Eisenach: Thuringian sausages, the Bach Museum and Wartburg Castle

Thuringian sausages are famous, if not worldwide, certainly in Germany. But they are also hazardous. When eaten on the run they have a nasty habit of spitting juice down your clothes. We bought them on the market square in Eisenach, birthplace of J.S. Bach. A woman was grilling them next to a van where you could buy them uncooked. They were much too long for the buns they came in and mustard clung to them precariously – but bitten into judiciously they made a lovely lunch. You will be reading more about them, I'm sure, in further blogs from Thuringia.

Eisenach Market SquareThuringia is more or less in the dead centre of Germany, what, a little over two decades ago, was still the Communist east, the German Democratic Republic. We ate our sausages, or Bratwurst, in the shadow of St. George's Lutheran Church, with its painted galleries and ornate, gilded pulpit. In 1521 Martin Luther himself preached here on a journey between Wittenburg and Worms, defying a ban by the Emperor. A few metres away is the creaking old house, now a museum, where he lived when he first came to the town as a student.

We had spent the morning in the superb Bach museum, built in to the house where he may or may not have been born in 1685. His composing room has been recreated there, and it's not hard to imagine him scratching out staves using a five pointed device called a rastral, and blotting his creations with sand. Next to the small keyboard is a beer stein – beer was once a major industry in Eisenach – which may explain why his music so often  soars with such intricate freedom.
Eisenach HouseThere's lots of fascinating stuff in the museum: a pochette, or skinny stringed instrument of the 17th century which a dancing master could play  in his pocket while he demonstrated steps; a later glass harmonica designed by Benjamin Franklin, with glass hoops revolved using pedals while the musician played them with wetted fingers, making a sound as you would on the rim of a wine glass; an etching of John Taylor, an English quack who treated Bach, unsuccessfully, for cataracts, which he may or  may not have had.

Pedals came to play inn the music room, in an odd example of audience participation,  where a young women employee, between school  and university, played snatches of Bach's music on antique instruments. Before playing an organ piece: "Wenn nur den Lieber Gott lässt walten" she said she couldn't manage it without someone else to pump the air.  A slightly embarrassed looking teenage boy obliged.

Eisenach sausagesWe followed the Bratwurst with an iced coffee and headed for Eisenach's star attraction, Wartburg Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which glowers over the town and surrounding countryside from a nearby rocky hilltop. It's an impressive example of early Romanesque architecture dating from the 12th century, though much of its interior has been heavily restored. Luther sought refuge here and translated the New Testament from Greek in a wood panelled study which survives. Wagner wrote Tannhäuser here, basing it on the unlikely legend of the minstrels' contest, which may have taken place in the castle. Most striking, however, is the museum, with its priceless collection of religious carvings, more early instruments, furniture and paintings – among them wonderful portraits of Luther's parents.

All day we had felt we were deep in the heart of old Central Europe, with its fractured lines of autocracy and, more recently, the aberrations of National Socialism and paranoid Communism. Eisenach alone, never mind the rest of Thuringia to follow, should surely be attracting significant numbers of tourists from Britain. Yet until we made our weary way down the many steps from castle to car park, passing two American ladies en route, we heard not heard a single English voice all day. 

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Roger Bray

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