The J.S. Bach Tourist

7. Arnstadt

Arnstadt has about 30.000 inhabitants (1995) and is a very small town by our standards. In Bach's time, Arnstadt had only 3,800 inhabitants and big city Leipzig 30,000. So, a visit to modern Arnstadt gives you, apart from the difference in relative importance, an idea of the size of Leipzig in the early 18th century. Arnstadt is a quiet and truly beautiful town, with arguably the most pleasant market square of Thuringia. The Bach church is facing the town hall at the northeast corner (picture on the right). Although 24 members of the Bach family were buried on the Arnstadt cemetery, the church was not called the Bach church in the 18th century, but the Neue Kirche. A predecessor of this church was called after Bonifatius, the 8th century missionary shared by the early Christian histories of Thuringia and The Netherlands (see Ohrdruf). Both the church and its surrounding churchyard wall have a commemorative tablet reminding the visitor of Bach's presence here.

It is generally assumed that Sebastian lived for a while in family member and mayor Martin Feldhaus's home "Zur Goldenen Krone" at the corner of Ledermarkt and Holzmarkt (close to the main market square). Since 1704, Maria Barbara Bach (Sebastian's later wife) and her sisters lived in the same house. Sebastian's famous fight with student Geyersbach on August 4, 1705 also took place on this market square:

The Arnstadt years were perhaps Sebastian's "wild" years, the years of conflict with the Arnstadt authorities and the years of the Romantic walks to the Lübeck of Buxtehude. Bach's duties were not too heavy, and presumably he spent much of his time at the organ. The spirit of Bach's Arnstadt years is, in my opinion, very well captured by a masterfully conceived sculpture of Bernd Göbel, on the market square since 1985 (see the (inadequate) picture on the right). Most 19th century Bach statues represent the composer as a chubby but strict Prussian Feldwebel. Bernd Göbel has pictured Bach as a wigless, sensitive young artist experimenting at an imaginary organ.

Apart from the attractive Rathaus (town hall, picture on the left), the market square is also the location of the historical museum "Haus zum Palmbaum", which has a nice Bach exhibition (including the famous organ console of the Wender organ from Bach's time).

From a purely touristic point of view, and certainly under the ideal weather conditions of our trip, drinking a beer at the Arnstadt market square was a sensational experience. Also, the winding route from Arnstadt to Ilmenau in the South was one of our favorites.

Practical Information

Arnstadt is close to Erfurt (airport, more than 200.000 inhabitants) and has its own exit on the highway. It is surrounded by beautiful landscapes, especially on its South side.

Addresses: Bach Kirche, Markt. Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 10:30 - 12:30 and 14:00 - 16:00, Sun: 14:00 - 16:00. City Historical Museum "Haus zum Palmbaum", PSF2, Markt 3, O-5210 Arnstadt. Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 9:00 - 12:30 and 13:00 - 16:30. Sat and Sun: 13:00 -17:00.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Eisenach 3. Ohrdruf
4. Lüneburg Heath 5. Lüneburg 6. Lübeck 7. Arnstadt
8. Dornheim 9. Mühlhausen 10. Weimar
11. Köthen 12. Leipzig

Further information:

Go to the map or Bach's biography (Arnstadt).

Go to the J.S. Bach Home Page