The J.S. Bach Tourist

8. Dornheim

I knew that Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach had had their all-Bach wedding in Dornheim on October 10, 1707. Since I couldn't find Dornheim on my simple road maps, I had decided to skip it. After our dinner at the lovely Arnstadt market place, we embarked upon a short drive along the winding Thuringian roads. It was still hot and the sinking sun threw a golden light over the fields. At the height of the summer, the early evening hours between seven and nine are my favorite touristic moments anyway, when everything turns yellow and most traffic is gone. But this was very special: here I was, with my 83-year old father, enjoying the very same hills in the summer evening sun which Johann Sebastian Bach must have liked almost 300 years ago.

Then, all of a sudden, on our peaceful east-bound route, we saw Dornheim mentioned on a traffic sign, and we decided to pay it a visit after all. The normal road was blocked, so we had to make a detour (post-communistic East Germany is full of road-blocks and detours). Normally, it is only two miles to the East from Arnstadt to Dornheim, but now we had to drive a few extra miles, which was just as well in this beautiful light.

Although Dornheim is only a miniscule village, it took us a while to find the little church in which the Bachs got married. The reason is that the church is not on the road but behind a wall (or rather a combination of a house and a wall). Finding the church was a real "historical experience". I only knew the church from black-and-white pictures, but here it was in full color, with lots of red geraniums catching the late sunlight (picture on the right). Upon entering the gate, we were at once in the past. There was nobody else and both my father and I experienced the same perfect historical illusion.

I made some photographs and climbed the stairs towards the entrance of the church. In front of the door I turned around and had a second, overwhelming historical experience. For a while, I imagined that I saw the same as what Bach saw, when he came out of the church with his young bride:

Well, it was not exactly the same, because Bach didn't see my father but, presumably, a crowd of other Bachs and Bachs. But for a while I imagined that I could feel Bach's happiness when he came out of that church.

I made some more photographs and my old father and I continued our drive along those golden Thuringian hills. We were relatively silent, as if all moments of happiness sooner or later fly away on the wings of melancholy. When I was a child, my father took me on several trips to foreign countries. He used to have a scooter, which took us all the way across the Alps to Italy in those days. I remembered us having dinner in Lienz, Austria, in 1959 or 1960 in a Biergarten in the same golden evening light. I remembered how happy I was on all those trips and was afraid for a while that this might be our last major trip together. Anyway, Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara got married in October, 1707. She died in Köthen in the summer of 1720, when Sebastian was serving Prince Leopold, who was taking the waters in Carlsbad. All in all, then, their marriage lasted less than 13 years.

Practical Information

The church can be visited upon request. It is currently under restoration .

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

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