For other uses, see Eisenach (disambiguation).

Wartburg in Eisenach

Coat of arms
Coordinates: 50°58′34″N 10°19′14″E / 50.97611°N 10.32056°E / 50.97611; 10.32056Coordinates: 50°58′34″N 10°19′14″E / 50.97611°N 10.32056°E / 50.97611; 10.32056
Country Germany
State Thuringia
District Urban district
  Mayor Katja Wolf
  Total 103.84 km2 (40.09 sq mi)
Population (2015-12-31)[1]
  Total 42,417
  Density 410/km2 (1,100/sq mi)
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Postal codes 99817
Dialling codes 03691
Vehicle registration EA
Website www.eisenach.de

Eisenach is a town in Thuringia, Germany with 42,000 inhabitants, located 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of Erfurt, 70 km (43 miles) southeast of Kassel and 150 km (93 miles) northeast of Frankfurt. It is the main urban centre of western Thuringia and bordering northeastern Hessian regions, situated near the former Inner German border. A major attraction is Wartburg castle, which has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999.

Eisenach was an early capital of Thuringia in the 12th and 13th centuries. St. Elizabeth lived at the court of the Ludowingians here between 1211 and 1228. Later, Martin Luther came to Eisenach and translated the Bible into German. In 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach was born here. During the early-modern period, Eisenach was a residence of the Ernestine Wettins and was visited by numerous representatives of Weimar classicism like Johann Wolfgang Goethe.[2]:22–25 In 1869, the SDAP, one of the two precursors of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was founded in Eisenach.

Car production is an important industry in Eisenach. The Automobilwerk Eisenach was founded in 1896. In the German Democratic Republic, the Wartburg was produced here.

Eisenach is situated on the Hörsel river, a tributary of the Werra between the Thuringian Forest in the south, the Hainich mountains in the north-east and the East Hesse Highlands in the north-west.


Nikolaikirche (left) and Nikolaitor (right)

Middle Ages

Eisenach's origin and early history is unknown. An 8th century Frankish settlement near Petersberg hill is regarded as the nucleus of Eisenach. However, there are no written sources about that early period. According to legend, Louis the Springer began in 1067 to establish Wartburg castle above the settlement.[3]:139

In 1080, the castle was first mentioned in a Saxon chronicle. Eisenach itself followed in a document dating to 1150 where it was referred to as "Isinacha".[3]:139 During the 1180s, the town was established by the construction of three independent market settlements around the Saturday's market (today's Karlsplatz), the Wednesday's market (today's Frauenplan) and the Monday's market (today's Marktplatz). Due to its convenient location at a bottleneck between the Thuringian Forest in the south and the Hainich mountains in the north, Eisenach benefitted from substantial west-east trade along Via Regia from Frankfurt to Erfurt and Leipzig and became a rich merchant town. During the second half of the 12th century, the town walls were erected (the Nikolaitor is an important relict of this wall) and Eisenach got a planned grid of streets and alleys. In the late 12th century, the Wartburg became the main residence of the Ludowingians, making Eisenach a leading place in today's western Thuringia and northern Hesse, which also belonged to the Ludowingian landgraviate. In 1207, the legendary Sängerkrieg supposedly took place at Wartburg castle.

In 1221, St.Elizabeth married Landgrave Louis' IV and she lived in Eisenach or at Wartburg castle until 1228.[3]:139 Later, she became the patroness of Thuringia and Hesse.

In 1247, the Ludowingians died out which led to the War of the Thuringian Succession between the Wettins and Duchess Sophie of Brabant. As a consequence, the landgraviate was divided. Eisenach and the eastern parts went to the Wettins (later becoming Thuringia) and Kassel, Marburg and the western parts went to Sophie (later becoming Hesse). Eisenach kept a leading position among the Wettin's Thuringian cities by becoming their Oberhof (leading court), so that their law had to be derived from Eisenach's municipal law and disputes had to be resolved here. The confident citizens of Eisenach fought against the Wettin's rule to become a free imperial city between 1306 and 1308, but lost. In the 14th century various crises followed: in 1342, a big fire destroyed nearly all the buildings and the Black Death killed many inhabitants in 1349 and 1393. Since 1406, Eisenach was no longer a Wettin residence, which led to a decline in urban development. In 1485, in the "division of Leipzig", the town fell to the Ernestine line of the Wettins.

Early-modern period

Eisenach in 1647

Between 1498 and 1501, the young Martin Luther attended the St. George's Latin school in Eisenach in preparation for his following studies at the University of Erfurt. In 1521/22 he was hidden by Frederick the Wise at Wartburg castle to protect him from the Imperial ban. In that time, Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German, in what was an important step both for the German Reformation and the development of a consistent German standard language.

Luther referred to Eisenach as ein Pfaffennest ("a clerical backwater"), since during his time there were 300 monks and nuns per 1,000 inhabitants.[3]:139

In 1525, there was heavy fighting in the area during the Bauernkrieg.[3]:139 In 1528, the Lutheran Reformation was implemented in Eisenach. In 1596, Eisenach became a ducal residence again for the house of Saxe-Eisenach.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach worked here as a musician at that time. Other famous composers and musicians associated with Eisenach during that period were Johann Pachelbel, Johann Christoph Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann. As the Eisenach dukes died out in 1741, the town and the state became part of Saxe-Weimar.[3]:139 Nevertheless, the cultural life stayed unimpaired. The coterie around the poet Julie von Bechtolsheim met up with famous personalities like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Christoph Martin Wieland in Eisenach.[2]:37

From 1809 to 1918, Eisenach was part of the Duchy (after 1815 Grand Duchy) of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.

After 1815

Car, produced in Automobilwerk Eisenach in 1898
Demolition of historic buildings during the 1970s

In 1817, the Wartburg Festival took place in Eisenach, a meeting of students advocating moves towards a more liberal, constitutional state and a unification of Germany. The industrial revolution started relatively early in Eisenach. As early as the first half of the 19th century, the first factories were founded. In 1847, Eisenach was connected by the Thuringian Railway to Erfurt and Halle/Leipzig in the east and in 1849 to Kassel and Frankfurt in the west. In 1858, the Werra Railway to Lichtenfels (and further to Nuremberg) was opened.

In August 1869, the leading socialists August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht founded the SDAP, one of the two predecessors of today's SPD in Eisenach.[3]:147 The Eisenach Program remained the party's main manifesto for the following years. The late 19th and early 20th century was the period with the fastest urban growth in Eisenach. The Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach (FFE), later Automobilwerk Eisenach, basis of car production in Eisenach, was founded in 1896, the first trams ran in 1897, the Burschenschaftsdenkmal ("fraternity monument") was erected in 1902 and the J. S. Bach museum opened in 1907. Tourists also started to arrive in this period, drawn by the pleasing landscape and the various sights within the town.

Between the 1860s and 1938, Eisenach hosted one of the largest Jewish communities in Thuringia with nearly 500 members at the beginning of the 20th century. Many Jews migrated from the Rhön area around Stadtlengsfeld to Eisenach after their emancipation in the early 19th century. The new synagogue was built in 1885 and destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht in November 1938. Most Jews emigrated at that time, others were deported to concentration camps and murdered there. Before the Second World War, BMW had produced motorcycles in the town.[4] In preparation for World War II, new barracks were established in Eisenach and the car industry started the production of military equipment. After 1940, around 4,000 forced labourers (most of them from the Soviet Union) were pressed to work in the town's factories, where some of them died due to the bad working conditions. Postwar, the managing director of the BMW aircraft engine works, Dr Schaaf, told the Fedden Mission there were as many as 11,000 working in the town, 4,500 in a plant inside a hillside turning out BMW 132 engines and parts for the 801, the rest in town.[5] The bombings during the war destroyed about 2,000 housing units and big parts of the car factories, as well as some historic buildings in the town centre, which were rebuilt soon after the war. The US Army arrived in Eisenach on 6 April 1945, but the Soviets took over control of the town on 1 July 1945.

Eisenach was part of the GDR after 1949. The Inner German border ran only ten kilometres west of Eisenach and was closed in 1952, cutting off parts of Eisenach's traditional hinterland. The location near the border inhibited the further development during the next 40 years and the population declined through that period. Nevertheless, Eisenach remained an important industrial location. The BMW car factory was socialized and under the new name EMW produced the Wartburg, the so-called "Mercedes of the East". The deteroriating condition of many historic houses led to a housing shortage during the 1970s. The government fought this by demolishing some historic quarters (e.g. at Jakobstraße) and rebuilding them with Plattenbau settlements. The biggest Plattenbau district was built at the northern periphery of Eisenach between 1978 and 1985 with nearly 4,000 housing units. In 1975, the tramway system was discontinued.

After German reunification in 1990, the economic situation changed. The car factory was taken over by Opel, whereas many other factories were closed. On the other hand, Eisenach moved from the inner German border to the centre of the reunified country. Tourism saw significant growth and the Wartburg castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. Nevertheless, the financial situation of Eisenach remained difficult, unemployment stayed above average and car production suffered from the business problems of Opel.

Geography and climate

Eisenach's town centre, viewed from the west


Eisenach is situated at the northern edge of the Thuringian Forest, at an elevation of about 220 m. The terrain is hilly, to the south also mountainous (up to 460 m of elevation), with the central Hörsel valley crossing the town in east-western direction. The Nesse river enters the Hörsel river in Eisenach after forming a valley through the spur of the Hörselberg mountains in the eastern municipal territory. The northern territory around the Neunkirchen, Stregda and Hötzelsroda districts is relatively flat and in agricultural use. Approximately 7 km (4 mi) west of the town centre runs the wide Werra valley, where the Hörsel river enters this bigger river near Hörschel district. The southern municipal territory is covered with forest, same as some smaller parts north of the Hörsel river. The Hainich mountains begin 10 km (6 mi) north-east of Eisenach.

Administrative division

District map

Eisenach abuts the districts of Wartburgkreis (municipalities Krauthausen, Mihla, Lauterbach, Bischofroda and Berka vor dem Hainich in the north, Hörselberg-Hainich and Wutha-Farnroda in the east and Marksuhl, Wolfsburg-Unkeroda and Gerstungen in the south) and Werra-Meißner-Kreis (Hesse, municipality of Herleshausen in the west). The municipal border between Eisenach and Herleshausen has been part of the inner German border/Iron Curtain from 1949 to 1990.

The municipality of Eisenach includes beside the inner town the following rural districts (all of them were incorporated in 1994):

  • Berteroda
  • Göringen
  • Hörschel
  • Hötzelsroda
  • Madelungen
  • Neuenhof
  • Neukirchen
  • Stedtfeld
  • Stockhausen
  • Stregda
  • Wartha

The village of Fischbach was incorporated in 1922 and is a part of the inner town today.


Eisenach has a humid continental climate (Dfb) or an oceanic climate (Cfb) according to the Köppen climate classification system.[6][7] Summers are warm and sometimes humid, winters are relatively cold. The town's topography creates a microclimate with mostly adequate air circulation along the west-eastern valley which made Eisenach a resort at the end of the 19th century. Annual precipitation is 831 millimeters (32.7 in) with moderate rainfall throughout the year. Light snowfall mainly occurs from December through February, but snow cover does not usually remain for long in the inner town valley.


Evolution of population since 1830

Eisenach has always been one of the larger towns in Thuringia with 4,000 to 5,000 inhabitants during the Middle Ages. By 1800, the population rose to 8,000 and further to 10,000 as industrialisation started around 1850. In 1875, the town had 16,000 inhabitants, 30,000 in 1900, 43,000 in 1925 and more than 50,000 in 1940, as the peak was reached. Like the most other east German mid-sized towns, Eisenach has had a shrinking population since 1950. It declined to 48,000 in 1990, 44,000 in 2000 and 42,000 in 2012. During the last few years (2009–2012), the annual change was -0.12%. Suburbanization played only a small role in Eisenach. It occurred after reunification for a short time in the 1990s, but most of the suburban areas are situated within the administrative town borders.

The birth deficit was 240 in 2012, or -5.7 per 1,000 inhabitants (Thuringian average: -4.5; national average: -2.4). The net migration rate was +6.5 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2012 (Thuringian average: -0.8; national average: +4.6).[8] The most important regions of origin of people who have moved to Eisenach are rural areas of Thuringia as well as foreign countries like Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Like in other eastern German cities, only a small share of Eisenach's population is foreign: circa 2.3% are non-Germans by citizenship and overall 4.9% are classified as "migrants" (according to the 2011 EU census). Differing from the national average, the biggest groups of migrants in Eisenach are Vietnamese, Russians and Ukrainians.

Due to the official atheism of the former German Democratic Republic, most of the population is non-religious: 23.0% are members of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany and 4.4% are Catholics (according to the 2011 EU census).


A factory of Opel, Eisenach's largest employer

Agriculture, industry and services

The region around Eisenach is the part of Thuringia with the strongest economic base.[3]:139

Agriculture is not very important in Eisenach, because of the hilly terrain, the—compared to central Thuringia further east—less fertile soil and the relatively humid climate. However, 43% of the total municipal territory are in agricultural use, mostly as maize and rapeseed fields or as cattle pasture.

The industrial structure is relatively focused on car production. The German auto manufacturer Opel built an entirely new plant in the northwest of the town, after the Wartburg car plant had ceased production in 1991. The new plant opened in 1992. Most other large manufacturers in Eisenach serve as suppliers for Opel, the largest among them is Bosch. BMW runs a factory in the neighbouring municipality of Krauthausen that supplies car parts. Another component supplier is "Truck-Lite Europe". In 2012, there were a total of 19 industrial companies with more than 20 workers in Eisenach, employing 5,600 people and generating a turnover of more than 1.8 billion euro.[9] Of those employees, 3,000 work for just two companies (Opel and Bosch), underlining the dependence of Eisenach on the automotive industry.

Services in Eisenach are focused on tourism with 166,000 overnight visitors spending a total of 311,000 nights in hotels in 2012. In addition, there are large numbers of (mostly German) one-day visitors.

Eisenach also provides services to the region (retail, hospitals, theatres, cinemas etc.).

During recent years, the economic situation of the town improved: the unemployment rate declined from 17% in 2005 to 9% in 2013.


The Wartburg castle is, aside from Weimar, the most-visited tourist attraction in Thuringia.[3]:148 Further sights are:


Eisenach hosts a number of museums:


Typical example of mansion architecture in the southern town

The town of Eisenach developed during the Middle Ages at the exit of Mariental valley, opening to the Hörsel valley around Marktplatz, Karlsplatz and Frauenplan in a triangle structure. The early-modern period brought extensions to the west (Katharinenstraße), to the north (Jakobstraße) and to the east (in front of Nikolaitor gate). The construction boom between 1850 and 1914 led to a strict division in urban development. South of the historic centre, mansion districts were established on the hillsides of Mariental valley, where the rich factory owners, rentiers and other upper-class people lived. These districts are among the most important examples of this urban type in Germany, and one of the largest in Europe.[3]:147 North of the historic centre, next to the railway and Hörsel river, factories and worker quarters were established. These also host some examples of interesting Gründerzeit architecture. After World War I, the town extended further to the north on the other bank of Hörsel river, where some new residential areas were developed before 1990.

Square ensembles

Sights and architectural heritage


Castles and palaces


Other sights


Mayor and town council

There have been four freely elected mayors after 1990. Since 2012, Katja Wolf (The Left) has been the first female mayor in Eisenach's history. She followed Matthias Doht (SPD), who had been in office from 2006 to 2012.

The last municipal election was held in 2014 with the following result:

Party Percentage Seats in council
CDU 30.2 11
The Left 29.3 10
SPD 11.9 4
NPD 7.4 3
Greens 7.3 3
Bürger für Eisenach 5.8 2
Eisenacher Aufbruch 3.7 1
FDP 2.5 1
Die Piraten 2.0 1

Town twinning

Eisenach is twinned with:



Eisenach station
A tram at Marktplatz in 1974
The "R" is the symbol of the Rennsteig hiking trail in the Thuringian Forest, which starts in Eisenach

Eisenach is connected by the Thuringian Railway to Erfurt and Halle/Leipzig to the east and to Kassel and Frankfurt to the west. Furthermore, there is the Werra Railway, a former main-line railway between north and south Germany from Eisenach via Meiningen to Eisfeld, which since the division of Germany after World War II has served only for regional transport. At the former inner German border, it is still interrupted between Eisfeld and Coburg, but rebuilding is in discussion. Eisenach station is a stop of all long-distance trains from Frankfurt to Leipzig/Dresden, running once an hour. Local trains, also once an hour, start in Eisenach to Halle via Erfurt, to Sonneberg via Meiningen and Eisfeld and to Bebra via Gerstungen. Freight transport is important at Eisenach's Opel factory which has its own terminal. Further local passenger stations are Eisenach-West, Eisenach-Opelwerk and Hörschel.

Eisenach is located on the Bundesautobahn 4 from Frankfurt in the west to Erfurt and Dresden in the east. Since 2010, the Autobahn has been moved to a new route farther away from the town to protect the residents from noise and air pollution. Moreover, it was not possible to expand the old route because of the mountainous topography. After 2010, parts of the old route became a town highway, whereas other parts were renaturalized. A second Autobahn between Eisenach and Kassel is in construction (Bundesautobahn 44). There are four Bundesstraßen connecting Eisenach: The Bundesstraße 7 runs to Kassel in the north-west, whereas its eastern branch to Gotha was annulled in 2010. The Bundesstraße 19 leads to Meiningen in the south, the Bundesstraße 84 to Bad Langensalza in the north-east and to Fulda via Vacha in the south-west and the Bundesstraße 88 is a connection to Ilmenau in the south-east. Furthermore, there are two important secondary roads to Mühlhausen via Mihla in the north and to Herleshausen in the west through the Hörsel valley. Downtown traffic is concentrated on Rennbahn street, which often leads to congestion due to a large number of commuters and the town's narrow topography.

The next local airports are the Erfurt-Weimar Airport, about 50 km (31 mi) to the east and the Kassel Calden Airport, roughly 90 km (56 mi) to the north-west. Both offer service to tourist destinations. The next major international airport is Frankfurt Airport, circa 200 km (124 mi) to the south-west. Kindel Airfield, 12 km (7 mi) east of Eisenach, is a former Soviet military base, today used for private aviation.

Biking is getting more and more popular since the construction of quality cycle tracks began in the 1990s. Long distance trails include the Werra trail, the Rennsteig trail and the Radweg Thüringer Städtekette ("Thuringian town string trail"). These all connect points of touristic interest, the first along the Werra valley from the Thuringian Forest to the Weser river in Hann. Münden, the second through the Thuringian Forest along its crest to the Saale river near Hof and the third follows near the medieval Via Regia from the Werra valley/Eisenach via Gotha, Erfurt and Weimar to Altenburg.

Public transport in Eisenach is by a bus network servicing the downtown areas as well as the neighbouring towns and villages. The three-line tramway system of Eisenach was in operation between 1897 and 1975.


After reunification, the educational system was reformed. Eisenach currently has six state-run and one Protestant primary schools.[11]

There are two types of secondary school in Germany. The gymnasium prepares students for higher education at a university and students graduate after a total of 12 or 13 years of education with an Abitur. There are two public and one evangelical gymnasium in Eisenach named after personalities of the cities history:[12]

Another form of secondary school is the Realschule where students graduate after a total of ten years of education. There are four public and one free sponsored Realschulen in Eisenach.[16]

In addition, there is one Waldorf school where education spans from primary school to gymnasium.[17]

In 1998, the Berufsakademie Eisenach was founded. The roughly 600 students can obtain a bachelor's degree there, either in economics or in technics.

Notable people

Ernst Abbe (Heliogravure Emil Tesch)

Sons and daughters of the town


  • Wengierek, Martina. Eisenach. Sachbuchverlag Karin Mader. ISBN 3-921957-37-0. 
  1. "Bevölkerung der Gemeinden, Gemeinschaftsfreie Gemeinde, erfüllende/beauftragende Gemeinden, Verwaltungsgemeinschaft/Mitgliedsgemeinden in Thüringen". Thüringer Landesamt für Statistik (in German). July 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Klauß, Jochen (2009). Thüringen - Literarische Streifzüge (German). Artemis & Winkler (Patmos). ISBN 978-3-538-07280-0.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Stahn, Dina (2009). Thüringen (German). Karl Baedeker Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8297-1175-3.
  4. Christopher, John. The Race for Hitler's X-Planes (The Mill, Gloucestershire: History Press, 2013), p.71.
  5. Christopher, p.71.
  6. Kottek, M.; J. Grieser; C. Beck; B. Rudolf; F. Rubel (2006). "World Map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification updated" (PDF). Meteorol. Z. 15 (3): 259–263. doi:10.1127/0941-2948/2006/0130. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  7. Peel, M. C. and Finlayson, B. L. and McMahon, T. A. (2007). "Updated world map of the KöppenGeiger climate classification". Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 11: 1633–1644. doi:10.5194/hess-11-1633-2007. ISSN 1027-5606. (direct: Final Revised Paper)
  8. Thüringer Landesamt für Statistik
  9. Thüringer Landesamt für Statistik
  10. "Reuter-Wagner-Museum - Rundgang (German)". Eisenach Town Council. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  11. http://www.eisenach.de/Grundschulen.528.0.html
  12. <http://www.eisenach.de/Gymnasien.530.0.html
  13. http://www.elisabeth-gymnasium.eisenachonline.de
  14. http://www.ernstabbegymnasium.de
  15. http://www.martin-luther-gymnasium.com
  16. http://www.eisenach.de/Regelschulen.529.0.html
  17. http://www.waldorfschule-eisenach.de
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Eisenach.
Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Eisenach.
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