1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Weimar

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WEIMAR, a city of Germany, the capital of the grand-duchy of Saxe- Weimar-Eisenach. It is situated in a fertile valley on the Ilm, a small tributary of the Saale, 50 m. S.W. of Leipzig and 141 m. S.W. of Berlin, on the main line of railway to Bebra and Frankfort-on-Main, and at the junction of three lines to Jena, Gera and Berka and Rastenberg. Pop. (1885) 21,365, (1905) 31,121. Weimar owes its importance not to any industrial development, which the grand-dukes discourage within the limits of their Residenz, but to its intimate association with the classical period of German literature, which earned for it the title of the “poets’ city” and “the German Athens.” The golden age of Weimar, covered by the reign of Charles Augustus (q.v.) from 1775 to 1828, has left an indelible impress on the character of the town.

In spite of its classical associations and of modern improvements, Weimar still retains much of its medieval character. The walls survive, indeed, only in isolated fragments, but the narrow winding streets of the older part of the town, and the market-place surrounded by houses with high-pitched gables and roofs are very picturesque. Of the churches the Stadlkirche (parish church), of which Herder became pastor in 1776, is a Gothic building dating from about 1400, but much altered in detail under “classical” influences. It contains the tombs of the princes of the house of Saxe-Weimar, including those of the elector John Frederick the Magnanimous and his wife, and of Duke Bernhard of Weimar, a hero of the Thirty Years' War. The altar-piece is a triptych, the centre-piece representing the Crucifixion; beside the cross Luther is represented, with the open Bible in his hand, while the blood from, the pierced side of the Saviour pours on to his head. The picture is regarded as the masterpiece of Lucas Cranach (q.v.), who lived for a time at Weimar, in the Brück’sches Hanson the market-place. In front of the church is a statue of Herder, whose house still serves as the parsonage. The other church, the Jakobs- or Hofkirche (court church) is also ancient; its disused churchyard contains the graves of Lucas Cranach and Musaeus. The most important building in Weimar is the palace, a huge structure forming three sides of a quadrangle, erected (1789–1803) under the superintendence of Goethe, on the site of one burned down in 1774. A remnant of the old palace, with a tower, survives. The interior is very fine, and in one of the wings is a series of rooms dedicated to the poets Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Wieland, with appropriate mural paintings. Of more interest, however, is the house in which Goethe himself lived from 1782 to 1832. It was built by the duke as a surprise present for the poet on his return from his Italian tour, and was regarded at the time as a palace of art and luxury. It has therefore a double interest, as the home of the poet, and as a complete example of a German nobleman’s house at the beginning of the 19th century, the furniture and fittings (in Goethe’s study and bedroom down to the smallest details) remaining as they were when the poet died.[1] The house is built round a quadrangle, in which is the coach-house with Goethe’s coach, and has a beautiful, old-fashioned garden. The interior, apart from the scientific and art collections made by Goethe, is mainly remarkable for the extreme simplicity of its furnishing. The Goethe-Schiller Museum, as it is now called, stands isolated, the adjoining houses having been pulled down to avoid risk of fire.

Of more pathetic interest is the Schillerhaus, in the Schillerstrasse, containing the humble rooms in which Schiller lived and died. The atmosphere of the whole town is, indeed, dominated by the memory of Goethe and Schiller, whose bronze statues, by Rietschel, grouped on one pedestal (unveiled in 1857) stand in front of the theatre. The theatre, built under Goethe’s superintendence in 1825, memorable in the history of art not only for its associations with the golden age of German drama, but as having witnessed the first performances of many of Wagner’s operas and other notable stage pieces, was pulled down and replaced by a new building in 1907. The most beautiful monument of Goethe’s genius in the town is, however, the park, laid out in the informal “English” style, without enclosure of any kind. Of Goethe’s classic “conceits” which it contains, the stone altar round which a serpent climbs to eat the votive bread upon it, inscribed to the “genius hujus loci,” is the most famous. Just outside the borders of the park, beyond the Ilm, is the “garden house,” a simple wooden cottage with a high-pitched roof, in which Goethe used to pass the greater part of the summer. Finally, in the Cemetery is the grand ducal family, vault, in which Goethe and Schiller also lie, side by side.

Wieland, who came to Weimar in 1772 as the duke’s tutor, is also commemorated by a statue (1857), and his house is indicated by a tablet. The town has been embellished by several other statues, including those of Charles Augustus (1875); Lucas Cranach (1886); Marie Seibach (1889); the composer Hummel (1895) and Franz Liszt (1904). Among the other prominent buildings in Weimar are the Grunes Schloss (18th century), containing a library of 200,000 volumes and a valuable collection of portraits, busts and literary and other curiosities; the old ducal dower-house (Wittumspalais); the museum, built in 1863–1868 in the Renaissance style with some old masters and Preller’s famous mural paintings illustrating the Odyssey. In 1896 the Goethe-Schiller Archiv, an imposing building on the wooded height above the Ilm, containing MSS. by Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Wieland, Immermann, Fritz Reuter, Mörike, Otto Ludwig and others, was opened. Weimar possesses also archaeological, ethnographical and natural science collections and the Liszt Museum (in the gardener’s house in the park, for many years the musician’s home). Among the educational establishments are a gymnasium, and Realschule, the Sophienstift (a large school for girls of the better class, founded by the grand-duchess Sophia), the grand-ducal school of art, geographical institutes, a technical school, commercial school, music school, teachers' seminaries, and deaf and dumb and blind asylums. An English church was opened in 1899. There are a few industries, printing, tanning and cloth weaving.

Various points in the environs of Weimar are also interesting from their associations. A broad avenue of chestnuts, about 2 m. in length, leads southwards from the town to the grand-ducal château of Belvedere, in the gardens of which the open-air theatre, used in Goethe's day, still exists. To the north-east, at about the same distance from the town, are the tiny chateau and park of Tiefurt, on the banks of the Ilm, the scene of many pastoral court revels in the past. To the north-west is the Ettersberg, with the Ettersburg, a château which was another favourite resort of Charles Augustus and his friends.

The history of Weimar, apart from its association with Charles Augustus and his court, is of little general interest. The town is said to have existed so early as the oth century. Till 1140 it belonged to the counts of Orlamünde; it then fell to Albert the Bear and the descendants of his second son. In 1247 Otto III. founded a separate Weimar line of counts. In 1345 it became a fief of the land graves of Thuringia, to whom it escheated in 1385 with the extinction of the line of Otto III. At the partition of Saxony in 1485 Weimar, with. Thuringia, fell to the elder, Ernestine, branch of the Saxon house of Wettin, and has been the continuous residence of the senior branch of the dukes of this line since 1572. Under Charles Augustus Weimar became a centre of Liberalism as well as of art. It had previously narrowly escaped absorption by Napoleon, who passed through the town during the pursuit of the Prussians after the battle of Jena in 1806, and was only dissuaded from abolishing the duchy by the tact and courage of the duchess Louisa.

The traditions of Charles Augustus were well maintained by his grandson, the grand-duke Charles Alexander (1818–1901), whose statue now stands in the Karlsplatz. The grand-duke's connexion with the courts of Russia and Holland—his mother was a Russian grand-duchess and his wife, Sophia Louisa (1824–1897), a princess of the Netherlands—tended to give the Weimar society a cosmopolitan character, and the grand-duke devoted himself largely to encouraging men of intellect, whether Germans or foreigners, who came to visit or to settle in the town. The art school, founded by him in 1848, has had a notable series of eminent painters among its professors, including Preller, Böcklin, Kalckreuth, Max Schmidt, Pauwels, Heumann, Verlat and Thédy. Under the patronage of Charles Alexander, also, Weimar became a famous musical centre, principally owing to the presence of Franz Liszt, who from 1848 to 1886 made Weimar his principal place of residence. Other notable conductors of the Weimar theatre orchestra were Eduard Lassen and Richard Strauss.

See Scholl, Weimar's Merkwürdigkeiten einst und jetzt (Weimar; 857); Springer, Weimar's klassische Stätten (Berlin, 1868); Ruland, Die Schätze des Goethe National-Museums in Weimar (Weimar and Leipzig, 1887); Francke, Weimar und Umgebungen (3rd ed., Weimar, 1900); Kuhn, Weimar in Wort und Bild (4th,ed., Jena, 1905).

  1. To be strictly accurate, they thus remained until the death of Goethe’s last descendant in 1884. The house, which had been left to the grand-duke for the nation, was then found to be so structurally rotten that the interior had to be largely reconstructed. Everything was, however, replaced in the exact position it had previously occupied.