The best and most atmospheric way to approach the Wartburg is to walk up the fairly steep path through the woods from Reuterweg, a quiet road on the south-west edge of town, rather than taking the bus or walking up the winding main road. The Rough Guide advised avoiding weekends and holidays because of the crowds, and a traveller's web report stressed the importance of arriving early in the day for the same reason, so I caught the earliest train I could for the 47-minute journey from Weimar.
It arrived 10 minutes late at 09:05. I navigated through to Reuterweg, then up the long path through the woods towards the Wartburg; the sun breaking through the mist, very pleasant, but a steady half hour climb. I took some outside photos of the castle, then bought a ticket for the 10:20 tour, in German, with English printed notes. Many pics during the tour (photo pass an extra €1, no flash allowed). Out at 11:15, and up the South Tower – €0.50 coin in the slot (I could have sworn the sign at the entrance said the South tower is included in the entry price) – for some great misty views over the surrounding very wooded landscape.
Wartburg was founded in 1067 by Count Ludwig, and was developed progressively over the next few hundred years. It decayed somewhat towards the end of the 18th century, but was restored (under the architect Hugo von Ritgen) with superbly redecorated palace rooms in the mid 19th century. It is unique among German castles in having its history marked almost entirely by peaceful events: in particular the charitable acts of St Elisabeth (who was married to Ludwig IV in 1225 at the age of 14) in helping the poor and founding several hospitals, before her untimely death at the age of 24; Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament from Greek into the vernacular language of the time, in 1521, making Wartburg a very significant place in the history of Protestantism; and the 'Wartburgfest' gathering in 1817 by 500 students from 11 universities in favour of German unity and democratic rights.
The legend of the Contest of Minstrels, which took place (if it did) in the Hall of Minstrels in 1206, was incorporated with some poetic licence into Act II of Wagner's opera Tannhäuser.
The castle is impeccably presented. I was especially impressed by Elisabeth's Bower [Fräulein-Elisabeth-Camin-Stuben], which was probably the women's quarters in mediaeval times but is now decorated throughout with a sparkling glass mosaic [9, 10, 11, 12, 13] showing scenes from the remarkable life of St Elisabeth. The mosaic itself dates only from 1902-1906. The simple chapel [14, 15] dates from 1320, from which time a wall painting showing six apostles still survives, to the left of the altar.
The huge mediaeval Festsaal, or Banqueting Hall, [22, 23, 24] has a 19th century trapezoidal panelled ceiling which gives it an excellent accoustic, and it is apparently used regularly for live and broadcast concerts. The final room, after the end of the formal tour, is the Lutherstube, where Martin Luther lived and hid, after being condemned as a heretic, in 1521 and 1522, disguised with a beard as a knight called Junker Jörg.
A quick coffee in the castle restaurant, then started down at 12:30. I must have taken a wrong path into the wood as I crossed the winding road, and I found myself on a steep descent straight into the town centre, further north than I wanted to be. Never mind, I would have ended up there anyway, except that I was hoping to call in to the Reutervilla in Reuterweg on the way down, which contains Wagner memorabilia and his deathmask, commemorating his stay in Eisenach seeking inspiration for Tannhäuser.