Making the most of things while you can!
When I first arrived here in Erfurt at the start of October last year, I had a hell of a lot of admin to get sorted. One of the things that got sorted before I was even registered as a citizen or had a bank account was my ‘Studentenausweis‘ or my Student ID. I enrolled at the University of Erfurt for the winter term at a cost of 179 euros. That might sound like a lot of money but actually, it saved me loads. This ID covers me for travel wherever I like within the whole Bundesland of Thueringen. Even if I never used it for that, it gets me to school each day and I paid for it such a long time ago that it feels like I travel for free.
The term is coming to an end though and I have until 31st March to use it the best I can. After that, I have two months left here in Germany. I need to take the tram each day for school and that will cost me just over 100 euros. I have to pay that. Unfortunately I just don’t have the funds to make up the extra 80 euros to allow me to explore until I leave. For this reason, I am determined to tick off as many places on my list as I can before then! I am away in both Munich and Budapest in that time too so this is going to be a pretty busy month!
On Wednesday mornings, I only have one lesson and that finishes at 9.10 so I decided I would go and visit Gera. This is a big city to the east of Erfurt which has lots of beautiful things to see and is only about an hour away. However, I got to the train station earlier than I thought and the train I ended up getting on was going all the way to Altenburg. This is a city very close to the border of Thueringen with Sachsen. It boasts a large palace and it is (so they claim) the home of the German card game Skat. I checked my guidebook and decided that this was a great opportunity. As it stood, I would be in Altenburg by lunchtime. That seemed perfectly reasonable considering it is a 2 hour journey so I decided to just stay on the train and enjoy the time looking out of the window and the endless snow across the fields.
It would seem that I’ve not had much luck with maps recently. Although I did have a map in my guidebook, the train station was just off it and the lack of signage anywhere was not helpful either! I ended up walking all the way round the station, crossing perilous roads and getting lots of weird looks before deciding to make an educated guess at ‘somewhere that way’. Luckily, I quickly found my way onto the map and was on my way :).
My original plan, having looked at the map, was to follow the road from the station and then follow the main ring road round the city to the castle. However, at the end of the road was a stunning building which housed a museum. What got me much more excited though was the sign which stood outside showing the direction of all the landmarks. I was planning on turning right but the sign pointed towards the museum. I consulted my map once more and noted the winding paths going through the gardens of the museum. Actually, this seemed to be a more direct route than what I had planned so I decided to go with it. Well, the gardens were beautiful and were scattered with pieces of art which I thought were fascinating. What a guidebook map doesn’t have though are contour lines and let me tell you, this was quite a substantial hill I had to climb, made all the more difficult by the snow which came up to the top of my boots most of the time! It was quite fun to get my heart going though and I was more worried about being hot from all my layers than cold from the horrible weather which was a nice change :).
Although I took the city route on the way back to the station (going downhill in the snow is much more perilous than going up), I’m really glad I went through the park on the way there because it eventually led me to a small, cobbled path around the castle/palace complex and I entered through the gatehouse. It was beautiful and I can only imagine what it looks like in the summer!
The palace itself is pretty interesting to look at as it the complex has developed slowly over hundreds of years with each new resisdent adding something new as it changed hands. I found my way around to the entrance and was quickly greeted by a very helpful lady who opened the door for me and told me where to go. It cost me only 2,50 euros to get it in which was (as always) a total bargain as there were 3 floors of stuff to see. The lady explained that the top floor was a history exhibition about the palace and the city. The first floor was an exhibition about the kidnapping of the Prince and the ground floor was the playing cards exhibtion. The lady recommended that I go to the top and work back down, leaving the best until last :).
The playing cards were what I really wanted to see but I decided to follow her advice as it seemed silly to not look at all the palace had to offer. Everything about the palace semeed to have something to do with cards. The history exhibit largely consisted of Altenburg artefacts, almost all stamped with cards or some other symbol to indicate the same thing. It was really cool and I can only imagine all the card games and tournaments which have been held here over the years :).
As I took this picture, am member of staff came over to speak to me.
“I have something to show you,” he said with a cheeky grin on his face. He took a key out of his pockets and walked over to the door you can see in the picture. Hidden behind this locked door was a room full of clocks. They were precious, that much was clear and this must be the reason why they were hidden behind a locked door. They were beautifully displayed nonetheless, my particular favourites being the oil clock and the grandfather clocks, all in a row :).
The first floor was not so interesting. Some very confusing graphics only sought to make the exhibition harder to navigate and I moved through it quickly and without much notice. What I did enjoy looking at though were the many maps around of the area and being able to see exactly where I had I travelled.
The card exhibition was brilliant though. They had some really old stuff that had been used for printing and producing the cards but also had lots of original drawings and handpainted items. They had even set up a workshop to show how the cards were originally produced in Altenburg.
The only thing I didn’t like were the endless packs of cards which were shown with different designs. Whilst the old ones are very interesting, I felt that all the modern ones were surplus to requirements and that the space required to show every single card was a little wasted. Even so, I really enjoyed the exhibition and ended up spending quite a long time in there too.
At the end, I asked for information about the Palace Church. Unfortunately, I was told that it was not open apart from for tours and I had just missed one. For the next one, I would have had to wait for nearly 2 hours and it was cold and I didn’t plan on waiting around for that long.
Instead, I decided to head towards the city centre to see the Skatbrunnen or the Skat Fountain. I found it quite easily (by following signs and ignoring my map 😉 ) and having seen it, decided to head further into town down to the main central square. There, I warmed up with a cup of tea and got a chance to see the Rathaus too. Unfortunately, it was market day so I didn’t get to see the square in its full glory. Even so, it was a magical part of the city.
All in all, I had a really nice day in Altenburg. It is a lovely, if somewhat run-down city in some areas. Once I got to the centre, it was stunning but the journey between there and the station on the way back was not so pretty. It was just like many other ancient Eastern cities I have visited and I would definitely recommend it.
On my way back to the station, I realised that I might never come to Altenburg again. This might be the last time in my life I see it. It feels strange to know that my year abroad is coming to an end and that I have limited opportunities now to visit all the jewels and gems of Thueringen all around me. I have had a wonderful time this year and I am sure that I will look back on it as a very special time. Next stop, Dresden! Tomorrow! 🙂