Thuringia (German: Thüringen) is one of the least known German states amongst foreign travellers but enjoys a good reputation with local holidaymakers. A predominantly mountainous and forested region, Thuringia is also known for a quartet of beautiful ancient cities and the Wartburg Castle - a UNESCO world heritage site and erstwhile refuge of Martin Luther that is regarded by Germans as one of the most important castles in the country. Thuringia's boundaries are Bavaria (specifically Franconia) to the south, Hesse to the west, Lower Saxony to the northwest, Saxony-Anhalt to the north and Saxony to the east. The border with Franconia, Hesse and Lower Saxony used to be the "inner-German" border and you can sometimes still see traces of that. Of particular note is the village of "Mödlareuth" or "little Berlin" as the American soldiers in the area liked to call it, that was divided among east and west not unlike its bigger namesake.
- Erfurt — state capital, biggest city and main travel hub
- Eisenach — home of Wartburg castle
- Gera — once an important regional industrial centre, still retaining architectural monuments to its former glory
- Jena — town of the biggest university in Thuringia (and home to Goethe and Schiller, too)
- Mühlhausen — historic home of Johann Sebastian Bach, John A. Roebling (builder of the Brooklyn Bridge) and of the peasants' leader, Thomas
- Nordhausen - Famous for its Nordhäuser Doppelkorn
- Rudolstadt — site of Germany's largest folk music festival
- Saalfeld — former seat of what is now the British royal family
- Weimar — town of Goethe and Schiller and site of the 1919 constitutional convention
- The Hainich Forest - Germany's thirteenth national park with its magnificent tree-top walk
- The Thuringian Forest - national park and winter sport centre
Thuringia as an entity has existed only since 1920. Before that it was a patchwork of small and miniature duchies, margraviates and other petty territories in ever shifting alliance. Both of its "big power" neighbors, Saxony and Brandenburg/Prussia at various times controlled several pieces of what is now Thuringia and in fact many of the reigning houses were branch lines of the reigning house of Saxony and consequently named Saxe-something. While this situation, that is fittingly described by the German term Kleinstaaterei was severely impending progress and made live for the people of the time harder, as they had to cross several borders in a day's march and the rulers could force them to change religion along with them (cuius regio eius religio), it is serendipitous for today's visitors, as one of the ways rulers tried to one-up one another was by investing in palaces, residences and culture. The theater in Weimar and in fact the presence of Goethe (who was born in Frankfurt) and Schiller (who hails from Württemberg) is due mostly to the search for prestige of the rulers of Saxe-Weimar and both got high paying government sinecure jobs that left them free to pursue their various interests, including literature.
The most common language in Thuringia is German with its slight regional accent. English proficiency has traditionally been lower than in the west, but is slowly getting better, especially among younger people. Other languages you might have luck with include (in decreasing order of likeliness) French, Russian, Spanish, Czech and Polish. As Thuringia is one of the few "Länder" with no international border there is less motivation for people and businesses to seek proficiency in a certain foreign language (such as Czech in parts of Saxony)
While there are technically speaking airports in this part of the country unless you have money to burn or own a private airplane, chances are you will be arriving at one of the major international airports out of state and than take the train or bus or rent a car from there. Frankfurt Airport (IATA: FRA) is particularly close and well connected internationally. It may make sense to get rail and fly. For more on that issue see rail air alliances
Thuringia is surprisingly well connected on the railway network and thanks to the quirky nature of German federalism the new Berlin-Munich high speed mainline will pass through Erfurt once it is finished in 2017, thus making a wide variety of connections in all cardinal directions available. For some smaller towns connections are not as good and you might find yourself in a bus after all if you do not own a car.
Long distance bus travel in Germany is a relatively new phenomenon as it was legalized only at the beginning of the 2010s and thus the market is still evolving. There are however a number of routes already available and prices routinely beat all other modes of transport, especially when booked well in advance. Comfort and speed of travel tend to be lacking, though.
Public transport is for the most part good, fast and reliable. If you plan to do a day trip the "Thüringen-Ticket" might just be what you are looking for. It costs €23 for one person plus €4 for each additional person up to five and covers all regional trains in Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony plus public transport in Erfurt, Gera, Weimar, Jena, also Halle and Leipzig (not Dresden though). Validity is from 09:00 on working days (all day on weekends) until 03:00 the following morning.
Bicycles are transported free of charge in any local trains and some other public transport within Thuringia (though not in some neighboring states, so watch out in trains, which cross).
For literature-, history- and theater buffs, Weimar is certainly a must visit, as it was the place were two of the most famous authors writing in German, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller met and had their most prolific writing phase. Furthermore the "Weimar Republic" was named for the town, because its constitution was written in Weimar's national theater (Berlin being embroiled in out and out revolution and political violence at the time)
Other towns in Thüringen are also not to be missed and some, like for example Erfurt, the capital, have superb old towns.
The Wartburg Castle near Eisenach is well worth a visit as a excellent castle with good condition interior rooms, as well as the connection to Martin Luther, who spent a year here under the assumed name "Junker Jörg" hiding from his enemies and translating the bible. The Wartburg was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000.
One of the main activities, visitors engage in is hiking through the Thüringer Wald. Other than that the various theaters (most notably that in Weimar) are still in use as such and if you speak German, it can be the highlight of your trip to see Goethe played "like it was meant to be seen". Even if you don't speak German or struggle with the language the sound of the words can be impressing.
Thuringia is home and origin to the renowned (at least in Germany) Thüringer Klöße (dumplings) as well as as Thüringer Rostbratwürste (or Roster for short), a type of Bratwurst. While they are available almost anywhere in Germany, as is often said, the best fare stays stateside.
Nordhausen is or at least was the liquor capital of Germany. If you pass by Thuringia without visiting once you are either a teetotaler or underage (legal drinking age is 16 for beer and wine 18 for spirits, just so you know)
The state of Thuringia is generally safe. While there is a legal requirement for high ranking police officers to speak English, and English is now required in school for everybody, you might still meet police that don't speak English. That being said, police is usually helpful and fair, if a bit strict at times. Sadly, as elsewhere in Germany, racial profiling does occur, especially on trains or near stations, so if you look "foreign" be prepared to show ID more often than white people. Violent crime is rare and almost unheard of, though pickpocketing and the likes do occur in crowds. Try to stay well clear of political rallies where right wing forces and Antifa collide as violence by either side or the police does occur during those events.
As this is more or less smack dab in the middle of Germany, the options to go from here are next to limitless.
- Franconia with its wine and beer culture, picturesque churches and pristine mountains is just a short hop away from Sonneberg, a town some consider to be basically Franconia already
- Saxony is right next door and included in your "Thüringen-Ticket" for the regional trains
- If you haven't flown in from Frankfurt already, Hesse is also worth a visit
- Saxony-Anhalt is another lesser-known German federal state right next to Thuringia its regional trains are also included in your "Thüringen-Ticket"