no easy accomplishment, and this exceptional presentation made my morning fun instead of tedious.
Eisenach has a long history though and claims many more famous sons and daughters than just Luther, including Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach’s family was already musical by the time he arrived, and would continue to be a musical dynasty for generations to come. J.S. Bach though is of course at the center of that tradition, and visitors can learn more about him and his compositions at the Bach House in Eisenach. Another state of the art museum housed in a 15th century wooden home, the Bach House also has undergone a modern refresh creating a space that is light, fun and inviting. Whether you want to spend hours grooving to some of Bach’s greatest works, listen to on-site musicians play period instruments or learn more about the man behind the music, the Bach House is a destination where hours could be spent learning and experiencing. For a city to have two world-class museums is rare in itself, but by the end of my time I discovered one more, a final museum experience that creates a trifecta of curiosity in Eisenach.
For many visitors to Eisenach, the main reason for their visit is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wartburg Castle. This ancient fortress is where Martin Luther hid from authorities while he translated the New Testament into German, a feat that remarkably only took 10 weeks. The repercussions of this daunting task though are still being felt today, making this an important site for intellectual pilgrimage. Today the castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a variety of reasons, including Luther, but it’s just an inherently fun place to visit in its own right. I was very impressed by the quality of museums in Eisenach and the castle is no exception. With expertly curated exhibits about both Luther’s influence and the history of the castle, I spent hours here, learning, exploring and just having a great time.
Spending the Night
One of Germany’s great luxury hotels, the Wartburg Castle Hotel – officially named the Romantic Hotel at the Wartburg – isn’t just a nice place to spend the night, but is an experience unto itself. There’s no better place from which to launch your own exploration of Wartburg Castle than the Romantik Hotel. Sitting literally in the shadows of the massive building, most people think the hotel is part of the main structure itself. Guests stay at the Romantik Hotel to either relax in what is truly a peaceful and bucolic setting or to visit the castle and nearby Eisenach, also home to many wonderful museums and historical treasures. This is a place to rest and relax but also to use one’s time wisely. The same level of comfort and luxury extends to the rooms, each unique and exuding the friendly country atmosphere found in every corner of the property. Whether you decide to relax on the sofa in your room or in the downstairs library, peace and quiet is almost guaranteed.
By the end of my time exploring the Martin Luther Trail, I have to admit that I was a little fatigued and felt as if I had learned all I could about the man behind the legend. That’s why I’m thankful that my final stop was in Eisenach, a city that proved me wrong about everything. Thanks to some amazing museums, a lively and colorful downtown and incredibly friendly people, my time in Eisenach was a highlight of my time in the country and is now a city I can’t wait to return to and explore even more.