Erfurt, with its half-timbered, multi-steepled medieval cityscape and shallow river gurgling through the middle, is an inviting destination.
Erfurt is the capital and largest city in the state of Thuringia, central Germany. Together with neighboring cities Weimar and Jena it forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia with approximately 500,000 inhabitants.
Erfurt’s old town is one of the best preserved medieval city centers in Germany. Tourist attractions include the Krämerbrücke (Merchants’ bridge), the ensemble of Erfurt Cathedral and Severikirche (St. Severus’s Church) and Petersberg Citadel, one of the largest and best preserved town fortresses in Europe. The city’s economy is based on agriculture, horticulture and microelectronics. Its central location has led to it becoming a logistics hub for Germany and central Europe.
Erfurt was first mentioned in 742, as Saint Boniface founded the diocese. Although the town did not belong to any of the Thuringian states politically, it quickly became the economic center of the region. It was part of the Electorate of Mainz during the Holy Roman Empire, and later became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1802. From 1949 until 1990 Erfurt was part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
The University of Erfurt was founded in 1379, making it the first university to be established within the geographic area which constitutes modern-day Germany. It closed in 1816 and was re-established in 1994, with the main modern campus on what was a teachers’ training college. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was the most famous student of the institution, studying there from 1501.
The Dom St. Marien (St. Mary’s Cathedral) perches above Domplatz, the Cathedral square. It is the Episcopal seat and one of the main sights of Erfurt. It combines Romanesque and Gothic elements and has the largest medieval bell in the world named Gloriosa. One of the works of art inside the Cathedral is Lucas Cranach the Elder’s ‘The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine’ painted around 1520.
At approximately the same time as the more than 500 year old cathedral bell Gloriosa was cast, a man that was meant to change the world arrived in Erfurt: Martin Luther. Martin Luther studied “liberal arts” at the University of Erfurt, then lived as a monk in the Augustinerkloster (Augustinian Monastery), was ordained in the cathedral and preached in the Kaufmanns-, Michaelis- and Barfüßerkirche (Merchant’s-, Michaeli- and Blackfriar’s Chruch). Memories such as the Lutherzelle (Luther Cell) and the Lutherdenkmal (Luther Monument) remind us of the life and works of the great reformer.
Beyond that, the medieval Jewish history comes to life in Erfurt: the Erfurter Synagoge (Erfurt Synagogue) dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest from basement to roof preserved synagogue in Central Europe. The Erfurter Synagoge as well as the Erfurter Schatz (Erfurt Treasure) were rediscovered in the nineties. The Erfurter Schatz consists of a hoard of coins, gold and silver jewelry and of a rare Jewish wedding ring that goes back to the 14th century. After several exhibitions in New York, London and Paris, the treasure is now on permanent display in Erfurt.
From 1066 until 1873 the old town of Erfurt was encircled by a fortified wall. About 1168 this was extended to run around the western side of Petersberg hill, enclosing it within the city boundaries.
After German Unification in 1871, Erfurt became part of the newly created German Empire. The threat to the city from its Saxon neighbors and from Bavaria was no longer present, so it was decided to dismantle the city walls. Only a few remnants remain today. A piece of inner wall can be found in a small park at the corner Juri-Gagarin-Ring and Johannesstraße and another piece at the flood ditch (Flutgraben) near Franckestraße. There is also a small restored part of the wall in the Brühler Garten, behind the Catholic orphanage. Only one of the wall’s fortified towers was left standing, on Boyneburgufer, but this was destroyed in an air raid in 1944.
Between 1873 and 1914, a belt of Gründerzeit (the economic phase in 19th-century Germany and Austria before the great stock market crash of 1873) architecture emerged around the city center. The mansion district in the south-west around Cyriakstraße, Richard-Breslau-Straße and Hochheimer Straße hosts some interesting Gründerzeit and Art Nouveau buildings. The “Mühlenviertel” (“mill quarter”), is an area of beautiful Art Nouveau apartment buildings, cobblestone streets and street trees just to the north of the old city, in the vicinity of Nord Park, bordered by the Gera river on its east side. The Bauhaus style is represented by some housing cooperative projects in the east around Flensburger Straße and Dortmunder Straße and in the north around Neuendorfstraße. Lutherkirke Church in Magdeburger Allee (1927), is an Art Deco building.