Martin Luther has many connections to the town of Eisenach, which was founded in the twelfth century. He spent five formative periods of his life here, including time in hiding in the Wartburg Castle that overlooks the town. Luther remembered Eisenach fondly, calling it “my dear town.”
Major sites in Eisenach
Wartburg Castle: This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site stands atop a 200-meter high rock above the town of Eisenach. It was founded in 1067 by the felicitously named Ludwig the Jumper. In 1207 the Wartburg hosted the Sangerkrieg, or singer’s contest, on which Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser is based. In 1211 the Hungarian princess Elisabeth, today known as St. Elisabeth, came to live at the castle when she was betrothed to Ludwig IV. She was one of the most remarkable women of the Middle Ages, renowned for her piety and good works, and the castle has a number of areas that celebrate her life, including a stunning room filled with mosaics done in Italian style. The Wartburg’s most famous resident was Martin Luther, who lived here in protective custody in 1521-1522 after refusing to retract his writings. It was here that he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. Recently, Wartburg Castle served as one of the locations for the Luther movie starring Joseph Fiennes, a joint U.S. and German production.
St. George’s Church: As a student, Luther sang in the church’s boys choir and he later preached here. The church is also associated with Johann Sebastian Bach, who was baptized at its altar in 1685 (the font still remains). Successive generations of the Bach family served as organists at St. George’s for 132 years. Luther lived in this building between 1498 and 1501 when he was a student in Eisenach. It is one of the oldest half-timbered houses in the city. The exhibition inside shows Luther’s life in Eisenach and his work as a scholar, translator, and theologian. On the top floor, don’t miss the classroom decorated as it would have been in Luther’s day, complete with a donkey’s head to be worn by the worst student in class.
Bach House: It was once thought that Johann Sebastian Bach was born in this house in 1685, though historians now believe that his birthplace was actually a half block away. No matter, for this is a splendid place to learn more about one of the world’s greatest musicians. The museum is the world’s largest devoted to Bach. One of the highlights of a visit is the chance to hear a musician play various instruments of Bach’s time, from a spinet and clavichord to a harpsichord.
In August, the city hosts the Luther Festival, which includes a procession and a play about the life of Luther. An Historical Christmas Market is held at Wartburg Castle on each weekend of Advent leading up to Christmas.
Eisenach’s most famous lodging place is the five-star Hotel auf der Wartburg, which is situated just below the famous castle. It has expansive views over the city and the Thuringian Forest. While it is not an historic structure, it was designed in the same style as Wartburg Castle and has the classic Thuringian half-timbered construction.
Accommodations can also be found at the Steigenberger Hotel Thüringer Hof, located in the city center at Karlsplatz 11. The hotel has a restaurant overlooking the Martin Luther statue on the square.
Enjoy a medieval Luther Feast at the Eisenacher Hoff (Katharinenstrasse 11-13). As lute music plays in the backyard, waitresses in period dress serve sausages, cabbage, mushrooms in gravy, spaetzle, potatoes, dumplings, and sauerkraut. Try the flaming fruit skewer for desert (it’s soaked in sugar and liquor before being set alight). At the end of the meal, an animal horn filled with mead is passed from person to person.