"Erfurt is a honeypot. A town would have to stand here even if the city had just been razed to the ground." So mused Martin Luther, the most famous resident of Thuringia’s state capital. While the father of the Reformation could also have acclaimed it as a fine little city bursting with character, ever the pragmatist, he got to the nub because a location at the heart of Germany – and Europe – was the making of ERFURT. While profits from woad helped fill coffers, its drip-feeds of finance were trade routes east–west from Paris to Russian city Novgorod, and north–south from the Baltic to Italy. Such was its wealth that the medieval city was hailed as “Efurtia turrita” because of its ninety spires.
With the merchants came progressive ideas and liberal attitudes. Luther’s free thinking was nurtured at Erfurt’s prestigious university, renowned as a cradle of humanism. Centuries later, in 1970, open-minded Erfurt hosted ice-breaker Ostpolitik talks between West and East Germany. Though the largest city in Thuringia, Erfurt is pocket-sized, its easygoing Altstadt a traditional German townscape of the sort largely obliterated elsewhere by bombs and developers, and with a dynamo university that adds a sheen of modern style and passable nightlife. Put the two together and what’s not to like? Few honeypots taste sweeter.
Erfurt has few set pieces; it’s as an ensemble that the city impresses, with any street in the centre worth exploring, especially as you can walk from one side to the other in about twenty minutes. The axes of Erfurt’s central Altstadt are the Episcopal powerbase Domplatz; Fischmarkt, the civic heart; and Anger, a broad plaza at the head of the shopping streets. North of the centre in the studenty Andreasviertel and around the Augustinerkloster are especially photogenic quarters. Drop the map and explore by instinct.