Weekend Wanderlust: From Bauhaus to botany, discovering German culture in Weimar

Situated in the east German state of Thuringia, walkable Weimar is rich in history, culture and cuisine.

Weekend Wanderlust: From Bauhaus to botany, discovering German culture in Weimar
The 'Theaterplatz' in Weimar with a monument of Schiller and Goethe. Photo: DPA

I peered down a spiralling staircase that seemed to go on without end, like it belonged in sketch from surreal artist M.C. Escher. I was not in some abstract dream but rather the interior of the Bauhaus University in Weimar, the city that gave birth to the school of design almost exactly 100 years ago.

While I only spent a day in the eastern city, I felt like I travelled through many different periods of time. Situated in the former East German state of Thuringia, which holds its elections this Sunday, Weimar feels like the ultimate testament to both the richness and complexity of German society and culture. 

The spiralling staircase of the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Photo: DPA

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Weimar, with its relatively small population size of 65,000, holds the heart of German history: it was the base of the German Enlightenment of the 18th Century, and also the home of two of Germany’s all-time greatest Dichter und Denker, Schiller and Goethe, not to mention prolific composer Franz Liszt.

Its name has, however, most commonly been associated with the Weimar Republic, which lasted between 1918 and 1933 and proceeded National Socialism. Despite referring to the entire German state, Weimar ended up in the unofficial title as it was where the founding constitutional assembly took place. 

Bauhaus and beyond

For me, visiting the central Bauhaus building was a nice symbol of how Germany had, quite literally, rebuilt itself. Founded in 1919, Bauhaus would come to be viewed by the Nazis as a cosmopolitan threat to National Socialism, with Bauhäuslers taking refuge throughout the world during World War II. 

Only this year, did an impressive Bauhaus museum open its doors. Minimalistically housed in a naturally lit, light grey cube, it holds 168 items from the original Bauhaus days. 

READ ALSO: Inside Weimar’s new politically-charged Bauhaus Museum

One of its most stunning objects is the so-called Bauhaus Triangle, a rocking cube of circles and triangles from one of the school’s most famous instructors, Wassily Kandinsky.

The museum also tells a political history, tracing how founder Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, deemed subversive by the then ultra-right government in Weimar, were forced to move east to Dessau, and then to Berlin before the Nazis ran them out of Germany for good.

Goethe and Ginkgo Biloba

While I had visited Weimar expecting a bounty of Bauhaus architecture, I was not anticipating another one of its beloved attractions: the Ginkgo plant.

The plant was cultivated by the poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 to 1832), who had a lesser known career as a botanist. It grows in the garden of his former residence, which is open to the public for tours.

Gingko continues to grow in Goethe's garden. Photo: DPA

Goethe was so fond of the plant that he even penned a poem proclaiming his love for it. The first verse reads:

Dieses Baums Blatt, der von Osten

Meinem Garten anvertraut,

Giebt geheimen Sinn zu kosten,

Wie's den Wissenden erbaut

This roughly translates to:

This leaf from a tree in the East,

Has been given to my garden.

It reveals a certain secret,

Which pleases me and thoughtful people.

The city continues to cling onto Goethe’s affection for the plant, with Weimar’s old town filled with shops offering all sorts of products containing it, be it soap, cosmetics or ceramics. And each of Weimar’s charming cafes offers some sort of tea made from Gingko. 

If that’s not enough, an extensive exhibit on its history and health benefits is housed in the two-story Gingko Museum.

Every spot tells a story

In my short stay, I took a walking tour through Weimar, finding that every building told its own detailed story. 

Particularly impressive is the National Theatre, where the first German democracy was founded in 1918. The famous Theaterplatz hosts a monument of Goethe and Schiller gazing pensively into the distance.

I was also in awe of the Belvedere, a charming park and castle, and the Anna Amalia Bibliothek, famous for its rococo style style of architecture.

For a more sobering history, visit the Buchenwald concentration camp, a 20 minute train ride from Weimar’s Hauptbahnhof. It includes a sprawling monument from when the Soviets took over.

Contemporary cuisine

Zupfkuchen is widely served in Weimar. Photo: DPA

Back in the main city square, I relaxed after a day of intense touring with a loyal specialty reflecting Weimar’s eastern roots: the rich Russian Zupfkuchen, while my non-vegetarian friends enjoyed the Thüringer Bratwurst, which can be purchased at one of the city’s many sausage stands. 

With elections coming up, it's hard to know what Weimar’s future holds, but it remains one of Germany’s most fascinating stops to view history – be it its people, culture, or food – through the ages.

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REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.