Erfurt is capital of, and largest city in Thuringen, Germany. Founded in the year 742, Erfurt grew because it was at the intersection of two major European trade routes. Erfurt lies along the Gera river. The town was named after the river, which was originally called the Erfluss. Despite being along a major river, the last time the city of Erfurt flooded was in the late 1800’s.
Erfurt was successful during the Middle Ages, for example, at one point there were more than 580 breweries in town. In fact, with so many breweries, not all were allowed to brew daily. As a result, it could be hard to keep track of which brewery would have fresh beer, so all breweries had two circular holes above the door, which were filled with straw when fresh beer was available. Today, there are no large breweries remaining in Erfurt.
Erfurt was also successful in Middle Age trade. During the Middle Ages, the only point in the town where Kram could be sold was on the Krämerbrücke. While today, Kram is considered junk, back in the middle ages it was valuable. The Krämerbrücke, or bridge is a unique structure that still continues to foster trade in Erfurt. The bridge itself is the longest bridge in Europe to have buildings on both sides of the bridge. There are 64 buildings on the bridge, which is only 125m long and 46m wide. When one is on the bridge, one does not realize it is actually a bridge, as it just appears to be a street. However from below or beside the bridge, one can see the water flowing underneath.
Erfurt was also known in the Middle Ages as a university town. During this time, all students were required to speak only in Latin. The part of town which housed these students is still known as the Latin Quarter. Originally one could study only 4 subjects at the university in Erfurt: Theology, Law, Medicine or Philosophy. Both Erfurt and Heidelberg claim to be home to the oldest German university. During the 1300’s, to officially open a university, permission from the Pope was required. At the point that Erfurt wished to open it’s university, there were two Popes. They were unsure which Pope to request permission from, so they requested from both. In 1379, the received permission from one, but to be sure, they waited on the second one. It arrived ten years later in 1389. During the interim, Heidelberg University opened. Martin Luther studied in Erfurt and completed his Masters degree. According to legend, Luther came to Erfurt because he promised God he would be a Monk if he survived a particularly harrowing thunderstorm. He studied in Erfurt between 1501 and 1505.
Martin Luther called Erfurt the Rome of the North. During the Middle Ages, Erfurt was home to over 40 churches, today it is still home to 24. Two of these include the St. Mary’s Cathedral and the St. Severi’s church which are located 5 meters distance from each other. These two in particular kept trying to outshine each other. Today approximately 80% of the cathedral’s windows are original, dating back to the 1400’s.
Erfurt was also home to a large Jewish community in the 1000’s. The old synagogue, which was built by the end of the 1000’s has gothic windows. During the 1300’s the Jews were run out of town and the synagogue was sold. When some returned later, they had to build a new one. During construction in the 1990’s, some treasures from the original Jewish community were found, including coins and a wedding band dating back to the 1300’s.
Overlooking the town of Erfurt is the Petersburg fort. This fortress was built to protect the city from unrest within. These issues stemmed from religion and the fact that most of Erfurt became Protestant after Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.
Today the town of Erfurt is trying to make itself known as a child- and media friendly city. The German children’s channel, KIKA has it’s main office here. Walking throughout town, one encounters many life-sized models of childrens’ cartoon characters.