Life in the Middle Ages - Jewish cultural heritage in Thuringia

App Thuringia.MyCulture.

For 1,700 years, Jewish life has been intertwined with German history – in Thuringia it has been more than 900 years. In 2021, Thuringia is celebrating this anniversary with high-profile exhibitions, events and concerts. We take a trip to Erfurt to see its remarkable ensemble of a Jewish synagogue, mikveh and treasure. But our journey also includes unexpected cultural gems in smaller towns that tell the many varied stories of Jewish life in rural areas. We’ll take you on a very special tour of discovery that you can undertake safely and securely from the comfort of your own home. How does it work? We’ll show you!

There’s one topic that’s going to be impossible to avoid this year, and it also happens to be something we’re personally interested in: 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany. We always find that history makes a great starting point for getting to know more about a destination. And while we’re still wondering where the best place to experience authentic Jewish heritage might be, we discover the website jewishhistory.visit-thuringia.com .

Here we learn that Erfurt was the centre of Jewish life in Thuringia, and that it has preserved that heritage and is now making it accessible in remarkable and innovative ways. The website mentions several incredible finds in the medieval city centre: the Old Synagogue, the Erfurt Treasure and a traditional Jewish ritual bath – the mikveh. Our interest has been well and truly piqued! Having already devoured the article about Erfurt, we keep clicking on whatever catches our eye and find out more about the history and the traces that remain of Jewish life in rural areas.

Ideally we’d be packing our bags and heading straight to Thuringia. That’s not actually possible right now, of course – but on the website we do come across a great alternative: the Thuringia.MyCulture app.

 

Modern start screen of the app Thuringia.MyCulture.
©picapp.net, Thüringer Tourismus GmbH

“In a few simple steps you can discover a completely new, interactive side of Thuringia. No dry, boring history, just vivid and exciting stories,” promises the website. That sounds encouraging, so we decide to give it a go.

Step 1:

We download the free app to our smartphone. 

Step 2:

We choose our tour with just a few clicks on the easy-to-navigate interface. We’re surprised to find that there is more than one discovery tour – options include ‘Notable Thuringian thinkers and personalities’, ‘Weimar Modernism’ and ‘Erfurt – City of flowers’, to name but a few. But we’ve made our choice and select Life in the Middle Ages – Jewish cultural heritage in Thuringia. 

Step 3:

We download this tour to our smartphone and we’re ready to go. A virtual map shows us ten stops that tell us more about Thuringia and its Jewish heritage. We immediately notice that although Erfurt is at the centre of Jewish life in Thuringia, there are plenty of things to discover elsewhere. In the small village of Berkach, for example, and then there’s the synagogue in Mühlhausen and the mikveh in Schmalkalden. Our tour of discovery also takes us to Eisenach and Rudolstadt.  

The adventure tour is easy to call up and start
©picapp.net, Thüringer Tourismus GmbH

Using the app is pretty intuitive, you just click on a tour point and off you go. We choose the Old Synagogue in Erfurt as the first stop on our route. An evocative audio clip whisks us back in time to the Middle Ages. Next comes a gripping tale about the synagogue – already we feel like we’re no longer sat at home but are in fact standing in the middle of the actual building. We are thrilled. Later on, some additional texts tell us a bit more about the turbulent history of the synagogue, the permanent exhibition and the traditions relating to the Erfurt wedding ring. 

Next we want to explore a less well-known part of the tour, so we use the app to ‘travel’ to Sondershausen. This is where the oldest Jewish ritual bath in Thuringia is located. The mikveh was discovered in 1999 at the western edge of the old quarter and is thought to date back to the 13th century. The next screen tells us about sightseeing walks that explore the traces of Jewish life in Sondershausen. We make a note of those – we’re definitely planning to follow up our virtual trip with a real-life tour once we’re able to. 

To finish off, we’d like to find out more about nearby Mühlhausen, a former free imperial town. When we click on the tour point, the narrator tells us about traces of Jewish life that go all the way back to the Middle Ages. A series of scrolling images lets us explore the Mühlhausen synagogue, and we also learn which items can be found in all synagogues across the world. 

In addition to the tour stops in Erfurt, the app also ventures a look at other interesting ones in Thuringia ©picapp.net, Thüringer Tourismus GmbH

Before we travel on to Schmalkalden, Eisenach, Berkach and Rudolstadt we take a quick break. We are impressed and intrigued – the app has enabled us to experience Thuringian culture simply and conveniently in the comfort of our own home. For us this is a fantastic way to fire up our imagination as we look forward to our next real-life trip. And on top of that we’ve discovered some fascinating new destinations that we might never have found otherwise. Our next virtual journey will be the Grand Tour of Modernism, by the way. Which means we’re off to Weimar to learn more about the famous art school and the Bauhaus movement!  

So which tour will you choose? 

 

©Header picture: Florian Trykowski, Thüringer Tourismus GmbH


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