Though modest in size, WEIMAR is the spiritual capital of German culture. A young Robert Schumann noted in his diary, “Germans are powerfully drawn to Weimar”, and like those to Stratford in England they are not idle tourists so much as aesthete pilgrims come to revere a pantheon of intellectual and artistic saints. Saxe-Weimar dukes were patrons of Lucas Cranach and Johann Sebastian Bach as an overture to the town’s finest hour in the late eighteenth century. During the rule of aesthete duke Carl August (1757–1828), the court capital was an intellectual hothouse of rare talents such as dramatist Friedrich Schiller, poet Christoph-Martin Wieland, theologian Johann Gottfried Herder and, more than anyone else, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The city flowered as the home of the German Enlightenment whose beauty and ideas astounded Europe. Later names in the roll call of honour include Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bauhaus founders Walter Gropius, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. The town’s name is also synonymous with the ill-fated Weimar Republic of post-imperial Germany.
Weimar is the museum city par excellence whose every street is steeped in a revered past. Thankfully it is charming, too, thanks to frantic efforts to buff up its looks as European City of Culture in 1999. Definitively small-scale, notwithstanding the handsome Park an der Ilm south and the odd gallery, almost everything worth seeing lies within a ten-minute radius of the Markt in the lattice of streets bound to the north by Graben, track of a medieval moat, and to the south by Steubenstrasse. Here you’ll find first-rate art in the ducal Schloss, a gorgeous Rococo library, the Herzogin-Anna-Amalia-Bibliothek, and Goethe’s house. Erudite stuff and proof that Weimar most rewards those who apply their minds – others may find it rather provincial.