My travels: A for Arnstadt

January 4, 2017

Realising that I spend quite a lot of space in this blog writing about other people’s travels, it occurred to me to write about some of my own. I shall be interested in my readers’ responses.

I stayed in Arnstadt for a few days back in 2014 when I finally got around – thirty years after I’d promised myself the trip – to doing my tour of the places in the life of my favourite composer, J S Bach. Arnstadt, in Thuringia, was where as a young man he got his first post as organist.

Thuringia was a revelation: it was like going back in a time machine. So many of the towns were full of centuries-old houses, the ‘fachwerkhaus’ style, which we call wattle-and-daub, and of which some examples remain in older towns and cities in England such as York or Shrewsbury. But in this part of what used to be the DDR, they are everywhere.

You could see that Arnstadt and other places like it hadn’t caught up with the West, even more than twenty years after the re-unification of Germany: there were crumbling buildings, pavements and infrastructure everywhere, alongside new-build and modernisation. Roads could be dreadful, and often long stretches were completely closed in both directions for renovation. It felt poor compared with what I was used to in western Germany. Bargain-basement supermarkets abounded: my favourite, with its non-PC reference to Scottish parsimoniousness, was called ‘McPfennig’. People were friendly and helpful; it was a lot more ‘white’ than other regions of Germany, and there was quite a lot of right-wing political activity in evidence.

The flat I rented was in a building that had been a monastery in pre-Reformation times; a plaque noted that Martin Luther had stayed twice in the monastery (one of the town’s churches proudly marked the spot where he had preached from when he was in the town) and the coloured glass in the main house door included the date 1685 – the year my hero Bach was born… You could walk around the remains of the town walls, visit the church where he was organist, and a museum dedicated to him in the castle. There was a rather raunchy-looking statue of him as a young man in the town square. And you could walk the two miles to the small village of Dornheim to visit the church where he married his first wife Maria Barbara (except it was closed while I was there).

It was a hectic holiday as I strove to take in as many sites as I could in ten days, but as I drove around I noticed how beautiful the Thuringian countryside was, too, and realised that if it weren’t so far from England, I could have a really good walking holiday there too…

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