Eisenach – the Wartburg town
Mayors reveal their insider tips in the deutschland.de series “My city”. Part 38: Mayor Katja Wolf from Eisenach.
Ms Wolf, what is special about your city?
Eisenach offers a very special mixture: it is a town of culture rich in history, an important industrial centre and situated in an area of great natural beauty.
Because of its history, its links to historical figures such as St. Elisabeth and Luther, and its elevated position, Wartburg castle is the town’s landmark and main attraction. Bach and his music are revered in Eisenach, which after all is where Johann Sebastian Bach was born. We are one of roughly 70 Reformation Cities in Europe and a central venue for the reformation anniversary celebrations in Thuringia.
However, Eisenach is home not only to “high culture” but also to the more down-to-earth and unpretentious industrial and craft sector. Eisenach is a traditional car manufacturing site, and its central location with good transport links has prompted numerous industries to settle here. As of this year, we have also become a university town now that the Duale Hochschule Gera Eisenach has been established. Large numbers of people are moving to Eisenach, including many refugees, and the town is changing rapidly before our very eyes. Embracing a tolerance and openness to the world is now both a challenge for Eisenach and an opportunity for development.
Furthermore, the not particularly large melting pot that is Eisenach enjoys a spectacular geographical location, embedded between two areas of outstanding natural beauty – the Thuringian Forest Nature Park and the Hainich National Park – and is part of the UNESCO world heritage region of Wartburg-Hainich.
What do you see when you look out of your office window?
My office is on the second floor of the historic town hall, and when I look directly out of the window from my desk I can see St. George’s Church, which contains the font in which Bach was baptised. The restored church is a haven of tranquillity in which to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and the ringing of its large clock marks the passing of the day. I also remember some of the wonderful concerts that are regularly staged here. One particular highlight are the Eisenach market concerts, at which half an hour of organ music can be enjoyed every late morning apart from Sundays from July to September.
On the other side I can look over Karlsstrasse, the town’s main shopping street, which is a good reflection of our thriving town centre. It is busy pretty much all of the time, with lots of people bustling about. I am very pleased that so many people take advantage of the shopping opportunities here, ensuring that the town centre remains just that – a centre.
Where in your city do you most like to spend your time?
My favourite place is not actually in the town itself. It is the Metilstein opposite Wartburg castle. Because you have the town more behind you here, you can take time out from the hectic pace of everyday life and escape the noise and busyness of the town. At the same time, you can see Wartburg castle, and behind it the Thuringian Forest. The forest exudes calm on account of its vastness, and the castle does the same on account of its solidity and permanence. You can be very close to the town and to the castle and everything going on there, while at the same time having nothing to do with any of it – which at times can be very relaxing.
Which of your city’s personalities do you value the most?
In the present day, there is no one person who I would particularly like to highlight. I greatly value creative and highly motivated people, and people with visions who are prepared to fight for them. Fortunately we have no small number of such people in Eisenach!
As far as historical personalities are concerned, I am particularly impressed by St. Elisabeth, who contrary to all the conventions of the time and her own comfort lived in accordance with her concept of charity.
I greatly appreciate the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and am very happy that we in Eisenach have the opportunity time and again to listen to outstanding interpretations of his work.
This year being the anniversary of the reformation, there is an awful lot being thought, said and indeed argued about Martin Luther in Eisenach at present. I am learning more and more about the various facets of Luther, and am impressed by his character – he was strong and vehement, even angry, when it came to his theses and his visions. In his private life, on the other hand, he was vulnerable and loving.
What would you like to show tourists?
I like to surprise visitors by taking them almost all the way to the Drachenschlucht (i.e. Dragon Gorge), a popular tourist destination, and then turning off in a different direction at the last minute. I then show them the somewhat more intimate Landgrafenschlucht (i.e. Landgrave Gorge): a deep ravine with equally beautiful rock formations, though not quite as spectacular or narrow as the Drachenschlucht. The reward for hikers is that you meet very few people here and can really devote yourself to enjoying the atmosphere. And the Landgrafenschlucht is just one example of such wonderful places: we could equally well go hiking in the Elfengrotte (i.e. Elves’ Grotto) or on the Eisenacher Burg hill. These are marvellous, homey places and so close to the town that they can be easily reached on foot.
Where can visitors best get to know the people of your city?
The best place to meet the people of Eisenach is without doubt at their traditional festivals. Probably the best example of these is the Sommergewinn; Germany’s oldest spring festival, it lasts an entire week and ends each year with an opulent pageant. At the start of the Rennsteig race you will also meet lots of locals who turn out to wave the runners off and give them their heartfelt support.
On a more everyday level, you can get to know the people of Eisenach in the many clubs that cover the entire spectrum of civic engagement. I am very grateful that so many people are willing to get involved in voluntary activities in Eisenach.
And where do you most like to spend your vacations?
The world is so big, yet my family and I are drawn time after time to the Baltic Sea coast. What we love is the feeling of sand between our toes, the wide expanse of the sea, the magnificent coastal formations and “real” weather.