Leipzig and Weimar mark part one of my Goethe pilgimage. (Wetzlar is soon to follow.) My friend Sarah (an American in Cambridge last year like me, and an American in Berlin at the moment) met me in Leipzig and was kind enough to indulge my author-themed itinerary. We spent a relaxed couple of days visiting Goethe-themed sights, with the occasional other author or composer thrown in.
Goethe in Leipzig
Leipzig has a positive mania for claiming famous figures as its own. And because Leipzig is a university town, it has a long list of Germans its can lay at least partial claim to: Leibniz, Lessing, Nietzsche, Angela Merkel, Schumann, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Bach, and, of course, Goethe. Despite the fact that Goethe only spent three years at university there and actually failed his exams, he’s well-commemorated. There’s a large, very shiny statue of him in a central square. But the best Goethe-related site in town is Auerbachs Keller. It’s the second-oldest restaurant in the city, dating back to the early 1400s. It was Goethe’s favorite wine bar during his student days, when it was already decorated with paintings from the story of Faust. He set a scene in his Faust I in the bar. Mephisto brings Faust here, impresses students with some magic involving an endless supply of wine, and rides off (with Faust) on a wine cask. Auerbachs Keller embraces its celebrity, with statues outside depicting scenes from Goethe’s play, Faust-themed paintings on all the walls, and a horribly cheesy wine cask with Mephisto and Faust dummies riding it.
Goethe in Weimar
Most of the real Goethe-related sights are in Weimar, where Goethe held his official position and lived for most of his life. There, we visited his house and the attached museum. Goethe was an avid collector of all sorts of antiquities and scientific specimens, so there was a lot to see. The museum displayed selections from his collections, letters, early editions of his books, portraits, scientific equipment, and even some of Goethe’s clothes. It was all well organized and described, too, so I definitely recommend a visit! Nearby in Park an der Ilm lies Goethe’s summer house with the garden he designed, so we visited that and touched his good-luck rock. He also contributed to the design of the park and its Roman House. It wasn’t all Goethe—Schiller and Liszt both lived in Weimar as well. We only walked by the outsides of their houses, though.
More of Leipzig
While Goethe occupied most of our time, we got to a few other things in Leipzig, too. We compared two old cafes: Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum and Riquet. Riquet was definitely the more elegant of the two, but Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum housed a really fun, free museum about the history of coffee and cafe culture in Europe. We also visited the Bach museum. Sadly, the school Bach lived in is no longer around (though the church he played in is), so the museum is housed next door. My take-aways were mostly that Bach was absurdly prolific and that it would have been awful to be a pupil in the boarding school he was connected to (strict rules against “carousing,” only two meals per day, and whipping and imprisonment as disciplinary measures). We also visited a musical instruments museum. Lots of instruments were odd-looking, but one stood out: a table piano. These are pianos that, when fully closed, resemble ordinary pianos. One specimen took it even further—the table included a mirror and compartments for makeup and writing implements. The signs suggested that these sorts of table pianos were popular in opera singers’ dressing rooms, who could use them to refresh both their makeup and their parts before going on stage.
It was great to see two such lovely German cities, to encounter Sarah again, and to have so many opportunities to fangirl over Goethe. I missed just one opportunity: We came upon a tour in the Goethe Museum in Weimar right as the guide was asking the group questions about Werther mania (and specifically about the Werther outfit). No one in the group could answer, and I didn’t think it would have been appropriate for me to butt in. But how amazing would it have been if I’d been wearing my Werther outfit then? I’m determined to wear it the entire time in Wetzlar, so there will be plenty of opportunities for awkward over-eagerness then!