The Goethe Trail
As Goethe would have put it: ”You have only been really there if going there by foot.” Therefore, the Goethe Trail, an active experience combining nature and culture, invites you to walk the 20 km between Ilmenau and Stützerbach. In 2005, the Goethe Trail was the first trail in Thüringen to be awarded the quality certificate ”Qualitätsweg Wanderbares Deutschland“, which has been renewed ever since. The trail is marked with Goethe's ”G“ and connects places of Goethe's work and life.
Ilmenau's most famous visitor was Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who was appointed by the Duke to look after the town's finances and the revival of silver and copper mining. But also his love to the nature made him visit Ilmenau 26 times. This is the reason why Ilmenau is known as Goethe and University Town.
The Goethe Trail starts on the Ilmenau market square at Amtshaus, which Duchess Sophie of Henneberg had built in 1616 as her widow's home. After the fire of 1752, the building was reerected according to plans by the baroque master builder Gottfried Heinrich Krohne with offices for the bailiff and living rooms for the Duke's family.
Today, the Ilmenau Tourist Information Center and GoetheStadtMuseum (closed on Mondays) are based at the Amtshaus. The museum illustrates Goethe as poet, civil servant, natural researcher and person responsible for mining in Ilmenau. Even today, standing on the very same deals as Goethe did, from the light corner room on the first floor, you can admire the view out to the Ilmenau market square and the stucco ceiling. Behind the building, its garden with archeological sites invites visitors to stay.
Through Obertorstraße, you get to the cemetery. Right near the entrance, the grave of Corona Schröter is located, who at the Weimar Court was a celebrated singer, actress and the first act of Goethe's ”Iphigenia“.
The Trail takes you through the upper part of the historic town center passing Zechenhaus to Mittlerer and Oberer Berggrabenweg. In Goethe's time, these used to be water channels, transferring water to the shafts of Sturmheide and Roda over a distance of more than 14 km. The path towards Bertha's spring and Schwalbenstein offers beautiful views into the Manebach valley.
On the Schwalbenstein rock, in 1779, Goethe wrote the 4th act of ”Iphigenia“ in just one day – the first lines are displayed on the plate at the rock. In a letter to the head librarian of Weimar, Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Riemer, Goethe reports: ”After a cheerful day in pleasant mood, after three years time, I finished the fourth act of my Iphigenia on March 19th, 1779.“ These lines are inscribed into a plate inside the Schwalbenstein shelter hut, which invites for a rest with its stunning views. Passing Schöffenhaus, you walk past Mary's spring and Emmastein. Downhill, you get to Manebach to the choirmaster's house. In Manebach, you cross the Ilm valley, while at the base of the opposite Kammerberg, the ascent to Helen's rest, Großer Hermannstein and Sophie's spring starts. This part of the Trail is the steepest, but you are rewarded with breathtaking views from the rock on top. The natural cave inside the rock has been added an artificial smoke outlet. In medieval times, it has probaly been used as guardroom of a castle on the rock.
Goethe came here quite frequently to work and draw, as he called it ”my favorite place, where I want to live and stay“. He also took Frau von Stein to this cave, when she visited him in Ilmenau in the summer of 1776.
Where words were not enough, he added drawings such as the cave at Hermannstein, the steaming valleys of Ilmenau, the Manebach and Stützerbach valleys. In the Museum Jagdhaus Gabelbach, you can see how accurately Goethe pictured the subjects of his drawings. Here, the historic Goethe drawing ”Steaming valleys“ (Dampfende Täler) is placed upon a panoramic photograph to illustrate Goethe's drawing skills.
”I always loved being here, I believe it comes from the harmony of everything around here …”
(Goethe to Schiller, Ilmenau, August 29th,1795)
In 861 m a.s.l., you reach the highest point of the Trail – Goethehäuschen. On September 6th, 1780, Goethe wrote one of his finest poems onto the inner wall of the then hunting cabin – Wanderer's Nightsong (Ein Gleiches, first published by Cotta, 1815)
Over all of the hills
Peace comes anew,
The woodland stills
The birds make no sound on the bough.
Wait a while, Soon now
Peace comes to you.
Goethe penciled this poem onto the inner wooden wall of the simple hunting cabin on Kickelhahn mountain, where he sought shelter. Only 35 years later, he published this verse in his works. The verse is on display in Goethehäuschen today in 16 languages. The original script is only preserved in historic photographies in GoetheStadtMuseum, since the original hut burnt down in 1870 in a blaze caused by careless people collecting berries in the forest. Only four years later, it was rebuilt in its original shape and on the original basements.
About 100m further on, there are the groundworks of the historic hunting facility including a wooden reconstruction of a roofed stand for the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar. It has been out of use in Goethe's time already.
After that, you get to the Kickelhahn tower. Climb over 107 steps to the 24 m high tower, and you are rewarded with a breathtaking view over the Thüringer Wald mountains and its outland. Goethe already cherished the beauty of the mountain, though the tower was built only in 1855.
Walking downhill, you get to the Museum Jagdhaus Gabelbach (closed on Mondays), a simple late-baroque functional building, built in a hurry in summer 1783 as a guest house for Duke Carl August of Saxe-Weimar and his hunting party. Today's museum gives an impression of the hunting habits, the social life at the Weimar Court as well as of Goethe's scientific studies. The permanent exhibition on the ground floor, ”Kickelhahn – Goethe's Forest Through the Ages“ informs about the use of the Kickelhahn forests for timber, nature protection and recreation, starting 250 years ago.
Following the Hirtenwiesen, the Trail crosses the road to Neustadt and takes you down into the picturesque Schorte valley to Knöpfelstaler Teich with its shelter hut and to the Finsteres Loch with its small waterfall. In 1776, this little gorge has been a resting place for the Duke's hunting party. In his poem ”Ilmenau“, Goethe describes the ”night-time feast at the bottom of the cliff“.
Walking uphill for about 20 minutes, you reach the historic ”Auerhahn“ inn. In 1819 the Weimar chamber awarded the privilege to set up a guest house. As well as the Kickelhahn, it is named after the capercaillie, the biggest woodhen once native in our forests. Crossing the car park, you get down to Stützerbach with its Schlossberg mountain and the Gundelach House (open Tuesday to Sunday and on Publ. Holidays). From 1776, Goethe has come to Stützerbach 13 times and stayed here. In this third Goethe Museum on the quality trail, you can visit rooms used by Duke Carl August and Goethe during their stays in Stützerbach. In the museum, also drawings, letters and poems of Goethe are on display, all originating from 1776/77 in Thüringer Wald. Also, there are exhibitions on scattered regionalism, glass and paper production in Stützerbach.