This wasn't the first time I'd been to Eisenach you know. Not a bit of it. I'd stopped there on route to Poland a couple of years ago. However, on that occasion, I didn't do much more than sink a couple of beers and get my head down in my hotel and consequently, all I saw of the town was what was visible from the autobahn.
All that was about to change in September when we were touring Germany.
EISENACH is situated in the state of Thuringia, pretty much slap-bang in the centre of Germany (although until 'the wall' came a-tumbling down, it was fairly close to the frontier with the West.) It lies on the A4 autobahn, which is the main route from Frankfurt-am-Main to Dresden (and on to Krakow), making it a perfect spot to break a journey.
But there's more to Eisenach than a convenient stopover...much more.
The town has been around for nearly 1,000 years and in all that time has been dominated by the brooding presence of WARTBURG CASTLE which towers menacingly above. Actually, it doesn't really look all that threatening. It appears that the castle is perched on a gentle hill just to the south of the old town. An object lesson in not trusting first appearances!
We arrived there mid-afternoon which gave us plenty of time to check in to our hotel, freshen-up a little, then head for the picturesque Old Town for a look around and a bite to eat.
On approaching the old town, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd made a horrendous mistake in choosing Eisenach as a destination. Some of the surroundings are a little 'past their best', to say the least. There's a great deal of derelict industrial land, especially towards the Railway station. but I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that much of the DDR industry wasn't really efficient and many changes have taken place since re-unification, not least working practices.
All that changes though when you finally arrive in the ALTSTADT.
We entered through the St. Nicholas Gate which immediately brings you into Karlplatz, a wide market-place lined with bars and restaurants, the centre-piece of which is a statue of a certain Martin Luther who lived here as a child and later, while staying in Wartburg Castle, translated the bible into vernacular German.
The main shopping street, Karlstrasse, leads off from here and is pedestrianised although when we were there, work was in progress re-laying the cobble setts. This made it a little awkward getting around in some parts, but it looked like work was near completion, so that shouldn't be an issue now.
I wouldn't describe the shopping as tourist-orientated, which is surprising, as I'm sure Wartburg is one of Germany's premier attractions (although don't quote me on that). Having said that, there were plenty of unusual little shops and it certainly wasn't confined just to run-of-the-mill chains.
At the far end of Karlstrasse is the picturesque Marktplatz which is lined with administrative buildings and intricately adorned patrician houses. This is also where you'll find the Rathaus (town hall) which was a tavern until its conversion in 1596. It was thoroughly renovated in 1996 and now, with it's salmon-pink rendered walls and beautiful, golden sandstone lintels topped by a bold, black clock-tower, it's amazingly photogenic.
It's not the most impressive building in the square though. Some would say that honour goes to the baroque Ducal Palace which houses the Museum of Thuringia, others would point to St George's church (although I can't comment on that because it was covered in scaffolding and wasn't open to the public at the time).
Me? I though the most impressive building was one that was just slightly off the Markplatz, Luther House, which is thought to be the oldest of Eisenach's many half-timbered buildings. I thought it was an absolute belter of a building, and what's more, you can go inside where you can view exhibitions about Martin Luther and a history of the Protestant Vicarage. Nice building, boring exhibition.
Incidentally, although there are plenty of cafe/bars/restaurants around Markplatz, there are two between the church and Luther House that I would say were the best. These were old, authentic Bierkellers and as so, were very atmospheric.
There are many more museums in Eisenach worth investigating, after all, this is also the birthplace of JS Bach and his house is now a memorial to him. As well as exhibits there are concerts and lectures. Being more of a Debussy-type, I gave this a miss.
There's also the Reuter-Wagner Museum which apparently has the second most important exhibition (after Bayreuth) devoted to Wagner - the opera, Tannhäuser, has connections with Wartburg.
There are other buildings worth visiting too, although they can't be all that worth it as we never visited them! We didn't actually venture into many of the museums for two reasons: firstly, we weren't all that interested in the thematic content; and secondly, the weather was absolutely glorious and it seemed a shame not make the most of it.
Besides, we only really spent late afternoon/early evening in the town both days we were there.
There are various other things to do and see in the surrounding area, but I think I've covered more than enough for now.