Travel and tourism in Thuringia, Germany

The 2015 Germany Travel Mart, held in Thuringia, proved an opportunity to learn about the travel and tourism opportunities in the state, which for over a century has been known as ‘the green heart of Germany.’

“We claim that in no other state state is the connection between the urban and natural attractions so close,” said Bärbel Gröngeres, the Managing Director of Thüringer Tourismus GmbH, during the GTM press conference.

During 2014 9,924,524 overnight stays were recorded in the state, up three per cent on the previous year. Like Germany as a whole, the Netherlands provides the mainstay of international visitors to Thuringia, which 10,964 Americans and 9,230 Britons visited in 2014.

International delegates, exhibitors and travel journalists attending the GTM stayed in Erfurt and Weimar and had opportunities to visit sites of interest around Thuringia, which actively promotes barrier-free travel. Even the canopy walkway in Hainich National Park is wheelchair accessible.

To find out more about Thuringia I interviewed Dorothea Schäffler (DS), the person responsible for the marketing and sales of Thüringer Tourismus GmbH:

25 years on since the re-unification of Germany, what’s been the story of tourism here in Thuringia?

DS: To a large extent I can only talk about what I’ve heard because when the wall came down I was a teenager in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) and tourism was regulated by the state. We did not have the opportunity to travel a lot and, on the other hand, it was difficult for certain countries to visit us, of course.

For 25 years now we have all been able to travel freely and we have been able to receive visitors from all over the world – this is a very big change. After the wall came down many West Germans came over because they were curious and wanted to discover East Germany.

Ever since, we have been experiencing rising numbers of tourists. Thuringia has doubled the number of visitors in the past 25 years and the percentage of foreign visitors is growing, though it’s still outnumbered by the number of German visitors. We have 93 per cent of visitors from Germany and seven per cent from abroad, but this is gradually changing. We’re hoping the GTM will contribute to this development.

In terms of getting visitors from abroad, especially those from English speaking countries, what do you think are the main challenges facing eastern Germany and, in particular, Thuringia?

DS: There are several challenges of course. First of all, you have to make yourself known. Many destinations were not known in English speaking countries because we did not have the chance to promote ourselves like the West German part did. Everybody knows Munich, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt – we’re still catching up with them. We still have a lot of work to do to explain who we are, where we are and what we have to offer.

It’s very important for those countries that we can offer English speaking guides, service personnel, English language menus and English guided tours.

You also need good transport connections, be it flights, train connections or well developed roads. That’s very important for attracting people from foreign countries.

Half-timbered houses on the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt.
Half-timbered houses on the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt.

You have a direct Germania flight from London Gatwick to Erfurt-Weimar Airport. Is that going to continue?

DS: Yes, as far as we know it is going to continue until at least 2016. This is what we heard.

We hope it will work out that we continue to get many more visitors from the UK. It really shows us how important a direct connection is. It makes travelling much more convenient. It encourages people to hop on a plane and come to Erfurt rather than changing in Frankfurt and then taking the train.

Erfurt has a connection with Martin Luther. Weimar has connections with the likes of Goethe, Schiller and a number of classical musicians. Those characters don’t necessarily speak out to young people in English speaking countries, despite the great stories associated with them. German speaking people know how much they have influenced the culture of the German speaking part of Europe. What can be done to get beyond that and get people to experience the culture of this part of Germany?

DS: It’s true we have a lot of history and interesting personalities and that attracts many guests – to a large extent they are 40 or 50 plus. We also have an increasing number of offers for young people and families, starting from hotels, activities in nature, sports and events.

We have a large network of really nice youth hostels that are creative and developing offers for young people.

We say if you come here you experience the ‘real Germany’ and get good value for money.

You say Thuringia offers good value for money. Can you give a couple of examples?

DS: It starts with the accommodation prices. Also if you go out eating you’ll notice a difference.

What would you suggest as five must-see attractions in Thuringia?

DS: I would say Erfurt, our state capital, it’s a beautiful medieval city with a lot of half-timbered houses, narrow lanes and cobbled streets. It has wonderful cafes and beer gardens, and a great atmosphere, especially in the summer.

Weimar, our cultural capital, has 16 places associated with its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I think it’s a city that slows you down somehow. I find Weimar very relaxing.

I like Wartburg Castle very much. It’s my favourite place in Thuringia. It’s such a fantastic castle and has an interesting history and a great location.

Hainich National Park is fascinating because it’s one of the last primeval beech forests in Europe. You could not access it during GDR times because it was a military area. It also has a nice treetop canopy trail with wonderful views.

And number five? I like the Eichsfeld region in the north-west of the state, near the border with Hesse and Lower Saxony. It has rolling hills and a lot of forest. It has traditional villages and wonderful products, like sausage and cheese. You can go hiking and cycling there, visit spas where you can relax or go to border museums.

What should people eat for a taste of proper Thuringian food?

DS: If you’re not a vegetarian you should definitely try Thuringian sausage. The recipe was written down more than 600 years ago, so it’s very traditional and you can get it basically on every street corner. It’s tasty and not as fatty as many other types of sausage!

If you have a sweet tooth you should try Thuringian cakes. The traditional way is to bake many cakes on trays and slice them into small pieces, so you can try a lot of them.

Is there anything else people should know about Thuringia?

DS: What we notice, once people come here, is they are surprised by how beautiful it is, how friendly people are, and how much there is to do and see here. That’s a nice effect for us.

For further information about the state see the Thuringia and Germany websites.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photgraphy.

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The Bauhaus University in Weimar.
The Bauhaus University in Weimar.

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