Touring Thuringia, Germany by Train and Car

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The Merchants' Bridge in Erfurt.
The Merchants’ Bridge in Erfurt.

Last winter, I took a partial self-drive tour through the central German state of Thuringia, traveling first by train, before loading into an Enterprise rental car for the second leg of the journey. My trip included visits to a mystical cave, one quirky hotel and the museum that houses Germany’s oldest toy collection—which you can read about in our July issue (At Home in Thuringia, Germany). The sites I witnessed were unforgettable, yet getting there was half the fun.

The various cities and towns in this sprawling region are accessible completely by train; however, if your clients have limited time on their vacation, or simply prefer the convenience of having an automobile, read how I got from point A to point B using both methods, then download the Enterprise Germany Driving Guide here, to educate them on some of the rules of the road.

To Erfurt
From Frankfurt Airport (FRA), I took a Deutsche Bahn train to the capital city of Erfurt. I suggest purchasing a ticket online several months in advance. Firstly so you can take advantage of the lower fares, and secondly when your clients arrive at the station, they can print out their pass at a ticket machine using their e-ticket number. Tickets, as well as the information at the platforms and on the screens, are all in German; however, at least one information desk is located at each station if they need help translating their ticket. If all else fails, ask a nearby attendant or passenger for help. It’s also important to note that to get to Erfurt, you must first travel one stop from the airport (FRA Frankfurt Airport) to the central station (Frankfurt [Main] Hbf). Tickets for this 10-minute ride cost $5.86. From there, your clients can buy a 1-way ticket (rates through mid-August start at $32 one-way) to the central station in Erfurt (Erfurt Hbf). Erfurt, Thuringia’s capital city, is more than 1,270 years old and is home to one of the best-preserved medieval city-centers in Germany.
The Stay: The Hotel am Kaisersaal. This Bachmann Hotels property enjoys a central location in the historical center of Erfurt, a 10-minute stroll from the train station and Erfurt Cathedral Square. The hotel features 90 guestrooms, a restaurant, and a sun terrace and bar. Best of all, it is steps away from the famous Merchants’ Bridge. Call for rates. For more information, visit bachmann-hotels.de/hotel-am-kaisersaal.
Must-See: The Merchants’ Bridge (Kramerbrucke). Window shop along this 393-ft.-long path lined with 32 colorful half-timbered houses. The antique and artisan shops dotting the course sell everything from handmade wooden statues to hand-blown glass. 

The palatial grounds of The Lindner Spa & Golf Hotel Weimarer Land in Blankenhain, Germany near the city of Weimar.
The palatial grounds of The Lindner Spa & Golf Hotel Weimarer Land in Blankenhain, Germany near the city of Weimar.

To Weimar
My next stop was the city of Weimar, a well-known center of classical literature and arts, and the 1999 European Capital of Culture. By this time, your clients should feel fairly comfortable with the Deutsche Bahn train system and ticket machines, so purchasing a $5.86 single journey regional ticket from Erfurt Hbf to the Weimar station will be a breeze. After a short, 14-minute ride, they’ll be walking in the footsteps of some of Germany’s greatest minds, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Sebastian Bach.
The Stay: The Lindner Spa & Golf Hotel Weimarer Land. A golfer’s paradise, the intimate, rustic-chic Lindner Spa & Golf Hotel Weimarer Land is set on a secluded and vast plot of land in Blankenhain, Germany, 30 minutes south of Weimar. This upscale resort features 94 guestrooms (including 18 suites); three restaurants; a bar; and a gorgeous 26,909-sq.-ft. spa with two saunas, one steam bath, an indoor pool, and an outdoor pool. The highlight of the property are the two 18-hole golf courses; however, additional activities, including guided hiking tours, guided bike tours, and cross-country skiing (in winter according to snow conditions) are also available. Book a room facing the golf courses as your clients will definitely want a front row seat to the stunning natural scenery. Rates start at $164 per night single; $219 per night dbl. For more information, visit lindner.de/en.
Must-See: Bauhaus University, Weimar. This illustrious school of higher education was once so disliked by the right-wing conservatives of the time that it lost funding from the state government of Thuringia and was forced to move more than an hour-and-a-half away to the city of Dessau. Some teachers and staff remained there and established a school of industrial design, which later became the Bauhaus University, Weimar in 1996. The nearly 100-year-old university is now a celebrated art school, still in operation. Tour the buildings’ hallowed halls and step back in time to learn how it came to be.

The Reading Room at the Boutique Hotel Schieferhof in Neuhaus Am Rennweg.
The Reading Room at the Boutique Hotel Schieferhof in Neuhaus Am Rennweg.

To Neuhaus Am Rennweg
In Weimar, my Enterprise rental car was dropped off at my hotel and I continued my hour-and-a-half journey to Neuhaus Am Rennweg by car. I enjoyed having the convenience of my car being dropped off, but this meant that I was not able to ask questions to the front desk attendant. The paperwork was in German and the Enterprise representative who dropped off my car did not speak English, so I needed the help of my guide to properly complete it. To avoid any issues, have your clients pick up their car at an Enterprise location, so they can get the full run down of how to operate their vehicle, as well as some tips on driving in Germany.
Coming from South Florida, I was needlessly concerned about driving on the Autobahn. All of the drivers stayed in their appropriate lane depending on their speed and left plenty of space in between the vehicles, and would even let your car in if need be. If your clients are also concerned, send them to Miami first to drive on our hair-raising highway system; afterwards, the Autobahn will be a piece of cake.
The Stay: The Boutique Hotel Schieferhof. This quirky, 100-year-old property features 38 individually decorated guestrooms including the Fairy Tale Room with its working miniature carousel and pop art paintings inspired by Andy Warhol, and the Reading Room with its cheetah print lamp shades, plaid carpeting, and wallpaper featuring pages from Heinz Stade’s “Unterwegs zu Schiller.” Rates start at $61 pp, including breakfast buffet and WiFi.
Must-See: Lauscha Coloured Glass Manufactory. The town of Lauscha has a long history of glassmaking dating back as early as 1597. Visitors to this expansive factory can watch as glassmiths craft fiery-red blobs of glass, using a 2,732-degree furnace, into vases, dishes and drinking glasses. At the end of my tour, I was able to “make” my own Lauscha Christmas ornament with the help of one of the artists.

For more information, visit visit-thuringia.com. To see more of my travels in Thuringia, take a look at my Eye on the World: Thuringia, Germany, here.