Except for East Berlin, historically it was perhaps the most important city in the old East Germany. Sometimes called the "Athens of Germany," it was never a spawning ground for extreme politics, but a cradle for great literature, music and ideas.
Given its important place in German history, one might expect more in a physical sense than the small-town atmosphere of this placid city of 60,000. A visit to the small chapel in the town's Alter Friedhof (old cemetery) underscores Weimar's role in the development of German culture. Beneath its ancient floors, the Ducal Vault houses the ornate sarcophagi of the royal family of the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. But impressive as they are, these fancy caskets play second fiddle to a pair of plain, side by side, polished wooden coffins which bear the remains of two of the most revered citizens in German history, Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller. Weimar was the physical and creative headquarters for both.
The genius Goethe, who created Faust and directed the National Theater, is often referred to as the greatest German of them all and his pal Schiller—as in Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in the glorious choral movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and the William Tell drama—is not far behind. Their impact on Germany is demonstrated by the literally thousands of Schiller Strassen and Goethe Platzen in towns all over the country.
Among Weimar's other famous citizens: the painter, Lucas Cranach the Elder; J.S. Bach and Franz Liszt, both of whom directed the local orchestra; Walter Gropius, founder of the original Bauhaus, which altered forever the course of modern design and architecture; and the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Of course, there is a Cranachhaus, a Liszthaus, a Bachstube, a Schillerhaus, a Goethehaus and even a Goethe Gartenhaus in the town's lovely Ilm Park, all of which can be visited.
The Deutsches National Theater, where the Weimar Republic's constitution was adopted in 1919, was almost totally destroyed in World War II but today offers a schedule of music and drama whose frequency and quality are extraordinary for a town of this size.
Visitors can also take in a variety of palaces and museums or make the grim, five-mile pilgrimage to Buchenwald, one of the largest of Hitler's concentration camps.
Even if most Americans know little of Weimar, the Germans, of course, are in love with the town and fully aware of its historical significance. Soon after unification, the government began pouring millions of Deutsche Mark into making it a showplace and it was Europe's Cultural Capital in 1999. Weimar is by far the smallest city so named and follows such European metropolises as Madrid ('92), Lisbon ('94), Copenhagen ('96) and Stockholm ('98).
Wolff's Art Hotel & Restaurant
Stunning interior design—a 90s version of Bauhaus/Art Nouveau—and a fantastic collection of Polish and Czech poster art combine to make this hotel a visual delight.
Two extraordinary guestrooms are numbers 13 and 14. We give a slight nod to the former but both are huge with massive white wood beams, dormer windows, lofty ceilings and large, well-furnished separate sitting areas. They are the best rooms we found in Weimar.
Most guestrooms, like Number 2, a light, airy corner double, have tiled floors (not to worry, there is radiant heating under all floors), high ceilings and windows, modern halogen lighting and spacious, sparkling, fully-tiled bathrooms.
The 35-room Wolff is actually four buildings located in a residential area about 10 minutes' walk from the center.
Beer enthusiasts should note that the hotel's restaurant is the only place in Weimar which serves Singer beer, made by a brewery "museum" in a nearby town.
Wolff's is the creation of an East German engineer, Dr. Christian Wolff, who purchased the property from descendants of a Jewish family, most of whom died in nearby Buchenwald. As a memorial to the family, Dr. Wolff has erected a tiled monolith that is a striking focal point of an outdoor conversation pit.
Factoring in the warm welcome with extraordinary decor and amenities, we rank Wollf's as Weimar's best hotel.
Daily Rates: Singles E110 to E150, doubles E135 to E175
Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 13/20
Christliches Hotel Amalienhof
The centrally-located Amalienhof is traditional, old world, the Wolff's equal in warmth of welcome, and not far behind in comfort.
There is no restaurant or elevator but our room, Number 203, had a high ceiling, good furniture and good reading lights. There were two windows, a comfortable sofa, desk, table and two hard chairs. Overhead lighting was only adequate and the bathroom—a one person affair—had no toiletries or washcloths and for soap only a dispenser of the liquid variety
The basic buffet breakfast, in a small but pleasant room, offered a limited selection, but the items served, notably the cheese and the diced fresh fruit, were first-rate.
Daily Rates: Singles E70 to E85, doubles E95 to E105
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 15/20
For all its culture, Weimar is not noted for gastronomy. For the most part, food is straightforward and portions are large.
At the pub-style restaurant in the Hotel Zur Sonne, Rollplatz 2, one can get a good three-course meal for less than E14.Sommer's Weinstuben, at Humboldtstrasse 2, just around the corner from the Christliches Hotel Amalienhof, has plain wood tables, a big tile stove, old photographs on the walls and acceptable food. The beautifully restored Gasthaus zum weissen Schwan, Frauentorstrasse 23, where Schiller and Goethe hung out, is charming and the most popular place in town. Food is stick-to-the-ribs-heavy and plentiful. The best meals we had were at the Residenz Café, Grüner Markt 4; a noisy, smoky, student hangout that serves the great Czech beer, Budvar.