Ilmenau's most famous visitor was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was sent by his Duke to put in order the town finances and to revive the copper and silver mines. He came out of his sheer joy in the countryside here, making, in all, 28 visits to Ilmenau. Ilmenau is thus known not only for its university but also for its associations with Goethe.
The 20 kilometres of the Goethe Path link the places where Goethe worked, on a route between Ilmenau and Stützerbach. He found intense stimulus in the active experience of the cultural and the natural worlds. The Path is designated one of "Germany's Quality Paths" (Qualitätsweg Wanderbares Deutschland), the first of these in Thüringen, and it has recently again received the seal of quality. It is marked with the initial Goethe used as a signature, "g".
Buses: to take a bus instead of shanks' pony on one or other stretch of the route, consult http://www.rennsteig-bus.de/
The start of the Goethe Path is at, the Amtshaus (earlier the Court House) on the market square in Ilmenau. This building was built by the Dowager Countess Sophie von Henneberg as her home on widowhood. Partially destroyed in a fire in 1752, it was restored to the plans of Gottfried Heinrich Krohne, a great architect of the baroque period, to include offices for the Duke's administrator and living quarters for the ducal family. In the well-lit corner room on the first floor, one can still stand on the same floorboards as did Goethe, and look out onto the market or up to the stucco ceiling. Today, the Amtshaus is home to the Ilmenau Tourist Information Office and the GoetheStadtMuseum (the museum celebrating both Goethe and the town). Here Goethe the poet, the public servant and the natural scientist is presented. The garden behind the Amtshaus contains memorials set into the ground for the visitor to linger over.
The Path now follows the Obertorstrasse to the Cemetery. On the left close to the entry, there is the grave of Corona Schröter, the celebrated singer and actress beloved of the Weimar court, who first played the title role in "Iphigenia". Now the route passes through the upper part of the old town, following the Mittlere and Obere (Middle and Upper) "Berggrabenweg". These paths with their gentle gradient along the side of the hill were water channels for the mines in Goethe's time. They brought over a distance of 14 km the water necessary to drive the pumps at the Sturmheide and Roda shafts. They pass the Bertha's Spring and the Schwalbenstein, offering enchanting glimpses of the valley with Manebach set in it. It was on the Schwalbensein outcrop that Goethe wrote Act 4 of "Iphigenia" in a single day. The first words of this Act are inscribed on a tablet in the porphyry cliff. The glorious view from the wooden shelter makes it an excellent place to rest. Passing the Schöffenhaus, one goes over the Heidelberg and comes upon Mary's Spring, the Marienquelle and the rock called the Emmastein. Now the way leads downhill "I was always to Manebach and the "Choirmaster's House", Kantorhaus.
The vale of the Ilm is crossed at Manebach and up the Kammerberg opposite goes the route, to "Helena's Rest", the Helenenruhe and the rock called the Großer Hermannstein, passing "Sophia's Spring", the Sophienquelle. This part of the path is the steepest but the walker is rewarded with a breathtaking view from the cliff. The cave in the cliff is certainly man-made and is thought to have served in the Middle Ages as the lookout post of a fort situated on top of the cliff.
Goethe visited it many times, describing it thus:
"(it is) my beloved place of sojourn,
a place to make my home."
Goethe worked and drew here. He also brought Frau von Stein here when she visited him in Ilmenau in the summer of 1776. When words failed him, he turned to drawing. He drew the cave in the Hermannstein, the cloud-hung vales leading to Ilmenau, the valley bottoms at Manebach and at Stützerbach.
"The Wandrers Nachtlied".
Hushed lie the hills;
Hardly a breath stirs,
The treetops barely whisper:
Silent now are the birds.
Hushed shalt thou also be,
Wait only, rest will come to thee.
Here one has reached the highest point of the Path, 861 m, with high poetry. The little wooden hunting lodge called the Goethehäuschen. On its inside wall, Goethe inscribed one of his loveliest poems, reflecting on nightfall and old age. The "Goethe Hut" is always open and in it can be found Goethe's words in 16 languages. In 1870 the original hut went up in flames because of the carelessness of people picking berries. It was restored four years later.
Perhaps 100 m away, the foundations of the historic hunting lodge can be seen which belonged to earlier Dukes of Sachsen-Weimar. This was no longer used even in Goethe's time. Than one comes to the Kickelhahn Tower. Those who make the effort to go up the 107 steps are rewarded by a stunning view from the tower, which is 24 metres high. Goethe himself loved this hill and its beauty, visiting it many times. The tower, however, was not built till 1855.
The Path now leads downhill to the Gabelbach hunting lodge, Jagdhaus. This building, hastily constructed in summer 1783 to serve as guest house to the Duke Carl August of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach and his hunting parties, is in late baroque style though relatively plain. It is now set out as a
museum offering fascinating insights into hunting as a pastime, into the social life of the Court of Weimar, and into the scientific pursuits of Goethe. From the Hirtenwiese, the Shepherds' Clearing, the route
now crosses the main road leading to Neustadt and makes towards the picturesque valley of the Schorte with the Knöpfelstaler Pond and the "Dark Hole", Finsteres Loch. In Goethe's poem with the title "Ilmenau" this site is described as a place where the Duke's hunting party camped. Crossing the car park for the Auerhahn inn, named after the local capercaillies, one goes downhill into Stützerbach
with its Schlossberg and the Gundelach House where Goethe stayed on his 13 visits to Stützerbach from 1776 onwards. This is the third Goethe museum on the celebratory path and it contains Goethe's original living room and study, wallpaper with which Goethe lived, and the tools and cutlery
of the "Black Kitchen". It also shows the history of Stützerbach's production of glass for chemical laboratories.