My recent family visit to Germany during the Christmas holidays included stays in Berlin and Dresden and took us finally to Weimar, a small but historically and culturally significant city just a couple hours drive west of Dresden. Our plan was to spend the night visiting another cousin and revisiting some of the major cultural institutions there. This was my second visit to Weimar and I was eager to return. I remembered it as feeling deeply historical, peaceful and full of treasures…like a small jewelbox.
As in Dresden, we were treated like royalty by our hosts. My cousin presented us with an amazing dinner of stewed rabbit and, of course, the regional kloessekartofelen, or potato balls. After dinner and a brief exchange of small gifts, the women in our family were presented with gifts of gemstones particularly chosen for each of us by my cousin who is passionate about both finding them and having them converted into gorgeous pieces of jewelry. I was gifted with a lovely pendant of larimar as well as a matching ring, both set in silver. Larimar is a stone that can only be found in the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. From the Dominican Republic to Weimar to me. Oh, the stories stones can tell.
Thanks to the highly unusual balmy weather (in the 50’s F.), we were able to spend the earlier part of the day leisurely strolling through the city stopping at several of its major cultural institutions some of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage site. Our first stop was the Herder Church, a Lutheran church originally constructed in 1245 and later rebuilt in the 1500’s, where Martin Luther often gave sermons. Bach is said to have presented some of his most famous cantatas there, including a Christmas cantata, and to have played its magnificent organ on several occasions. A rather severe looking church from the exterior, inside it is surprisingly and remarkably splendid. Most fascinating to me are an altar triptych of the crucifiction of Christ and a portrait of Goethe, both by Lucas Cranach, a close friend of Martin Luther, and both of which are still in remarkable condition.
From there we strolled through the local park, our goal being to visit the Garden House of Goethe, perhaps Weimar’s most famous longterm resident. Goethe, raised in a prosperous upper class family, arrived in the town at the tender age of seventeen, having been invited there by the young local monarch, Duke Karl August, who was inspired by Goethe’s intellectualism and spirit. They became lifelong friends. Schiller, a famous writer/philosopher moved to Weimar much later and he and Goethe became inseparable.
The Garden House is where Goethe lived, surrounded by gardens and trees, and where he wrote many of his famous works including Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther. His actual standing desk (yes, he was ahead of his time in his thinking about what was best for the health of the mind and the body) is still there as well as some of the cabinets that housed his collections of natural artifacts. I was very touched by the simplicity of the dwelling; humble is the best word to describe it.
Later that same day we visited the Dutchess Anna Amalia Library, originally the residence of Duchess Anna Amalia, built in the mid 1500’s. It was converted into a library housing her book collection in 1761. The library nearly burned down about a decade ago when a fire of unknown origin began on the top level. The town citizens flew to the library and risked their own lives to rescue the irreplacable collection of books housed there including an original Martin Luther bible. I had just visited the library for the first time earlier that year, so I read abut the fire with great anxiety and was amazed at how book restorers from faraway places came to volunter their services to save what they could of the water and fire-damaged collection.
To see the library today, you would never know anything so dramatic had taken place there. The building is fully restored but some of the original collection was unsalvagable. The library is most noteworthy in my opinion for the fact that local residents were invited to use the collection which was highly unusual in this era. Portraits of Goethe and Schiller grace the walls to remind us of the influence of these local luminaries whose spirit so dominated this town during their residency.
Our final stop was…you guessed it…the Weinachmarkt in the central square of Weimar. One of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, this one was particularly memorable for the Thuringian wursts, famous in the region, served on a roll drenched in mustard. And, of course, the perfect accompaniment to our wurst was the local gluhwein in which we gratefully indulged ourselves for the last time.
The next morning we arose to have brunch in the cafe housed in the pension where we had spent the night. As we were the only guests at the time, we had the whole cafe to ourselves to celebrate my 69th birthday during our leisurely brunch.
The table was charmingly decorated in red for Christmas and the room was decked “with boughs of holly,” or something very similar.
I was glowing in the warmth of the setting and the feelings being expressed to me by loved ones on this very special birthday which was also a celebration of being cancer-free for one year.
Though I wished we could stay longer in Weimar, we left after brunch heading back to Dresden to collect our belongings for our ultimate return to Berlin, where we spent our four final days in Germany. Those four days included an amazing New Year’s Eve celebration in a chic Viennese restaurant on the Spree River surrounded by fireworks with a view of what is the remaining piece of the Berlin Wall. I have so many memories of this trip that are still so vivid in my mind and that continue to resonate in my heart. The best outcome is that both my children have now bonded with the younger generation of cousins and friends there so I know that these intercontinental German-American connections will continue to grow and prosper long after I am gone. This makes me feel happy and deeply satisfied.