Erfurt, the capital of the German state of Thuringia, has several sites connected to Martin Luther’s life, including the monastery where he lived and studied.
St. Boniface founded the bishopric of Erfurt in 742. During the Middle Ages it became a thriving university city and powerful trading center and was particularly known for the dye known as woad. Today Erfurt is known for its large medieval city center, one of the best-preserved in Germany.
Martin Luther lived and worked in Erfurt from 1501 to 1511. The city also has connections with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Sebastian Bach, Napoleon Bonaparte, Tzar Alexander, and Goethe.
Major Sites in Erfurt
Augustinian Monastery: Built around 1300, this monastery and church was home to a community of Augustinian monks. Luther was admitted to the monastery in 1505 and lived here until 1511. Today the monastery is an internationally known conference center and includes a medieval cloister and exhibits on the life of Martin Luther. Its church has been Protestant since 1525.
Luther Memorial: This statue is located next to the Merchants Church on Anger, with a base decorated with murals depicting scenes from Luther’s life.
Merchants Bridge: Initially built in wood and rebuilt in stone in 1325, the bridge has inhabited buildings on its span and is one of the most photographed spots in the city.
St. Mary’s Cathedral: The origins of this Roman Catholic cathedral date back to 752. Today it dominates the town skyline. Each summer the cathedral steps leading up to the church are transformed into a festival stage. The central tower of the cathedral houses the Gloriosa, the world’s largest medieval free-swinging bell. In 1507, Luther was ordained a priest in Erfurt Cathedral.
Old Synagogue (Alte Synagoge): This fascinating site preserves one of the few remaining medieval synagogues in Europe, a cultural and architectural landmark built in the eleventh century. The synagogue was discovered during architectural work in the 1990s.The building houses an exhibition about the culture and history of Erfurt’s Jewish community in the Middle Ages, and on display in its lower level is a treasure of medieval gold and silver dating from the fourteenth century. The valuables were hidden by a Jewish merchant to keep them safe from a pogrom in 1349. Its most precious object is a Jewish wedding ring, one of only three that have been found worldwide.
For lunch or dinner in Erfurt, try the cozy Golden Swan (Zum Goldenen Schwan) at Michaelisstrasse 9, in the historic quarter of the city.
Events in Erfurt
The Thuringia Bach Festival is held each spring.
Merchants Bridge Festival is Thuringia’s oldest town festival. Held on the third weekend of June, it features minnesingers, craftsmen, and market traders in a historic setting.
International Organ Concerts are held in Erfurt churches each summer.
Martinsfest: Ecumenical St. Martins Festival is a festival day that honors both Martin Luther on his birthday (November 10) and Martin of Tours, the patron saint of Erfurt.
Erfurt Christmas Market is the largest Christmas Market in Thuringia. It’s been held for more than 150 years.
Advent Concerts are held in Erfurt churches in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The most famous one features a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) on the second weekend of Advent.