Germany – Eisenach – Via Erfurt And Gotha

IT is interesting to note that our path led from the very place where German literature first recovered from its depression, directly into a region replete with memories of one cause of this depression —Luther and the Reformation.

A run of some thirteen miles brought us to Erfurt’s Leipziger Strasse; then, after some meandering and crossing of streams, we passed through the Fischmarkt, which has an old Roland column, a modern but interesting Gothic Rathaus, and several Renaissance patrician dwellings of the sixteenth century. Markt Strasse leads westward to the Friedrich Wilhelms Platz, the town’s principal market square.

Here a surprise awaited us. Emerging on the vast, paved square we saw, rising high against the sky from the eminence upon which they stand, the cathedral and the church of St. Severus—a most remarkable group. Between them an enormous flight of steps (bigger than that of the Brühl Terrace in Dresden) leads up to the terrace on the hilltop. St. Severus, on the right, is notable for a group of three quaint spires ; and the cathedral, its lofty Gothic choir facing the square, looked as impressive, I am tempted to say, as any church in the world. The unusually tall choir windows. themselves, lend an impression of great height, that finest attribute of ecclesiastical Gothic. When to this you add the effect of the substructure—a series of high, pointed arches springing from the hill to form the platform upon which the choir stands—you can easily imagine that the result is very striking; though lacking tower or spire worthy the name, the cathedral seems to soar far up into the heavens, dominating the town by its imposing architecture.

Bobbie drove around the hill, expecting that the cathedral could be entered from the west; but this entrance was barred, and beyond getting a glimpse of the citadel on Petersberg, nothing was accomplished. So we made a virtue of necessity and mounted the great eastern stairway. Near the top are the remains of a tiny stone stair which once led to a sort of pulpit jutting out from the terrace; used, no doubt, in days gone by, when addressing the multitude gathered upon the stairway. At the head of the flight, near the cathedral, stood a large and gruesomely realistic crucifix, and above the small northeastern portal of the cathedral, some bleached bones hung swinging in the wind. Though we plied the sacristan with perfectly fluent German we acquired no information regarding those bones; Scoffy suggested it must be a story that wouldn’t bear repeating.

Baedeker will tell of the things we saw inside; and the guide will point out the rest, should you chance to go there. What interested us most was a curious bronze candelabrum of the eleventh century, and a monument in the south wall depicting Count von Gleichen and his two wives. The sacristan was reduced to a state of confusion by the query whether the Count had both wives at the same time. Perhaps many people make the same remark, and no doubt it rankles, for the sacristan seems devoted to every stone of his great church. It may have been in punishment for this that he declared there was nothing to see in the cloisters. We made our way around the apse alone and found the cloisters too good to have missed; an iron gate closed them off, but it was quite easy to step over the stone balustrade. Within this quiet little enclosure of Romanesque and Gothic arches, the spirit of other times hovered around us; strange thoughts woke with the echo of our footsteps

Thoughts “that the soul of youth engage Ere fancy has been quelled; Old legends of the monkish page, Traditions of the saint and sage, Tales that have the rime of age And chronicles of eld.”

Looking up at the square of turquoise sky we could see one of the transept towers. A little doorway in the corner disclosed winding stairs, and the Youth was for climbing the 260 steps to see the great bell, Maria Gloriosa, which tips the beam at thirteen tons; but we managed to recover him by his coat-tails and proceeded on our way. On the terrace, schoolboys were sketching the fine view of the town, under supervision of a teacher. A very inattentive class ! for strangers were about, and the whispered word “Amerikaner” showed how conspicuous the stranger—fondly believing he looks just like other folk—really is.

Neither of these ancient Catholic churches advances any special claim to Martin Luther, but on the south side of the square they overlook, stands the Gasthaus “zur Lilie where Luther stopped as a Junker, and not far away is the Augustine monastery (now the Martin’s-Stift Orphan Asylum) where you may see the cell he occupied for three years.

We had avoided historical references until Pater suddenly said, “Children, who submitted in Erfurt to Frederick Barbarossa?” Seeing the blank looks that followed this unexpected onslaught, he continued, “Why, Henry the Lion, of course. You should re-member those things.”

Though we did not arrive in time for the regular market, the stoneware market proved interesting; such an array of pots, crocks, pipkins, jars, steins, and casseroles, we had never seen. The wares, mostly spread out on the ground, covered quite some space, and we were thankful Bobbie had not driven right into them when turning the corner, else the proverbial bull in the china shop would have been robbed of his laurels.

In 1672, Erfurt was in a state of some excitement about a witchcraft trial. It seems a young woman had, by brewing a concoction of herbs with a liberal seasoning of incantation, compelled her lover to return to her from a neighboring village—much against his will, and with such alacrity that he complained of supernatural agency. The girl confessed, and was pardoned upon naming the old witch who had instructed her in the proceeding. There were various ways of compelling a man’s affections or of seeing one’s future husband, as the girls do now at Hallowe’en. These were practiced on St. Andrew’s or St. Thomas’ night, on Christmas eve or New Year’s eve. One way to accomplish the former was to set the table for two, at midnight, taking care to have no forks, and sticking the knives into a loaf of bread. By repeating a specially worded invitation, the intended husband would be compelled to appear in person and occupy a seat at table, for a moment. He always left some sou-venir of the occasion, which the girl had to keep concealed. A woman in Saalfeld tried it, and the man who appeared left his dagger behind; this she hid in a clothes-chest, where he found it two years after their marriage. She foolishly related the whole story, whereupon he cried in fury, “So you are the wench who caused me that night of horror,” and stabbed her to the heart.

The road to Eisenach was fine, the scenery splendid. From the high ridge where Gamstedt and Tüttleben lie, one sees to the south, across the valley, the wooded hills of the great Thuringian forest stretching away into blue distance. The ancient forests of Germany are, nearly all, still extensively wooded and, consequently, not disappointing like the old English forests.

We were now well into Thuringia, which may be loosely designated as extending from the Harz south-ward to the present Bavarian border, and from the present kingdom of Saxony westward, about to the river Fulda. According to one tradition the Thuringians, a Suevian tribe, drove the Saxons out and settled here; according to another, the Saxons were a part of the army of Alexander the Great, which, after aimless wanderings, took to sea, sailed up the Elbe, and seized part of Thuringia. Historically, the Saxons conquered all northern Thuringia in 530, pushing south of the Harz to within ten miles of the road we were traveling; and Thuringia soon fell under the sway of Saxon civilization and was absorbed by the great Saxon duchy.

In “Die Ahnen” (a series of eight novels), Gustav Freytag, historian and novelist, traces the fortunes of a Thuringian family from the days of Roman invasion to the eighteenth century. The scene of “Ingo,” the interesting first novel, is laid in Coburg; unfortunately, “Ingraban,” the second, was a bit slow, and discouraged further translation. Thereafter the scene is laid in the very locality we were traversing, and the author speaks of three border castles, of Erfurt (a fortified town as early as 741), of the monastery at Fulda, and of many other interesting things and exciting events. Almost contemporaneous with “Ingo” is the scene of Felix Dahn’s “Captive of the Roman Eagles” (entitled “Bissula” in German), a thrilling story of the defeat of the Romans by the Alemanni on the north shore of Lake Constance, afterward part of the duchy of Swabia. Dahn’s “Felicitas,” a story of Salzburg (the Roman Juvavum), will also bear reading. Read these! O, Americans !—read all you can, and then brush up your German and read still more; for if you claim England as fatherland, surely this is grandfatherland.

Approaching Tüttleben we passed the Gasthaus “zu den Drei Gleichen,” and these three castle-crowned hills of Freytag’s could be distinguished south of us. One, doubtless the duke of Coburg-Gotha’s castle Wachsenburg (on its 136o foot summit), was quite distinct; the others were more or less vague in outline, but there was little chance of our missing them since Scoffy pointed out at least five strangely shaped summits which might pass for ruined castles. The temptation to draw nearer and investigate was almost irresistible. Had we been able to realize our heart’s desire, each day’s tour would have been one continual detour.

There is so much scenic, romantic, and historical interest in the broad German land ; for example, only twenty-seven miles south of Weimar is Blankenburg, dominated by the ruins of Greifenstein—the ancestral castle of Gunther of Schwarzburg, who was elected king of Germany in opposition to Charles IV. Gunther, like luckless Rudolph of Swabia, was one of the anti-kaisers elected in times of stress; he spent a year of precarious kaiserdom which ended in his death—some say, by poison. Greifenstein overlooks the Schwarza valley, said to rival the Eisenach region as the most beautiful spot in the Thuringian forest.

Siebleben, just outside Gotha, has a Schloss which we descried in the. distance, and also boasts the country home of the late Gustav Freytag. We did not see this place, at least not wittingly, although we passed a large Gut (estate) which might have been his.

In Gotha we made only a postcard stop. Schloss Friedenstein, visible from the town, was erected on ruins of castle Grimmenstein (destroyed 1567 in the Grumbach rebellion) and in recent years was occupied by the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha—the late duke of Edinburgh; it is a plain structure, set in a fair sized park, not sufficiently attractive to draw us from our course.

“In the Olden Time,” a novel by Margaret Roberts, describes the terrible Peasants’ War of 1524-25, an-other rebellion engendered by the spiritual unrest of the times. It introduces the famous Lutheran duke, Ulrich of Wurtemberg, whose story you may read in `”Lichtenstein,” a book adapted from the German of Wilhelm Hauff. “Klytia,” by Prof. Hausrath (George Taylor) portrays the fortunes of men compelled to change religions twice or thrice in a lifetime.

Leaving Gotha, the car climbed the heights and ran above the valley of the Hörsel, again affording a splendid view of the Thüringer Wald to the south. Most prominent, were the 3000 foot Inselberg and, almost in front of it, the château Tenneberg on a summit some 1400 feet high. Near Eisenach we passed directly below Hörselberg, familiar through the legend and opera of Tannhäuser as containing the grotto of Venus into which she enticed the ill-starred knight and minnesinger. Hörselberg has long been known as a favorite haunt of the devil’s; hell-fire has burst from its sides, and the shrieks of the damned have echoed down the valley. In fact, a queen of England, having learned her lord was in purgatory here, is said to have built a chapel in the valley for the good of his soul. A town sprang up around it which she named Satan-stead, and which is the very Sattelstedt we passed on our way.

Eisenach was reached in time for lunch at the Rautenkranz, our stopping place, which has a pleasing location on the Markt.

An indication of Germany’s efforts to keep abreast of the times in business enterprise, was the boy on a bicycle who picked up our trail, as we entered town, and followed us to our destination; here he offered to guide our chauffeur to a garage, and when the portier announced that he could accommodate us, the boy, still refusing to be shooed away, hung around in a vain effort to sell us Oel and Benzin (oil and gasoline).

The large square, paved in granite blocks with diagonal cross walks of flags, was, like all market places, an object of unfailing interest. Only a few vendors remained at the time of our arrival, but early next morning there was the usual large gathering. The fountain on this square was presided over, not by Roland, but by St. George resplendent in a coat of gold leaf. The recently restored Markt-Kirche, opposite the hotel, did not appear specially old nor yet obtrusively new. Before it, stands a statue of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born in Eisenach. Almost adjoining the market place to the south is Luther Place, with the Luther house where young Martin resided with Frau Cotta while attending school.

The friendly Thuringian hills crowd in almost to the market place, the nearer ones studded with pretty villas; on those higher and more distant you may see, to the southeast, the Burschenschafts Denkmal in memory of students who fell in the Franco-Prussian war and, farther away, southwest, the walls and towers of the Wartburg.

The Wartburg is a name to conjure with. Probably few places are of more vital interest to the Protestant world; or even to the Roman Catholic world, which is not so narrow-minded as to refuse interest in its great dissenter. In fact, among the sightseers at our first visit, was a Catholic priest—a far from indifferent observer.

In the Wartburg, Luther remained in friendly detention, having been kidnapped with a great show of force by Elector Frederick the Wise, lest enemies overwhelm him. Here, while working almost a year at his translation of the Bible, he was known as “Junker Georg;” here, he is said to have thrown his inkwell at the devil—casting upon the wall a stain which zealous tourists have chipped from the plaster, bit by bit, until not only the original stain is gone, but also the large soot-spot behind the tile stove. Sad to say, his desk and bed have also been chipped to such an extent that the authorities have been obliged to cover the accessible edges with metal.

Apart from these associations, the Wartburg presents a most picturesque group of buildings, and, like most German castles, commands fine views in all directions. The keen eyes of Ludwig der Springer—who escaped from Giebichenstein, near Halle, by a daring jump into the Saale—first discerned its advantages, and he exclaimed, “Warte, Berg ! du sollst mir eine Burg werden !”— literally, “Just wait, mountain, I’ll make a castle of you,” so the castle was called Wart-burg.

From Ludwig down, the landgraves of Thuringia were men of wit, daring and enterprise, and many of their sayings and doings have been immortalized in the Wartburg’s frescoes. One, for example, unarmed, encountered a lion which had escaped into the court-yard; before his retainers could hurry to the rescue, the landgrave, by his unflinching gaze, cowed the beast and led it back to its cage. Another, when the emperor complained that the Wartburg (some say the Naumburg) had no extra surrounding wall, remarked, “If your Majesty will have patience, I’ll build you a wall in two days,” and forthwith sent messengers abroad to summon his vassals. Next day, he led the emperor up on the ramparts and pointed out a continuous wall of armed men surrounding the castle. The emperor was constrained to admit that his host had made good his word. An interesting story concerns another Landgraf who, to the detriment of his people, was rather weak-natured and the tool of his advisers. Lost in the forest one time, he passed the night in a blacksmith’s hut at Ruhla. The smith and his helpers, unconscious of their guest’s rank, deplored the weakness of the landgrave; with every blow upon the iron he welded, the smith chanted, “Landgrave, grow hard ! Landgrave, grow hard as this iron !”

The landgrave did; he suddenly displayed a strong will, on reaching home, and dismissed his evil counselors.

The town, too, has its legends : such as that of the bewitched maiden who was cursed by her mother for obstinacy and who, to this day, haunts a cave in the mountainside waiting for release; or that of the knight Herman von Treffurt, a local Don Juan, who rode over Hellerstein cliff one dark night and owed his escape from death to calling on the Virgin. He be-came a pious monk in Eisenach’s monastery—did not even care to be buried with the other good monks, and so was laid away in a lonely corner between the church and the town wall.

In fact, the legends of town and castle would fill a book; but I cannot refrain from relating one more, which really concerns the castle of Kynast in the mountains of southwestern Silesia. Princess Kunigunde was sole heiress to this fine castle and its dependencies ; spoiled beyond remedy in her youth, she lost her head entirely upon reaching marriageable age, and though many worthy suitors aspired to her hand none pleased her. She devised a very cruel expedient to get rid of them : promising to marry the one who could ride the round of the castle, on its walls—an almost impossible feat, for the walls were narrow and the abyss outside was calculated to make both horse and rider flinch at a critical moment. Many a good fellow perished in this foolhardy test of courage, and it became a well-founded opinion that the princess would remain single. One day a new suitor appeared—a fine figure of a man, tall, lithe, handsome, and a remarkable horseman. The princess lost her heart to him at once and vainly tried to dissuade him from the fearful ride, But he made the attempt and succeeded. As the princess, radiant with delight, stood waiting for him to claim his reward she saw him wave his hand disdainfully and, putting spur to his horse, ride across the drawbridge and out into the forest. The poor princess never smiled again. The explanation nearest to hand was that he was the avenging spirit of one of the dead; but eventually it transpired that the horseman was no other than the landgrave of Thuringia, who had trained his favorite charger to canter fearlessly upon just such a narrow way in order to put an end to the pernicious situation.

Although the Wartburg draws visitors primarily as the one-time haven of Junker Georg, one carries away an indelible impression of its own charming self. It is famous as the finest example of a nobleman,* residence in the Romanesque style. The old draw-bridge (lowered to admit the visitor), the interesting Rüstsaal with its fine old armor, the quaint forecourt with its timbered Ritterhaus, the inner court with its ancient well and Romanesque “landgrave-house,” the Bergfried, the “guest-house”—all give an exception-ally vivid and accurate picture of medieval days. The room where Luther lived, the chapel where he preached, the apartment where Holy Elizabeth dwelt, the hall of the famous Sangerstreit (contest of minstrels) in which Wolfram von Eschenbach vanquished Tannhäuser, impart an atmosphere of faith, piety, poetry and romance, such as is rarely found in one spot. The great upper hall of the Landgrafenhaus is doubtless familiar to many through “Tannhäuser,*” stage setting, but the view from watchtower or ram-parts, with its comprehensive sweep over Thuringia,* hills, is the real setting of life’s great drama played here through the ages—and, in many ways, it forms one,* finest memory of Eisenach.

The Kaiser is fond of the Wartburg. In autumn he often goes there for the Auerhahnjagd as soon as the open season for these famous cock pheasants has begun. The hall of the minstrels is his reception room, and the vaulted apartment of St. Elizabeth—handsomely decorated with mosaics and furnished, as closely as existing records permit, in the fashion of her day-is his sitting-room or parlor. His reverence for this historic castle is shown by the crucifix of olive-wood in the chapel, a tribute which he brought from the Holy Land.

St. Elizabeth, miracle is probably known to most readers through the poem by William Wentworth Story; perhaps not so many are familiar with another “Saint of Dragon,* Dale,” whose story, interwoven with scenes from the Wartburg and the Drachenschlucht, is delightfully told in a book by William Stearns Davis.

Our faithful car had carried us up the fine Wartburg road to the “jumping off place” where all vehicles and even the sure-footed donkeys are obliged to halt. On the afternoon of our second day in Eisenach ( July first) we motored through the mountains past Ruhla towards Friedrichsroda, where the scenery was fine but the roads, though excellent, were unpleasantly steep and winding.

That forenoon we rambled through the Annathal, pretty walks; went through the Drachenschlucht, which recalls, though it does not equal, the Aarschlucht in Switzerland; and enjoyed a distant view of the Wartburg from the place called Zur Hohen Sonne—a vista through a lane cut in the woods, which recalls the glimpse of the Capitol at Washington, D. C., as seen from the Soldiers’ Home. The auto being held at Pater, disposal, we drove to these places by carriage ; it was amusing to note how disgusted we were with this mode of travel which, to us—spoiled by our swift and comfortable automobile—appeared slow, dusty, hot and tiresome.

We alighted at one end of the Annathal (a valley) and our jehu said he would meet us at the other end. “And,” he added with a knowing wink, “you won’t get lost. I’ll call you.” Having walked about as far as directed, we heard, from the hill above, most marvelous sounds, which bore a faint resemblance to “My Country, ’tis of Thee,” “Yankee Doodle,” and other airs, played upon a bugle. It at once occurred to us that this must be our driver calling for his passengers, so we scrambled up a steep path and found him, very red in the face from his exertions, but beaming with pleasure at Scoffy,* diplomatic praise. Another coachman was waiting there with a carriage; his party preceded us through the valley, but those unfortunates, not suspecting that gay postilion blood still runs in the veins of German drivers, had passed the music by. Anxious inquiries confirmed this fact; so, with a wild shout of “My party is lost!” their jehu plunged down the path, at breakneck speed, in search of his missing fares.