The British Guild of Travel Writers has for over 50 years been the leading organisation for travel media professionals. I've been a member for over 10 years and have been fortunate to attend the guild's AGM in places as far a field as Oman and closer to home in Portsmouth. This year we all gathered in Weimar. As one wag commented when asked by his mother where the AGM was being held, he replied "Weimar" and she in return answered "I was just trying to show an interest". I digress, Weimar in the heart of Germany is renowned for its cultural heritage, palaces and parks. Many writers are drawn here due to its association with Goethe and Schiller, whose houses have been converted into museums whilst travellers interested in 20th century history can visit sites associated with the Weimar republic and the Buchenweld Memorial, a ten minute drive from the city centre.
Two famous musicians chose Weimar as their home. Johann Sebastian Bach, who was appointed court organist and concertmaster, wrote three quarters of his organ compositions in the town. 140 years later Franz Liszt arrived in his capacity as pianist, conductor, composer, teacher and music organiser. Liszt helped to position Weimar on the musical map and and spent some of his most creative years here. Weimar's calender is now backed with musical events with the Thuringia Bach Festival, the largest music festival in the country having it's home in the city. This year it takes place between 30th April - 1st May. However, if music is not your thing but onions are ! on the second weekend of October every year Weimar hosts the legendary Onion Fair, a tradition dating back over 360 years. Onions are the stars of the show - twisted into plaits, adorning the Onion Queen's crown and used as ingredients in soups and cakes.
Weimar is in the state of Thuringia, famous as not only being the cultural heart of Germany but for it's sausage (they even have a museum dedicated exclusively to them). Thuringian butchers have been jealously guarding the recipe ever since the sausages have been made, for over 600 years according to records. What is certain is the grilled sausages are enormous and there's no polite way of really eating them. Another undisputed favourite in Thuringian cuisine are dumplings served with many different types of roast meat and called "Hutes" in some areas. There are numerous different recipes for them but common to all is the consistency of two-thirds raw grated potatoes over which is poured one-third mashed potatoes. This mixture is then stirred and the dumplings shaped by hand. After being simmered in hot salted water for about 20 minutes, they literally melt in the mouth or sink to the bottom of your stomach depending on much of a dumpling fan you are.
Time for some exercise in Hainach National Park located at the western border of the Thuringian Basin and home to one of Germany's biggest untouched forests. Here visitors can explore a tree tower with tree house, 44 metres high and soaring over the tree tops. There's also a canopy walk, a 530 metre long path that meanders it's way above the tree line. It's was a narnia like fairytale day we visited with the trees below covered in ice and snow, glittering against the electric blue sky behind. A magical scene when viewed from the dizzy heights above.
After all the natural wonders I've seen and experienced in South America and Western Australia in the last few months and the wet and wild weather here at home making me long for warmer climes, Germany in the depths of winter might be thought of as a bit of a let down. However, the wealth of beautifully restored buildings in Weimar took my breath away, as did literally the views from the canopy walkway in the Hainach National Park and the sub zero temperatures. Germany deserves greater recognition as a tourist destination, it's great value and with this year the country focusing on UNESCO World Heritage Sites it's a particularly interesting time to visit.
To find out more about Weimar and Thuringia, visit the region's tourism website.