Bachland-Citytour through Erfurt

Bach in Erfurt is an unusual story. It is true that Johann Sebastian Bach often visited the town in his youth but he left few traces behind him that are visible today. As a footnote, the great composer would have been born in Erfurt had not Duke Johann Georg 1 of Sachsen-Eisenach turned down Johann Sebastian’s father’s 1684 request to leave his court service in order to move back to Erfurt as a town musician. The Erfurt-born Johann Ambrosius must have felt at home in this beautiful town on the Gera and the Via Regia. After all, many Bach relations lived and worked in the town.

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Thus, there is no Bach memorial to serve as the starting point for a tour of the city. Therefore, our suggestion is that you start your tour on the spot where the Thuringia Bach Festival has its offices: on the 120 meter long Krämer bridge, one of the most beautiful and popular places in Erfurt. The town has Mediterranean charm and is a lively pleasure centre where artisans and artists live and work and, with its distinctive buildings on either side, the bridge lends the city a great deal of flair. The Bach family is said to have lived in one of the small houses and would surely nowadays treasure the presence of the chocolate manufacturer or the Mundlandung bistro and delicatessen round the corner.

Starting from the bridge, the next destination must be the Kaufmann church. Beside the little river Gera in a small street called Junkersand there are further memorials to the Bach family. Johann Sebastian’s parents lived in numbers 1-3. There is a memorial plaque to its famous inhabitants which include the baroque composer, Johann Pachelbel, who not only worked as organist in the Prediger church but was also a friend of the Bach family.

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Interaktives Panorama der Predigerkirche Erfurt | © Roland Wehking

One can get to the Kaufmann church through the narrow alley ways and busy streets. This sacred building counts as one of the few authentic Bach sites in the town. The Kaufmann church records register more than 60 baptisms, marriages and deaths in the Bach family of Erfurt musicians. Bach’s father with his twin brother, Johann Christoph, was baptised in the church in 1645. Later the marriage of Johann Ambrosius and Elisabeth Lämmerhirt was concluded here before the family moved to Eisenach three years later.

Well before the famous Johann Sebastian, members of the Bach family determined the musical life of the town as town musicians or organists. Bach’s grandfather, Christoph, was active as a council musician, as was his father, Johann Ambrosius. Even after they moved to Eisenach, there were regular so-called “Bach family days”, for which Johann Sebastian also travelled to Erfurt. In front of the church one is made aware also of another great Erfurt citizen: the Luther memorial commemorates the reformer who from 1501 to 1511 lived, studied and entered the Augustine monastery as a monk in Erfurt. This historic place in the centre of the old town is worth visiting, not just because of the many connections with Luther but because Bach came here in 1716 to assess the organ.

As the state capital of Thuringia, Erfurt has always been exposed to change. Near the Krämer bridge, thanks to a happy accident, one can see a spectacular find: in 1998 silver and gold coins, wrought iron and a Jewish wedding ring were found in the cellar of an old house. The Erfurt treasure and further examples of mediaeval Jewish culture are exhibited in the Old Synagogue. Erfurt has been in the process of applying for UNESCO World Heritage status on the basis of its rich mediaeval Jewish history for some years now.

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Interaktives Panorama Dom St. Marien | © Roland Wehking

The cathedral square with its imposing view of the church complex comprising the Cathedral of St Mary and the church of St Severus is also a lively and much visited spot. Whether for its daily markets or because of great festivals such as the traditional Christmas market which attracts up to 2 million visitors, the town has long become a very lively, international cultural and university town. Not far from the Cathedral is one of the Bach Festival’s favourite cafes. The small Cafe Hilgenfeld is an ideal place for a break and an insider tip for those who enjoy their coffee.

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