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Germany: The pleasantest surprise

This fall, a friend and I aimed to spend a weekend in Weimar, in the former East Germany, when the Onion Festival was on there. But we could not get a hotel room in Weimar. Erfurt, a larger city about a 15-minute train ride from Weimar, was our fallback.

What luck that was! Erfurt was the pleasantest surprise of our two-week journey.

Most German cities have an identifiable historic city center, good for pleasant strolls, museum visits and general appreciation of old things or things that look old.

Uniquely among many of these cities, Erfurt’s houses, churches, public buildings and bridges largely survived World War II. Erfurt is not full of reconstructed or reimagined historical buildings.

The city has its narrow meandering streets, too, as we discovered first by traveling a winding tram route and later, when walking through town.

We did visit the Onion Festival each day, enjoyed it and have no regrets. But the festival was jammed packed and sometimes a noisy place due to the wide variety of music, which ranged from Irish to rap!

As a result, Erfurt — aside from its inherent natural charms — was our peaceful respite after a hard day of festival going. Amusingly, as we were leaving Weimar each day, mobs of revelers were disembarking from trains and walking toward the festival, most likely with a special interest in the beer stands.

On our second Erfurt-Weimar-Erfurt day, we took a leisurely morning walk through the Old Town en route to the train station, passing through Erfurt’s Fischmarkt square and Wenigemarkt square (Lesser Market Square). The latter sits at one end of the famed Kramerbrucke (Merchants Bridge), described as Europe’s only covered and occupied bridge north of the Alps.

Also, on that day, we returned to Erfurt by midafternoon and made a beeline, on foot, for the Lesser Market Square and one of its outdoor cafes for coffee (Coke in my case) and some serious relaxation and people watching.

The weather, slightly autumnal and sunny, was gorgeous, and the chance to relax after having done our touristic duty was sublime.

Fischmarkt square, or the Fish Market square, in Erfurt.

Fischmarkt square, or the Fish Market square, in Erfurt.

Kramerbrucke, or Merchants Bridge. Buildings, mostly houses, occupy both sides of the bridge. The bridge for road traffic is parallel to this one.

Kramerbrucke, or Merchants Bridge. Buildings, mostly houses, occupy both sides of the bridge. The bridge for road traffic is parallel to this one.

Wenigemarkt square, or Lesser Market. The exit from the Merchants Bridge, on this side, is under a Methodist Church.

Wenigemarkt square, or Lesser Market. The exit from the Merchants Bridge, on this side, is under a Methodist Church.

A different angle on Lesser Market.

A different angle on Lesser Market.

Erfurt was hosting festivities of its own, in the Domplatz, a dramatic site because there is a hill on one side topped by two huge churches, the Dom Cathedral and St. Severus Church.

The carnival in the square below the churches included a Ferris wheel; another ride called Break Dance; but still another that swung its riders at the end of a long beam that rose to something more than a 90-degree angle above the cement below. There was plenty of screaming.

We learned later that this carnival, which also included beer stands and even a tented dance hall, was the local take on Oktoberfest, then under way on a grander scale in southern Germany.

Carnival goers swing well up in the air above the carnival site in Erfurt.

Carnival goers swing well up in the air above the carnival site in Erfurt.

Ferris wheel at the local carnival in Erfurt.

Ferris wheel at the local carnival in Erfurt.

Erfurt’s Dom Cathedral and St. Severus Church in early morning light.

Erfurt’s Dom Cathedral and St. Severus Church in early morning light.

And the Dom Cathedral and St. Severus Church at night.

And the Dom Cathedral and St. Severus Church at night.

Historic buildings on a square called Anger in Erfurt. This is part of a typical Old Town stroll.

Historic buildings on a square called Anger in Erfurt. This is part of a typical Old Town stroll.

All Saints’ Day Church in Erfurt. I added this photo just because it is so pretty.

All Saints’ Day Church in Erfurt. I added this photo just because it is so pretty.