What city in central Germany has the highest number of churches, bridges and people in the state of Thuringia and has two universities, dozens of parks, two main bike trails and miles of forest. It’s one of the oldest known towns in Germany and has the largest cathedral in the eastern half of Germany. It has a unique Christmas market which features its own domino stein cubes, homemade and very tasty. And it is this year’s venue for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa).
It’s Erfurt. With a population of 230,000 inhabitants, Erfurt is located near the junction of two major motorways- the A4 between Dresden and Aachen and the A71 between Sangerhausen and Bavaria. It is the northernmost city in the Thuringian Forest region, which extends to the south and west towards Oberhof, Eisenach and Meiningen. It has 247 bridges total, though the most famous is the Krämerbrücke (Merchant’s Bridge), one of four house bridges in Germany. And it has over three dozen churches in and around the city where the river Gera flows through. This includes the world famous Erfurt Cathedral, Erfurter Dom, which hosts its summer music festival every year and has a wonderful backdrop for the Erfurt Christmas Market. And right next door to the cathedral and the market square Domplatz is one of two venues for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa), the Petersberg Citadel, which used to house soldiers well into the 1900s.
Erfurt is the place to visit for the 2021 BuGa. The national event is held every two years in a year that ends in an odd number. And while this is the second BuGa in the state of Thuringia (the other event took place in Gera and Ronneburg in 2007), Erfurt is no stranger to gardening and horticulture for it hosted the garden show for East Germany in 1950, the very first show of its kind in the newly created Communist state. Furthermore, Erfurt is one of the places in Thuringia where you can find the herbs and spices all homegrown, together with wild flowers, plants and other vegetation.
The concept of the BuGa was introduced in 2011 while I was teaching at the University of Applied Sciences. I had the pleasure of seeing the place live with my family most recently, and the first and ever lasting impression I had with Erfurt’s BuGa is “Lokales ist alles.” (Local is everything). Yet it has two key themes to pay attention to: water and bees. What does the BuGa in Erfurt have to offer in comparison with previous BuGa’s?
The 2021 BuGa in Erfurt is laid out in two parts. The first part is located at the Petersberg Citadel, located next to the Erfurt Cathedral to the north. The Citadel was built in 1665 and is located on the hill that overlooks the city. The citadel was used first as a fortress to defend the city but was also a military compound that had been occupied by armies of eight different regimes until German Reunification in 1990. This included occupations by Sweden, Prussia, Napoleon, the German Empire, the Nazis, the Soviets and the Volksarmee- the East German army. The facility has underwent an extensive makeover since then and has been occupied by a combination of city and state agencies, including the Thuringia Archives. It also hosts local events on the complex, be it outdoors or inside one of the restored buildings. The area is protected by preservation laws and is a National Heritage Site. The Citadel presents a splendid view of the city center of Erfurt, including all of Domplatz and the Cathedral.
The second part of the BuGa is at Ega-Park on the western end of Erfurt. Known as the largest park in Erfurt, Ega-Park was once the site of another citadel, one that was the predecessor to the Petersberg. From the 12th Century until 1604, the Citadel Cyriaksburg once existed at the site and was used as a combination fortress and military complex. It lost its military importance when the Petersberg was built, and at the end of World War I, it was converted into a garden complex. The largest building remaining from Cyriaksburg was converted into a garden museum in 1995.
It was at this site that the first Garden Show in East Germany was hosted in 1950. 11 years later, the International Garden Exhibition (IGA) was created, but under the name International Garden Exhibition of the Socialist States. Although there had been previous international exhibitions, the current IGA exists to this day based on the Erfurt model. Ega-Park is conveniently located between the convention center Erfurt-Messe and the Media Park, where the German TV stations MDR and KIKA (Children’s Channel) are located. Some of the cartoon characters from KIKA can be found as statues throughout Erfurt, including not only EGA Park but also in the City Center, Anger. Ega-Park is reachable via street car, which also takes you to the Airport in Bindersleben, located about 10 km west of Erfurt.
PETERSBERG CITADEL EXHIBIT-
If you wish to visit the BuGa in Erfurt, you might want to visit the Petersberg first. It has nothing to do with its approximation from the City Center nor from the Cathedral, for stores are open during the daytime except Sundays in the City Center and at the Cathedral, there are markets and other events. The tour of the Citadel will take you, at the most, a half a day. Apart from being greeted with a variety of wild flowers and vegetation upon crossing the bridge into the facility, the Citadel features variety of displays and activities that will fulfill a person’s day.
After seeing some of the plants and getting a soaker with the spitting fountain at the court area, one can visit the origins of the garden through a combination of religious, spiritual and natural exhibit in the Paradise House, much of it presented in hologram. Adjacent to the Paradise House, one will find a combination of eateries and small shops in the long houses that stretch for up to 100 meters in length. Especially in the small shops will a person find everything that is made in Thuringia and one will almost never find in supermarkets, anywhere from herb liquours and mustards to homemade wines and marmalades. There are also seeds available as well as some books about Erfurt’s history. The eateries feature local specialties and you have the option of eating indoors as well as outdoors under the parasols. Given the current situation with the Covid-19 viruses and their variants, the outdoor areas are spread out and one can eat and social distance without risking infection.
To the north of the court area, one will be greeted with many forms of entertainment. This include many playgrounds and the long slides, with fancy, modernized playground equipment to satisfy everyone of all ages. Not far from there is the live events that take place going down the hill and behind the complex. This includes small concerts and even live chess. We had a chance to watch a game live with two opponents ordering their live armies to “move and attack.” This live chess event is sponsored by the German Chess Federation (DSB).
After watching the live chess match, one should not forget the Creative Gardens section, which features creative gardening and different flowers, all lined up along the northern gate and the Festwiese and includes a cultural section where various food and drink from different areas of the globe plus entertainment are found under the orange and white canopy.
Many people don’t know much about the Citadel Petersberg and its history when visiting Erfurt. Yet like in my very first visit in 2010, the Citadel is full of surprises for the young and old. One will find a lot about the place and the exhibits when being there for a few hours. It is one place that you will walk away from- more impressed with what it offers on the inside than when you enter the complex from the outside. And it goes well beyond the grand view of Erfurt’s City Center and Cathedral.
There is an old saying when it comes to a place like Ega: Come early and stay the whole day. As mentioned in the introduction of Ega, the park complex is the largest of all of Erfurt’s parks and it fits into the top 10 of the largest city parks in the state of Thuringia. It would be in competition with the best looking parks with the likes of Leipzig, Bad Muskau, Berlin and even Munich. When visiting the BuGa site at Ega, one needs a whole day- from opening time at 9:00am until its closing at 8:00pm.
Ega Park is spread out along the main street, Gothaer Strasse with two entrances on each end, plus another one on the opposite end. Twenty Gardens- each with different themes-, three exhibition halls, a half dozen parks, one swimming area and tens of thousands of different types of flowers, plants and trees dominate the 36-acre area. In addition to that, the German TV-Station MDR hosts its weekly Sunday Garden Show on these grounds, and its exhibit can be found on the grounds. And lastly, an observation tower, using the remains of the former citadel can be found on the southeastern corner, where one can view all of Erfurt and other areas, as far as the eye can see, from the Thuringian Forest to the plains area to the north and east. Even the tower of the former Buchenwald concentration camp and parts of Weimar can be seen- from 30 km away!
While it’s impossible to include everything into the Ega-Park portion of the BuGa Tour Guide, I’m only going to make a few recommendations for you to visit if you want to at least get to the most important places first.
Exhibit Hall 1 (Halle 1): This is located at the main entrance to the Ega-Park complex and there, it hosts monthly exhibits, all of which have to do with gardening and horticulture. Whether it includes pottery or exotic vegetation, the exhibits provide a person with a detailed insight into the topic and provide some ideas for their garden.
Japanese Garden: This was probably our most recommended place to visit. The garden features a combination of Japanese architecture and rocky landscapes with a gorgeous waterfall. Many exotic plants that are typical of Japan can be found there, as well as a pavilion and a pair of bridges built using local architecture.
Sculpture Garden: Located next to the Observation Tower, the gardens feature a display of sculptures and plants- each sculpture representing a scene from a fairy tale written by German authors.
Danakil Desert and Jungle Exhibition Hall: This was the most impression of the Ega-Park portion of the BuGa for the exhibition hall was designated solely for the purpose of addressing the most important theme that we are facing increasingly today, which is water. The hall features an exhibit on the desert with a gallery of cacti and other plants that adapt to the hot and dry conditions. The other half features the jungle section resembling the Amazon Rain Forest. Each one feature rare live animals on display, including exotic butterflies and frogs, as well as desert prairie dogs. This hall itself, you need two hours to walk through and allow for the information to sink in on how important water really is for everyone.
Bee’s Exhibit: Located on the south end of Ega-Park, near the Rose Garden, the Bee’s Exhibit presents visitors with not only the history of bee-keeping, but also ways to help the bees through plants and other measures. It includes a gallery of “bee-friendly” plants. Bee’s are the other topic of interest for this year’s BuGa as they are facing an increasing threat of extinction caused by overfarming and urbanization. Yet the bees were plenty at the BuGa in general for one will see a bee pollinate for every third plant- on average. In other words, thousands of bees of different types can be found no matter where you walk in the BuGa.
Other noteworthy places to consider include the Gardens of Karl Foerster (1874- 1970), a gardener who popularized the use of grasses and other plants for gardening, the space observatory next to the Japanese Garden, which was also a venue for some concerts, the Iris Garden and Water Fountain, the Rose Garden and lastly, the large flower field that extends the entire length of the Ega-Park Complex. A garden featuring plants from its sister city, Mainz, must not be excluded from the list.
The 2021 Erfurt Garden Show (BuGa) brings together several themes that will have a person think about them after spending a couple days there. It goes well beyond tourism, which despite the ongoing fight against Covid-19, the city has attracted thousands since its opening in April. It brings together local culture and specialties that are typical in the region. It also brings forth the importance of our planet and the environment for the two main ingredients of human life- bees and water- will play an even bigger role in how we want to live in the coming decade and beyond. It brings children together as they are treated with lots of activities to enjoy. It brings together art and creativity for gardening and conservation brings out the best among people who work in these areas. And lastly, it brings out the appreciation and love that we have for our plants, both near and far. If there is a saying that best fits this BuGa, it would be this:
Plants bring us creativity. We find ways to protect them and let them grow, they will in turn find creative ways to help us. If we start finding creative ways to help them, we will be rewarded in the end.
Click here to find out how you can purchase a ticket for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa) in Erfurt. There are plenty of rates available for people of all ages and groups. They also include the free usage of public transportation, which includes all of Erfurt’s buses and trams, but also for the VMT, which includes train service along the Jena-Weimar-Erfurt-Eisenach corridor as well as within Thuringia.
Hotels in Erfurt may be too expensive. Therefore other lodging possibilities in small towns between Erfurt and Weimar as well as to the north and west should be considered. As a tip, call the hotels and bed and breakfasts directly instead of booking through Booking.com for a direct call will give you cheaper rates than with online booking.
The 2021 German Garden Show in Erfurt runs from April 23rd through October 10th. Afterwards, the next Garden Show will be held in 2023 in Mannheim.
A photo exhibit of the 2021 BuGa taken by the author and his family can be found by clicking here. Enjoy the pics! 🙂