A gem of German Classicism: Weimar and the Duchess Anna Amalia Library

15. April 2018

I am taking you to a place where time has stood still for three centuries – the romantic Weimar with its beautiful Duchess Anna Amalia Library.

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Den deutschen Beitrag findest du hier: Ein historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar.

In the green heart of Germany, on the bank of the river Ilm, there is a town that has always been one of the most fascinating and dreamy places to me.

The historical city centre of Weimar is so very well preserved, that a visitor develops the impression, at the next corner one could bump into poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a feather quill in his hands and parchment between his fingers, while his head is spinning around new lines for his next great work.

Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (26)

The numerous horse carriages with all the hooves drubbing on on the streets for the tourists play their parts in this romantic scenery, as well as all the colourful little houses, narrow streets with cobble stones and small cafés playing classical music.

Weimar had a profound influence on the fact that Germany is named as a “country of poets and thinkers”. This city is so alive with history, literature, arts and culture that a visit of only a few days never would do this large variety justice.

As my family history is very closely connected to the city – my grandparents as well as my dad grew up in Weimar – I have spent countless days in this city.

The weather is splendid for our stroll today! The sun is shining for the first time this spring and everyone is happily chatting on the streets, enjoying tasty ice cream and visiting the numerous museums. So maybe you would like to come and follow me to some special historical places in my beloved Weimar.

I could show you so many of my personal highlights, but for this first post I decided to focus on one place, that had a significant impact on many of the world-famous intellectuals that worked and lived in the city – the Duchess Anna Amalia Library.

Schiller, Goethe and the Weimar Classicism

Before visiting the library with you, I need to drop a few lines about a cultural period that made the city and its historical library famous – Weimar Classicism.

It was one of the greatest eras in European intellectual history. Weimar Classicism describes an era that was mainly marked by the four scientists, politicians and authors Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813), Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) and Friedrich Schiller (1795-1805).

In Germany, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is one of the most known and popular intellectuals – a so-called „universal genius“.

All of us grew up with his works at school, such as the books Faust, Iphigenia in Tauris and the Sorrows of Young Werther, or his poems – which of course us students had to learn by heart – such as Prometheus and the Erl-King.

Goethe Wohnhaus Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (1)

Let’s begin our walk in the city center. A horse carriage is standing in front of Goethe’s former house on Frauenplan, which can still be visited nowadays. We can see a part of Goethe’s arts and natural scientific collections, which is displayed in this house, as well as some of his original furniture.

Visitors can view many of the places where the writers and their patrons lived and worked – the houses of Goethe and Schiller, Belvedere Palace, Tiefurt House with their fabulous parks and of course the historical cemetery with its royal crypt, including the tomb of Goethe.

The Baroque house on Frauenplan, where Goethe lived for almost 50 years, is another fascinating and prominent place which shall not be missed when visiting this city. Nowadays, the house looks largely as it did during the last years of Goethe’s life.

„He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.“ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

There is another building in Weimar which played a key role in Goethe’s career, the summer house in the park on the river Ilm, in the midst of wild nature – a gift from Duke Carl August.

This was the first house Goethe owned in Weimar. In his garden house he wrote the famous ballad of the Erl King, which I already mentioned before.

Nowadays the house is surrounded by a lovely park, which is the perfect place to stroll through on a warm and sunny day in the city. At this place we can have a little break after our walk, enjoy the sunshine on our noses and listen to the excitedly chatting birds, before we are heading back to the busy city centre.

Goethes Gartenhaus Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (2)

In these photos I am standing in Goethe’s garden behind his summer house. Goethe was an expert in botanics and created an impressive garden in this area. Maybe you can imagine what this place will look like in a few weeks, when everything is in bloom!

I am wearing a vintage 70s does 30s knit dress from this wonderful British Etsy shop*, as well as a headscarf and a hat I borrowed from my grandma, as the sun was very bright on this day. I show you how to do this 30s inspired hairstyle with scarf in this Instagram video!

Goethe Gartenhaus Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (21)

Friedrich Schiller’s eleven-year collaboration with Goethe was the highlight of this cultural era. The young Schiller was, such as Goethe, a philosopher, playwright and historian. It was mainly his friendship with Goethe, their discussions concerning aesthetic and literature, that shaped Weimar Classicism and Weimar.

Schiller spent the final years of his life in a town house on what was then the Weimar esplanade. Nowadays the house is furnished with period furniture, some of which is original. The houses of Goethe and Schiller are both very impressive and absolutely worth to visit! Our schedule is full already, but maybe you would like to come back another time.

Before heading back to the city centre I would like to take you to another small tour along the Belvedere Alley. As we drive up the hill towards Belvedere, we can already spot the castle at the end of this long road.

Belvedere Castle served as a pleasure garden for Duke Ernst August, built around 1724. The wide gardens are a pure pleasure to walk through, as well as the orangery, which I would like to take a closer look at.


One can visit the orangery, which does also exhibit some pieces of art once in a while.

Belvedere Orangerie Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (16)

I was kindly given this beautiful 1940s inspired ensemble as advert sample by the British label Joanie Clothing. The cardigan is such a great piece, I am sure it will accompany me on a lot of further adventures, as it matches so many of my dresses, is really soft and comfortable to wear.

I chose this darling tea dress with floral print as a combination. I am quite happy that with this one I finally found the perfect garment to pair with my mustard yellow 40s vintage hat! 

Belvedere Orangerie Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (16)

I always enjoy the atmosphere in orangeries, especially on sunny days like today.

When the sunrays fall through the windows upon the plants, the halls are flooded in warm light and bring the exotic plants to their fullest bloom.

Weimar’s place in German history

Classical Weimar was adopted as an UNESCO World Heritage site. On one hand because of the art-historical significance of the town’s buildings and parks, on the other hand regarding the role of the town as an intellectual centre in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Also the first republic on German grounds was established here in 1919 – the Weimar Republic.

Rathausplatz Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (24)

The town hall square in the city centre is dominated by the neo-Gothic town hall building. In October one of my favourite markets takes place there, as well as in all the lovely narrow alleys of the city – the Onion Market

The amount of impressive historical buildings is quite high in Weimar! Facing the town hall we can find this colourful Renaissance building, where Lucas Cranach the Elder lived with his son in the 16th century.

Cranach Haus Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (25)

Another great epoch that emerged and flourished in Weimar was the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was one of the foremost movements in architecture and design of the 20th century and I am sure all of you know this era.

These creations have lost nothing of their timeless and simple beauty and do still shape and influence nowaday’s modern design, such as houses, furniture and arts.

The establishment of the Bauhaus celebrates its 100th anniversary in Weimar next year, and I am sure there will be a lot of wonderful events and exhibitions take place.

As you see – Weimar is in many ways a city worth to visit.

The Duchess Anna Amalia Library – Visiting one of the most beautiful libraries in the world

And now, as we had a splendid circular stroll together through the park and the market place, there is still one highlight that I would like to show you.

One of the most important reminders of Classical Weimar is the renowned Duchess Anna Amalia Library, a legacy to German and European education and literacy. It preserves literary documents dating from the 9th to the 21st centuries.

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I already visited the Duchess Anna Amalia Library a couple of times before, yet I am again and again impressed by its imposing finery and magnificence.

Walking through old libraries always makes my heart beat faster – thinking about all this knowledge, this history, this passion that is captured inside the dusty old books for eternity.

„Art is the right hand of nature. The latter has only given us being, the former has made us men.“ Friedrich Schiller

Imagine – some of these books have already been read by scholars, authors or pupils more than 300 years ago! Some of the volumes, pages, lines have inspired famous poets and scientists for works that are nowadays known all over the world.

Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (11)

The most famous part of the library and also the one free for public access today is the richly decorated Rococo Hall.

On the balustrade of the upper gallery you can see Goethe looking down on us, as if he was guarding „his“ library and taking care everybody treated the precious books the way they deserve it.

The ducal library – From private to public

The “Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek” was one of the first libraries in Germany to be made accessible to the public. It is home to the book collections that Wieland, Goethe, Herder, Schiller and many others used to work with.

The library’s history reaches back to 1552. It was first part of the ducal art collection. In 1691, Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar planned to expand the book collection and to turn it into a library within his palace.

Duchess Anna Amalia (1739-1807, married to Ernst August II) drew the most known poets and philosophers to the beautiful town Weimar.

The library has been moved into its own building in 1766. To consolidate her love of books into a larger holding space, Duchess Anna Amalia commissioned the State Architect to rebuild and convert the Renaissance-style Castle into a library. The first floor of the building became an impressive library hall in late rococo style with two galleries.

The collection was highly diverse.The works included some of the finest written and produced German literature, art and culture, history, and architecture.

„Every day we should hear at least one little song, read one good poem, see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.“ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (6)

In this photo you can see – besides the beautiful interior of the library – also my lovely 40s inspired Joanie Clothing ensemble a little in detail. 

In 1797, ministers Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Christian Gottlob Voigt were chosen as directors of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. The library then joined the ranks of the most important libraries in Germany at the time! It expanded its holdings to a number of 80,000 volumes in 1832.

Since its 300th anniversary in 1991, the library has borne the name of its most important patron.

Shortly before the long-planned renovation work was due to commence, a devastating fire raged in the historical building in 2004. It destroyed the upper floors, including numerous books and artworks located there.

The Roccoco Hall was completely damaged. It took three years, until 2007, to restore the building and the archive as good as even possible. It is heartbreaking that more than 50.000 historical and irreplaceable books will forever be lost.

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A variety of busts portraying Weimar’s classical artists is displayed in the library. Their heads are facing each other, as if they were captured in time while having one of their intellectual disputes.

Below you see the probably most known portrait of Friedrich Schiller with his distinctive profile. The bust was created by Johann Heinrich Dannecker.

Historischer Stadtrundgang durch Weimar - Duchess Anna Amalia Library - (6)
The Duchess Anna Amalia Library can be visited by a maximum 250 persons every day, so if you plan to come to the Library again, I recommend sending an e-mail about six weeks before – to reserve a slot.

So this was it – our trip together to only a few of the numerous amazing cultural and historical highlights that one of my favourite cities has to offer.

Every trip to Weimar is different, and every time I discover another fascinating place – whether it is a small historical house, that I stumble upon by accident, a new to me, romantic alley that I walk through, or a beautiful old tree in the park, with a trunk so large that already Schiller could have sat under its leaves to enjoy the calm and serenity.

When you are coming to visit our country one day, maybe you remember this post and see, that there are more places to visit than Berlin, Munich or Cologne.

Weimar may not be such a big city, but full of romance, charme and history. A place that you will definitely love as much as I do. 

 

See further historical travel posts:

On the trail of the British Empire – A day at London’s V&A
From Naples to Pompeii – Step into a 2000 year-old world

 

*In this post I used an affiliate link. In case you buy something via this link I will get a small percentage of the profit. This does not change anything for you, it simply helps me to maintain my website and keep it free from banners.

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