"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Erfurt: Strolling through history, rewarded with cocktails

Hi there!

Well, spring is truly here in Germany, and I've finally figured out that "not turning on lights during the day, ever ever" thing.  It's because of bugs.  I'm pretty sure there is not a single fucking building in Kassel, corporate or private, that has a window screen.  (AC is in rather short supply as well.)  If you open a window while the light is on, it's like insect Mecca.  Leave the lights off, and maybe only a handful of exoskeletal winged darlings will choose to pay you a visit over the course of the afternoon.

SO -- enjoying this drizzly Sunday afternoon in proper German fashion.  Lights off, windows open.  And occasionally getting up to squash a fruit fly or gently coax a confused bee back where she belongs.

It's Spring Break here in Germany, and I've just had what is doubtlessly the easiest week I hope to ever have (without planning for it, that is).  A handful of classes were cancelled de-facto due to the break, and then scores of individual cancellations began pouring in over text and email.  Do you want to know how many classes I ended up teaching this week?  Three.  Three.  It's been deliciously relaxing. I got a lot of housework done, made some extended gym visits, ran errands (Finanzamt, new jeans (!), random stuff for apt.), cooked some good food, and even got to read on my balcony in some late afternoon sunshine.  Pretty much NONE of these things can ever happen during a normal workday, and it was honestly very lovely to have all this downtime immediately following a very hectic trip.  But for every yang there is a yin, and my April invoice is going to be very, very grim.  There will very likely not be any traveling in May.

The situation being what it is, I might have done things differently had I known the extent to which I would not be working (or billing) this month.  But -- I did not know, so I blissfully and ignorantly tripped off last week on a whirlwind 6-day tour of beautiful Thuringia.  Erfurt, Eisenach, Buchenwald, and Weimar.  It was an amazing few days, with a lot packed in and even one or two moments of relaxing!

When I'd first decided I wanted to take a few days and do a proper trip, of course my first thought was to see Berlin.  However, I'd also been talking to a friend, Lisa, and she and I wanted to do something together.  Lisa's been to Berlin and it's not her favorite city (kind of like me and Florence I guess), so instead we thought to try a few places a little less well-known.  I'd taken two extra days off work, which meant I would have two days on my own before Lisa joined me in Erfurt on Friday.

Day One:  Erfurt

One of the big bonuses to not going to Berlin was the travel cost and time saved.  Even with my discount BahnCard, it would have been 111 euros for a round-trip train ticket from Kassel to Berlin!!  I looked into buses, and while much cheaper it was going to be something like a six-hour ride.  Ugh.  (Not un-doable, but also hardly ideal.)  However, my train ticket to cute little Erfurt was the very reasonable price of 14.95 euro, and I was there in an hour and a half.

It was pretty easy to find Opera Hostel from the train station.  Unfortunately there happened to be some "minor" road work going on.

Oh well.
It was too early to check in, so I stashed Sisyphus, grabbed a hostel map, and headed out.

To tell the truth, I'd done embarrassingly little research on any of the cities I'd be visiting on this trip.  I hadn't even decided yet whether to hit Eisenach or Gotha on tomorrow's day trip.  As I was getting my day pack together, the hostel guy asked me what I was looking forward to seeing in Erfurt.  I had to give a big goofy grin as I shrugged and said "Ah, you know.  Museums and churches.  And bratwurst."  Nothing but the golden truth.  All the same -- both Rick Steves and Lonely Planet had seen fit to accompany me on this adventure, and I was confident they wouldn't let me astray.

And hey, guess what?  Erfurt has a giant, beautiful cathedral!

Cathedral, St. Marien's, on the left, and St. Severus on the right
Before we go further, I should mention that the region of Thurgingia boasts one particularly famous historical figure, none other than Martin Luther.  The most famous Luther-town is almost certainly Wittenberg (not in Thuringia), but Erfurt is where Luther took his priestly vows (at St. Marien's, in fact), and across town is the Augustinian monastery where he became a monk.  (The town I would visit the next day, Eisenach, is home to Wartburg Castle, where Luther translated the New Testament from Latin into German for the first time.)

Erfurt really, really loves Martin Luther.

After St. Marien's and St. Severus (why have one church on a hilltop when you have have two right next to each other?), I wandered semi-aimlessly across town, stopping in a few more churches and just exploring this extremely picturesque town.

I ended up at the Anger Museum.  This is not a cool as it sounds.  Anger in German just means "meadow".  It's a museum housing art and historical artifacts from the region, cost six euro, and was honestly extremely dry.  The most interesting exhibit there was a temporary installation on the top floor, a collection of tapestries by Margret Eicher, which portrayed whimsical, sometimes disturbing, allegorical depictions of the decadence of modern Western culture.

Post-museum, I swung back to the hostel to get settled (checking in early means a better chance of a bottom or unattached bunk), and then headed right back out again in search of lunch.  I picked the Althaus Cafe on a whim, and as it turned out, Lonely Planet thought I'd made a very smart choice.  Lonely Planet and I agree!

Thuringian bratwurst
View from Althaus's sunny terrace during lunch
I'll tell you what, it is really hard to get tired of German food.  Both the fried potatoes and the sauerkraut had pieces of bacon, which the Germans call "speck".  Specks of speck, I slay myself.  Thuringians are almost as proud of their bratwurst as they are of Martin Luther (or maybe that should be the other way around?), and Rick Steves tells me this particular variety of sausage is "relatively" low in fat.  Huzzah!  Everything was amazingly delicious -- although I do have to say that this sauerkraut, whilst awesome, was not quite as good as the kraut I'd had back at Peter's Brauhaus in Cologne.  This, ladies and gents, is the reason I try to make it to the gym almost every day (when I am home).  This, and that long tall tower of cold, hoppy, malty, decadent bliss in the background.

For the rest of the afternoon, I did a lot of walking around.  Erfurt is pretty small, and even to get from one end of the city (town?) to the other shouldn't ever take longer than half an hour.  I visited the Stadtmuseum, which was even more boring than the Anger Museum, and also six euros, so I felt pretty comfy in not checking out Erfurt's third museum, housing Thuringian folk.

Erfurt's Rathaus

Statue of Martin Luther, and church

The best thing I did was stumble, completely by chance, onto a temporary photo exhibition by Steve McCurry.  Who is Steve McCurry?  You know him.  He's the guy who did this:

Photos were not allowed, but it was worth some gentle German chastising to get this.  All the same, I kind of wish I'd waited and blown my one illegal photo chance on one of his less well-known pieces, because there were just so many photographs there that just... took hold of you.

The most visually jarring photos were the ones from Afghanistan, which is where these two famous portraits were taken.  But McCurry has been literally all over the globe, documenting world events from 9/11 to the Kuwait oil fires, traveling to remote Tibetan villages and into war-torn ghettos, and snapping some of the truly most evocative portraits I've ever had the privilege of seeing.  Steve McCurry is a very, very talented, and very brave, photographer.  If ever you have the chance to see his work, take it.

Nearing the end of the day, I wanted to check out two bars (right next to each other, how often does that happen?), that my books had recommended.  One of them, Modern Masters, had gotten the nod from both Rick and LP, and was supposed to have some pretty fantastic cocktails.

I turned up for happy hour, ordered a delightful 4 euro caipi, and passed a most pleasant hour-and-change writing in my journal.  This was an excellent find, and I took Lisa back here on Friday.  The drinks were well-made and they didn't skimp on the good stuff.  Excellent atmosphere and very friendly, hospitable staff.

The next watering hole, Hemingway's, was decidedly not bad either but they upcharged me for my gin selection without telling me, which meant the 5.40 gin n' tonic I thought I'd ordered was closer to 8.40.  (I guess this was really my bad, I should know to ask about things like this.)  It was a nicely-sized glass at least, and while the place was pretty much empty when I walked in (always so awkward), it had started to fill up a little by the time I was ready to go.

Earlier, I had walked past an Irish pub, Dubliner's, and had decided that I'd see about getting dinner there.  (Is there a city in the world without an Irish pub somewhere named something to do with Joyce, shamrocks, or Dublin?  Oh yes -- in Georgia. :) )  Unfortunately this was a letdown after the other two places.  Service was not good, and there was a football match on.  (Fine if you like football, but personally I much prefer the guy-in-the-corner-with-a-guitar.)  Also, I don't know why I did this, but ordered a chicken and pasta dish instead of the fish and chips that clearly should have been the easy choice.  The food was tasty, but the service and the atmosphere meant I didn't stay for a second cider.

Walking home
Back at the hostel, and had a very quiet night in what seemed to be a completely empty establishment.  I was staying in the cheapest dorm, with seven beds, and while that room was full up, for all appearances that was the extend of it, because this place felt a Shining-level of deserted.  It was nice to have time to myself, but I missed the friendly hostel atmosphere and interesting conversations that can usually be found in the evenings if one is so inclined.

The next day, I'd be saying a temporary farewell to Erfurt and taking a little day trip to the nearby town of Eisenach.


  1. Oh wow I would have loved to see those photos. Is this your real life?! Sheesh. Write a book please.

    1. The McCurry exhibit was incredible. You would have loved it for sure!

      I'll definitely say this. Germany's sure not as easy or simple as I may have expected or hoped, but they can do the hell out of a cute town. :)