The Cultural Heart of Germany consists of two regions: Thuringia and Saxony, and from historic castles to ornate architecture and galleries, the range of the arts here are truly inspiring.
If you haven’t already read my guide to exploring Thuringia from Erfurt or how to spend a long weekend in Dresden and Saxony, check those out first. But in this post, I’m going to take you on a tour through both regions and share all of the amazing architecture, culture, events and galleries that are on offer through both regions. While I spent a week exploring I’d highly suggest spending no less than 10-days travelling from Gotha to the countryside of Saxony so you can do so at a relaxed pace.
Train travel is quick and convenient here, but if you do want to get that little more off the beaten path, then a car hire will allow you to do so. Flying into Frankfurt, Leipzig or Berlin from the UK offers quick train connections, while other countries may offer direct flights to Erfurt or Dresden. The new high-speed rail link from Munich or Nuremberg, providing journey times of between one to two hours, provides another alternative to access Thuringia or Saxony with ease.
My journey started in Gotha, a small city with a colourful and quaint market square. But the cultural interest here is in the royal-residence as it was home to the dukes of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and has strong links to the British royal family.
English Garden and Ducal Museum
Set amongst the English Garden in a city that was aptly once called the ‘garden city’ is the Ducal Museum. The extensive parks around here and the castle offers a wealth of green spots to relax in, including the orangery and the English Garden, one of the oldest landscaped in the English style in the continent.
Inside the museum itself, you’ll find a whole host of art and displays but the building, in a grand neo-renaissance style is equally as impressive.
The collection is vast, and although it suffered losses during WWII, the renovations are now complete and the three-storey museum packs in a range of paintings, sculpture and drawings from the likes or C. D Friedrich and Houdon. The collection of rare Asian fans, Egyptian antiques and Meissen Porcelain add an international touch to the museum.
Gotha Castle Museum
The Friedenstein Castle which sands in view of the Ducal Museum is the largest early Baroque castle in the whole country, and although the outside isn’t overly ornate, inside there is a whole host of treats to discover.
The royal residence sits on the hill above the Old Town and has numerous rooms inside which are well preserved. With the decoration of each room being different and many elaborate, the well-placed art pieces and sculptures can easily be missed as you will be in awe of the architecture.
One of the hidden gems inside the castle is a still working and open to the public theatre. The Ekhof Theatre boasts the title of being the oldest, still operating castle theatre in the world and unbelievable the machinery which powers the sets is still working now even though it was constructed in the 17th century.
By far my favourite stop during my whirlwind trip through Germany was Erfurt. This city really could have been picked up from a fairytale movie, but there is a lot more going on here than great Instagram opportunities.
With a long history as a trading route and a well preserved old town, the cultural offerings in Erfurt are numerous and while some are obvious, many can be found down cute alleyways.
Erfurt Cathedral and Churches
There are numerous churches and cathedrals throughout Erfurt with a couple being absolute must visits for their architecture.
Start your visit at Cathedral Square where the Cathedral of St. Mary towers over the city. The late Gothic architecture is impressive and in the main tower lives the largest medieval free-swinging bell in the world. The high ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows are a reason to venture inside, as is the second church running alongside it which, until you get close, appears to all be the same building.
The Preachers Church (Predigerkirche) is also a stunning example of the Gothic architecture in the city, the unique design with the pews for the choir hidden from the central seating area of the church and the unique choir balcony made this different to many other churches I’ve visited.