The J.S. Bach Tourist

9. Mühlhausen

It is an open question to what extent most Thuringians today are aware of the fact that Johann Sebastian Bach lived and worked in Mühlhausen for a year. If you tell people there that you are on your way to Mühlhausen, they say: "Ah, the Thomas Müntzer city!" instead of "Ah, Bach!". Thomas Müntzer was an an early follower and later opponent of Martin Luther, who led a farmers' rebellion against the rich in 1525, with no lesser goal than the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. Like in many other such stories, the protagonist did not survive his zeal. Thomas Müntzer was promoted by the former communist government as a kind of early socialist counterpart to Luther. The connection with Johann Sebastian Bach is that Müntzer was preaching from the main church of Mühlhausen, the Marienkirche (picture on the right), in which Bach's famous "Ratswechselkantate" Gott ist mein König, BWV 71, was performed on February 4, 1708.

Probably, Bach got his Mühlhausen job through his cooperation with Johann Friedrich Wender, who built the Arnstadt organ at Bach's time and who was an inhabitant of Mühlhausen. The winding road from Eisenach to Mühlhausen (less than 20 miles), leads through dark forests and along beautiful hills. Arriving at Mühlhausen is literally descending towards the town. It used to have 38 towers, its present skyline is more modest but still impressive. It only has 44.000 inhabitants, 50 % more than Arnstadt, but it is much more lively and commercial. With its busy traffic, it has more of a bigger city feeling than Arnstadt, and in Bach's time the difference must have been even more dramatic.

Some city wall fragments of Mühlhausen have survived, so that one can get an idea of the original size of the city. The Marienkirche is close to a lively market and the main shopping street. The city still looks somewhat impoverished and dirty, but with its picturesque half-timbered houses, its many reconstruction and preservation projects, and above all its general liveliness it is on its way to become a tourist attraction.

Bach's job was at the other major church of the city, the Divi Blasii (picture above, on the left), which looks simpler and less elegant than the Marienkirche, but which, with its two towers, is still a very attractive and compact gothic cathedral. Mühlhausen was famous for its rich music tradition, and The Divi Blasii, moreover, had an important music library, which must have stimulated the young Bach.

Although Bach was here only for a year, he was successful and appreciated and developed friendly relations with several high ranking citizens. The minister of the Marienkirche, Georg Christian Eilmar (1665-1715) was the godfather of Bach's first child, Catharina Dorothea, born in Weimar six months after Bach's departure from Mühlhausen (The name of Eilmar's daughter was Anna Dorothea). Bach's oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, was named after Mühlhausen mayor Konrad Meckbach's son, Paul Friedemann Meckbach.

Mühlhausen also has some memories of the less felicitous aspects of German history. When the building of the Marienkirche stagnated in the 14th century, due to all kinds of quarrels and the plague, the blame was put on the Jews, who were badly persecuted here in 1349. Unfortunately, one should have no illusions about Thuringian history in this respect. The venerated Martin Luther, for instance, oscillated somewhat between various attitudes, but on the whole, he longed for the destruction of Judaism throughout his life (see, for instance, P. L. Rose, Revolutionary Antisemitism in Germany. From Kant to Wagner. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1990). Given the important role that Luther played in this area, it must be said that practically all travel guides on Thuringia are incomplete on this significant and sad aspect of its history.

Practical Information

Mühlhausen is only 28 km North of Eisenach, along a very pleasant road in a beautiful hilly landscape.

Addresses: Divi Blasii, Johan Sebastian-Bach-Platz 4, O-5700 Mühlhausen. Open: Mon-Sat: 10:00 - 16:30 (closed on Fri (?)). Marienkirche, An der Marienkirche 9, O-5700 Mühlhausen. Open: Sat-Thur 10:00 - 16:30 (closed on Fri).

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 (Mühlhausen).

Go to the J.S. Bach Home Page