June 27, 2014, Gera- Thuringia has always been a crossroads, and was a vacation spot for the Prussians, in the days of Imperial Germany. Lying as it does, just north of what is now the Czech Republic, Thuringia was also a transmission point for the ideas of Jan Hus, in the 14th Century, as he challenged papal authority from his home parish in Bohemia. “Bohemian” became a synonym for rebel, while the Thuringians remained known for their hill country hospitality.
It is still thus, as far as the Thuringians go. I found Gera, a resort town where I spent my next-to-last night in Europe, this go-round, a relaxing and accommodating city. The Pentahotel Gera offered full buffets for breakfast and dinner, and the suite I booked was as well-appointed as any room I found elsewhere on the itinerary.
The day began in a low-key manner, with a simple breakfast at Pension Alpha, checkout and quick hop across the street to Frankfurt Hauptbanhof. There were two trains, and four stops, between Frankfurt and Gera.
Fulda was the transfer point for my train eastward, as the first train was headed for Hamburg- a destination for a later journey. (Photo courtesy of http://www.media-cdn.tripadvisor.com)
Eisenach is a largely-restored medieval town, with an inviting arch at the entry to its Zentrum. (Photo courtesy of http://www.orangesmile.com)
Erfurt is the capital of the State of Thuringen, and a vibrant city, reaching out to the international community. On this very night, the incomparable Wynton Marsalis was to offer “Classical Meets Jazz”. Lots of artists have done such delicious musical blends, over the past seventy years or so, but I would venture none have done it better. He’s a master of both genres. (Photo courtesy of http://www.expats.cz)
Jena was the most war-devastated town along my route (I stopped well west of Dresden), and yet it has bounced back dramatically and well, with a fine university as its bulwark. (Photo courtesy of http://www.skyscrapercity.com)
Each of these cities would be worth several hours of a “stash-the-bag and hoof it” day or so.
I arrived at Gera Hauptbanhof, around 2 PM. The train station has expanded a bit since unification, which brought a well-deserved spate of attention to Thuringia. (Photo courtesy of http://www.bbahn.en)
It was a short, but appealing, walk from there to Pentahotel. The route took me through the Kuchengarten, a lovely gift from the days of Prussian rule. The pre-Kaiser nobles who ruled Potsdam and Berlin liked to vacation in Gera, and built the Theater, Kunstsummlung (Orangerie) and the salubrious garden that links them.
As I passed the theater, it was drawing a group of youth, who were to perform a play, and their families. (Photo courtesy of http://www.schlarafia-geraha.de)
The Kitchen Garden intervenes magnificently. (Photo courtesy of http://www.virtualtourist.com)
As I approached the Orangerie, there were a few small children and a couple of teens being photographed at the fountain. I waited until they had their fill of selfies and splashing, then took my photo of the fountain, which was similar to the one you see here. As an example of the apprehension many eastern Germans still seem to feel towards visitors, the father of one of the small girls cast a stern eye on me, until I was well away from the group. Assimilation will take time, yet. (Photo courtesy of http://www.staedte-photos.de)
From Orangerie, it was two minutes further to Pentahotel Gera. I found the hotel about evenly divided between a busload of German seniors and a couple of van-loads of university women, who occupied opposite ends of the dining room, at both of the meals I took there. A young German man and I had tables to ourselves, in between the two groups. These were sumptuous, satisfying buffets, albeit in such a surreal atmosphere. The servers, though, were patient and polite with everyone, and the hotel staff was uniformly gracious. (Photo courtesy of http://www.venere.com)
Naturally,my inclination was to see as much of Gera as possible, on that delightful Friday evening. So, I started out, stopping first at Otto Dix Haus. The great Twentieth Century German painter was born in this house, in 1891. It’s now Gera’s Art Museum. (Photo courtesy of http://www.gera.de)
A short bus ride later, I found myself at Hofwiesen Park, more towards the center of town. I will be known for a time as “the American lunkhead who pushed the wrong exit button”. This delayed the bus for about a minute, and seemed to throw the driver out of sorts. Life went on, though, and I was delighted by the park. (Photo courtesy of http://www.gera.de)
Gera’s Arcaden is more akin to the malls found in our great land, than it is to the Soviet GUM stores of the Cold War era, despite the Stalinesque exterior. (Photo courtesy of http://www.jotz.de)
German teens abounded inside the mall, just as their contemporaries do across our continent, and across Europe. (Photo courtesy of http://www.wp.myshakeria.de)
Gera has its share of churches, two of the most prominent being Catholic. First, we see Johanniskerke. (Photo courtesy of http://www.gettyimages.com)
Across town,and up the hill a bit, is St. Mary’s Church (Marienkerke). (Photo courtesy of http://www.shutterstock.com)
My last view of the night was of City Hall (Rathaus). (Photo courtesy of panoramio.com)
With this confirmation that all is well in this border state, and that the eastern Germans are getting a relatively fair shake, I retired to my cozy suite at Pentahotel.
Left unsaid, up to now, is reference to my main reason for going to Thuringia: Berga, site of my late father-in-law’s incarceration as an American, and Jewish, prisoner-of-war, for a hundred days, in 1944-45. The borrowed photos I will show in my next post will convey some, but not all, of the emotions I felt, in the afternoon of that warm, but chilling, Friday.