Town of music

Meiningen | Foto: Frank Burkhardt

A trip to Meiningen always yields the most beautiful perspectives...

The author of these words, which were addressed to the Duke of Meiningen, Georg II in 1885, was none other than Johannes Brahms. One might ask which beautiful perspectives are being referred to by Brahms, who visited the small town in Southern Thuringia 15 times between 1881 and 1895. First, there was the Meiningen Court Orchestra with its brilliant conductors Hans von Bülow, Richard Strauss and Fritz Steinbach. Bülow, Steinbach and the orchestra musicians were congenial interpreters of Brahms' symphonic works and became their missionaries during concert tours throughout central Europe. Bülow must know that the smallest rehearsal in the smallest Meiningen hall is more important to me than any Paris or London concert, and good and comfortable I feel amidst the orchestra, I could sing aloud a long song of praise about it, these words, written by Brahms to the Meiningen ducal couple, speak for themselves. In 1990, the orchestra celebrated 300 years of uninterrupted existence, making it one of the oldest ensembles in Europe. In 2006, it was granted the title Meininger Hofkapelle by Thuringia state authorities.

For Brahms, another beautiful perspective was the intellectually stimulating atmosphere at the Meiningen Court, which was freed from rigid etiquette and had been cultivateded by Georg II (1826-1914) and his wife Freifrau Helene von Heldburg (1839-1923). Numerous well-known actors and actresses, such as Kainz and Barney, Lindner and Sandrock, the singer and actor Wüllner, the fairy tale collector, historian and author Ludwig Bechstein, litterateurs and playwrights such as Fitger, Voß, Ibsen, Björnsen and Rudolf Baumbach, the producers Chronegk and Grube, the most prominent sculptor of that time, Adolf von Hildebrand, and the natural scientist Ernst Heckel; Richard und Cosima Wagner, Franz Liszt, Edward Grieg, Max Reger, the garden lanscaping family Buttmann, the master builders Döbner, Neumeister, Behlert und Fritze – all of them were connected with the Meiningen Muse's Court and aided in the development of Meiningen’s fascinating cultural history.
Their traces can be found throughout the town by the observant visitor; examples are the oldest building, the Meiningen Stadtkirche (town church), the 300-year-old Schloss Elisabethenburg with the Meiningen Museums, the lofty Behlert-Bau, the Meiningen Theatre, as well as numerous memorial plates located in the town center. The presentation of historic stage set backdrops in the former horse riding hall brings to life the content and Europe-wide effect of the Meiningen theater reform initiated by Georg II. Both Meiningen parks contain numerous sculptures and monuments. Many of the personalities listed above can be found on the guest list of the Romantic Hotel Sächsischer Hof, the foundation of which is over 200 years old. The current half-timbered construction of the hotel, together with that of the Henneberger Haus located across the street, adds a bit of Franconian flair to the town center.

The small number of half-timbered houses that did not fall victim to the devastating fire of 1874 are true eye catchers for visitors. The Gründerzeitstil (Founding Epoch style) streets of houses built after 1874 draw the eyes of visitors to their embellished facades. These houses were largely restored and renovated during the years following the reunification of Germany. The trained eye will also discover medieval traces, such as the Bleichhgräben (moats) and remains of the city wall that used to serve as fortifications. Meiningen is over 1000 years old and has been in possession of its town charter for approximately 800 years. The town was ruled by Würzburg prince bishops for about 500 years, followed by another 500 years of rule by the Henneberg house. Meiningen was of great strategic importance for both rulers, which is why it was barraged three times. In 1680, the founder of the ducal house of Saxony-Meiningen, Duke Bernhard I, elevated the town's status to that of a Residenzstadt (residence capital). It was Bernhard I who laid the foundation of the Muse's Court by inviting and appointing musicians such as Georg Caspar Schürmann and Johann Ludwig Bach to the court.

Last but not least, one of the most beautiful perspectives that drew Brahms to Meiningen time after time is the landscape surrounding the town, which lies imbedded in the Werra Valley. Brahms found a great source of inspiration while hiking through the wooded hills before taking his breakfast at the castle. To date, visitors of our town are impressed by the way nature and culture complement each other. Guests do not only arrive by train, but also via car or bus, on foot or by boat to experience and enjoy the very special atmosphere of the town. Martin Walser, who recently visited Meiningen for the premiere of his piece Ein liebender Mann (A loving man), spoke of this flair, calling it an Erlebnisreiz (stimulus of experience) and commenting: I would be very happy if I could contribute a small bit to the current distinctiveness of life in this town.