Churches, towers and bridges, great culture and glittering festivals: Erfurt offers medieval charm in abundance and a rich history combined with a lust for life and a warm welcome. Situated at the crossroads of ancient German and European trade routes, the regional capital of Thuringia has always been popular with important intellectuals and is a self-assured, proud centre of innovation, as well as a magnet for visitors from around the world.
Martin Luther once praised Erfurt as a 'City of Towers' in reference to the lofty spires and steeples of the city's 25 parish churches, 15 abbeys and monasteries and ten chapels. Especially striking are St. Mary's Cathedral and the Church of St. Severus; together these two masterful examples of German Gothic design form an architectural ensemble like no other in Europe. Inside the cathedral there is a particularly impressive chancel with a series of 13 colourful stained glass windows, each nearly 18 metres high. The cathedral is also home to the magnificent Gloriosa, the world's largest free-swinging medieval bell. Nowadays, the church towers cast their shadows over the lovingly restored half-timbered houses and beautiful Renaissance buildings of the historic city centre, where one of Germany's finest open-air theatre events, the Cathedral Steps Theatre Festival takes place every year. The Augustinian Monastery, in which Martin Luther spent five years of his life, the Prediger Church and the fortifications of Petersberg Citadel are superb examples of medieval and modern-era architecture. The Old Synagogue, Europe's oldest fully intact synagogue, also merits a visit. It houses an exceptional Jewish history museum, featuring a Jewish ritual bath discovered nearby in 2007. But Erfurt is more than just a city of sacred buildings – it is a city of bridges too. 142 of them span the river Gera, its tributaries and the Flutgraben, a broad canal running alongside the former city walls. The most famous of these bridges is undoubtedly the Merchants' Bridge, which has the longest row of inhabited buildings on any bridge in Europe.
Arts and crafts, galleries, cosy wine taverns, music shops and antique dealers are the hallmarks of the Merchants' Bridge, whose Merchants' Bridge Festival is the biggest and best old town festival in Thuringia. Every year, the Middle Ages spring back to life in the lanes surrounding the bridge for a celebration involving ancient crafts, historical song, jesters and a colourful array of stalls. While this may be Erfurt's most famous festival, it's far from its only one. There's also the Petersberg Festival that celebrates military traditions in the heart of the old quarter, and in the early months of the year, carnival brings the party atmosphere to town. In springtime Erfurt's pottery market is full of ceramic treasures, whilst in the summer the flower and garden market transforms the cathedral square into a colourful fairytale scene. The crop market in the autumn, meanwhile, offers local produce such as fruit, vegetables and honey. Every year on 10 November, singing children proceed through the city's streets and alleyways with home-made lanterns, on their way to the Martinmas market. This is done in honour of St. Martin and to commemorate the church reformer Martin Luther. And during Advent, when the Christmas market is up and running, an enticing aroma of cinnamon, ginger, roasted almonds and pfefferkuchen biscuits wafts through the city. But the people of Erfurt don't spend all their time partying; they also like to enjoy the city's cultural treasures such as the Thuringian Folk Museum on Juri-Gagarin-Ring or Anger Museum, the city's art gallery. Another favourite is the municipal museum inside the 'Haus zum Stockfisch', a beautiful Renaissance house. When you're in Erfurt, there's no end of things to look forward to. And in this resplendent city, you may even experience a renaissance of your own.