Weimar: A great walking-around city

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WEIMAR, Germany -- This city, in the former East German state of Thuringia, is a bit east of the country's geographic center and is easily accessible along German Rail's InterCity Express route that links Frankfurt (about 180 miles southwest of Weimar) with Leipzig (60 miles east) and Dresden (120 miles east).

Even closer to Weimar, just a dozen miles away, is the Thuringian state capital city of Erfurt, which, along with Leipzig, expects to accommodate the overflow crowds headed for Weimar in 1999.

Because only about 15% of Weimar was destroyed during World War II, much of the city's original architecture has been saved, and most of it has been considerably rehabilitated and spruced up in the years after German reunification, especially in the past year, as the Cultural Capital festivities draw near.

Its relatively small size makes Weimar a great walking-around city, with most of its main historic and cultural attractions -- such as Goethe's House, Schiller's House, Lizst's House, the Bauhaus Museum, the Town Palace and Market Square -- clustered around the center of the old town. The old town is ringed by a series of well-maintained parks.

The contemporary visitor would never know from mere appearances that Weimar was part of the bleak, no-frills German Democratic Republic for almost 50 years. With its attractive parks, its many sidewalk cafes and restaurants, its modern department stores and boutiques, it looks like western Germany now.

A full refurbishment job was under way this past summer on the German State Theater, which marks the civic and cultural center of town. The theater has long been a focal point of German culture, having hosted the first performances of musical works by Strauss, Liszt and Wagner, and of plays by Goethe and Schiller (both immortalized in a famous statue that stands in front of the theater). But it also served for a while as the home of Germany's National Assembly, which came here from Berlin in 1919 and created a new republican government for the country -- albeit a short-lived one -- since known as the Weimar Republic.

Many tourists take advantage of the WeimarCard, a three-day pass good for transportation on city buses, admission to more than a dozen museums and other attractions, and a 50% discount on sightseeing tours. It costs 25 deutschmarks (about $16) and can be purchased at hotels, museums and the city's tourist office on the Market Square.

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