Located in the southern state of Thuringia (Thuringen), some 285 kilometers from Berlin, the picturesque city Weimar remains most famous for having been the place where Germany first became a democracy. With widespread rioting in the capital in the wake of the 1918 German Revolution, Germany’s National Assembly deemed Berlin far too dangerous a place to meet and wary politicos gathered instead in Weimar to draft the young Republic’s new constitution.
The city thus gave its name to Germany’s short-lived democracy during 1919 and 1933.
Weimar remains one of Europe’s great cultural sites, having been home to such luminaries as Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, both of whom are buried there.
Along with the city of Dessau, Weimar was the center of the Bauhaus movement. The city houses art galleries, museums and the German national theater.
It’s also Thuringia’s gourmet capital. Of the 40 best restaurants in the region, eight are located in Weimar, with the Anna Amalia at the top of the list. In addition to first-class cuisine, hungry visitors can sample typical Thuringian fare and enjoy a wide range of cafes, pubs and bars.
Getting there: By car, take the Autobahn A9 to the A4 south toward Dresden and Frankfurt am Main, or better yet, go direct by train from Berlin’s impressive new Hauptbahnhof.
Wittenberg, officially known as Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is the birthplace of the Reformation: Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in 1517 — an act that led to the division of the Christian church.
Located in central Germany in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, Wittenberg is one of Germany’s most significant historical and cultural centers. Although the French partially destroyed the Castle Church in 1760, it was rebuilt and remains one of the town’s biggest attractions along with part of the Augustinian monastery in which Luther lived, first as a monk and later with his wife and family. It remains the world’s premier museum dedicated to Luther. Both the Castle Church and Luther’s home are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In the house and workshop once owned by 15th-century painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach the Elder, visitors can even print with a historically accurate reproduction of a Guttenberg press.
Getting there: Lutherstadt Wittenberg lies in the eastern part of Saxony-Anhalt, between Berlin and Leipzig at the banks of the Elbe River, and can be reached from Berlin by taking the Autobahn A9 or by train.
Worlitz, a charming little town a just a couple of miles east of Dessau, dates back more than a thousand years. It became a popular destination in the 18th century when Prince-elector Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau created the picturesque Worlitz Park, which crowns the Dessau-Worlitz Garden Realm, one of the largest and most beautiful landscaped parks in continental Europe and classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Situated near the Elbe River, the region is rich in waterways and offers miles of walking and cycling trails through scenic landscape.
While visiting the park, Goethe wrote, “It is now endlessly beautiful here. As we wandered among the lakes, canals and forests yesterday evening, I was deeply moved by the way in which the gods had allowed the Prince to create all around him a dream. When one strolls through it, it is like the telling of a fairy tale; it has the character of the Elysian Fields.”
Getting there: Worlitz is located between the cities of Dessau and Wittenberg and can be reached from Berlin by taking the Autobahn A9 to Halle and Leipzig or by train.
Once the capital of the principality of Anhalt, Dessau has been a center of learning and culture since the time of the Holy Roman Empire. Allied bombers destroyed much of Dessau during World War II but many of the historic buildings have been rebuilt.
Dessau not only shares the Dessau-Worlitz Garden Realm with its neighboring city but also a shared history stemming from the German Enlightenment, which left the region with indelible beauty in its landscape and architecture.
The Age of Reason is reflected in the area’s layout: Dotting the meadows and forests along the Elbe and Mulde Rivers, villages, gardens and palaces — such as the Mosigkau (which offers an impressive Rococo collection) and the Georgium (which houses the historic Anhalt Art Gallery) — complement each other in picturesque wonder. Along with Weimar, Dessau is Germany’s other main center of the Bauhaus movement and remains famous for its Bauhaus College, which moved here after it was forced to close its Weimar campus in 1925 by right-wing politicos and boasted lecturers such as Walter Gropius, the school’s founder, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.
There are several examples of Bauhaus architecture in Dessau, some of them included in the UNESCO World Heritage. The Bauhaus College itself was designed by Gropius, the grandnephew of 19th-century architect Martin Gropius, who built the Berlin exhibition hall that houses the Berlinale’s European Film Market.
Getting there: By train or car, Autobahn A9 toward Nuremberg.