This article on the Bundesgartenschau (BuGa) 2021 was first published in The Flensburg Files, an independent blog by Jason Smith. For more great posts and photography, check out The Flensburger Files and his facebook gallery.
Which city has the highest number of churches, bridges, and people in the state of Thuringia, next to 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 eastern Germany. It also has a unique Christmas market that features locally produced “Dominosteine,” sweet chocolate cubes, homemade and very tasty. And it is this year’s venue for the German Garden Show (Bundesgartenschau or “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.
Erfurt has 247 bridges total, with the most famous one being the Krämerbrücke (Merchants’ Bridge), one of four house bridges in Germany.
And it has over three dozen churches in and around the city. This includes the world-famous Erfurter Dom (Erfurt Cathedral), which hosts a summer music festival every year and provides a wonderful backdrop for the Erfurt Christmas Market. And right next door to the cathedral and the Domplatz (market square) there is one of two venues for the 2021 Bundesgartenschau, the Petersberg Citadel, which used to house soldiers well into the 1900s.
Erfurt is the place to visit for the 2021 BuGa, a national event that is held every two years. While this is only the second BuGa in the state of Thuringia (the other event took place in Gera and Ronneburg in 2007), Erfurt itself is no stranger to gardening and horticulture. It also 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 an abundance of homegrown herbs and spices, together with wildflowers, 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 everlasting impression I had with Erfurt’s BuGa was “Lokales ist alles” (local is everything). It has two key themes: water and bees. What does the BuGa in Erfurt have to offer in comparison to previous BuGa’s?
BuGa Erfurt 2021: An exhibition in two parks
The 2021 BuGa in Erfurt is laid out in two parts. The first part is located at the Petersberg Citadel, next to the Erfurt Cathedral. The Citadel was built in 1665 and is situated on a hill that overlooks the city. The citadel was first used as a fortress to defend the city and later as a military compound 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 undergone 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, outdoors or inside one of the restored buildings. The area is protected by preservation laws and is a National Heritage Site.
The Petersberg 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 the egapark towards the western end of Erfurt. Known as the largest park in Erfurt, egapark was once the site of another citadel, one that was the predecessor to the Petersberg Citadel. From the 12th Century until 1604, the Citadel Cyriaksburg once stood at this site and was used as a combined fortress and military complex. It lost its military importance when the Petersberg Citadel was built, and at the end of World War I, it was converted into a garden complex, including 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”. The current IGA, based on the Erfurt model, exists to this day. Egapark 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 egapark but also in the city center. Egapark is reachable via streetcar, which also takes you to Erfurt-Weimar Airport in Bindersleben, about 10 km west of Erfurt.
Starting at the Petersberg Citadel
If you wish to visit the BuGa in Erfurt, you might want to visit the Petersberg location first. The tour of the Citadel will take you, at most, half a day. Apart from being greeted with a variety of wildflowers and vegetation upon crossing the bridge into the facility, the Citadel features a variety of displays and activities that will fill a day.
After seeing some of the plants and getting soaked by the spitting fountain at the court area, one can visit an exhibition on the origins of the garden in the so-called Paradise House, which presents a combination of religious, spiritual, and natural exhibits, much of it in the form of holograms. Adjacent to the Paradise House, there is a combination of eateries and small shops in long houses stretching for up to 100 meters. In these small shops, you can find products “Made in Thuringia” that you will almost never find in supermarkets.
From herb liquors and mustards to homemade wines and marmalades. Seeds are also 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. Given the current situation with Covid-19 and its variants, the outdoor areas are conveniently spread out so that one can eat at a social distance without risking infection.
To the northern side of the court area, several forms of entertainment await visitors.
This includes playgrounds with fancy, modernized equipment for people of all ages. Not far from there is a venue for live events, including small concerts and even live chess. We had a chance to watch a game 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, don’t miss the Creative Gardens section, which features creative gardening and a range of different flowers lined up along the northern gate and the Festwiese and includes a cultural section with various forms of food and drinks from different areas of the globe plus entertainment.
Many people don’t know much about the Citadel Petersberg and its history when they first visit. Yet, the Citadel is full of surprises for visitors young and old, which I experienced firsthand during my own first visit in 2010. It is a place you will walk away from impressed by what it offers on the inside.
Continuing with the egapark exhibition
There is an old saying when it comes to a place like egapark: Come early and stay the whole day. As mentioned in the introduction, the complex is the largest of all of Erfurt’s parks and it is in the top 10 of the largest city parks in Thuringia. When visiting the BuGa site at egapark, you should definitely plan a whole day – from when it opens at 9:00 am, until it closes at 8:00 pm.
Egapark 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 in egapark, and its exhibit can be found on the grounds. And lastly, there is an observation tower, built from the remains of the former citadel, on the southeastern corner. From the tower, one can view all of Erfurt and even farther, 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!
A quick insider’s tour guide: must-visits at the BuGa Erfurt
It’s impossible to include everything the egapark has to offer in this BuGa tour guide. This is why I’m only going to provide a few recommendations if you want to at least get to the most important places.
Exhibit Hall 1 (Halle 1): This hall is located at the main entrance to the egapark complex and it hosts monthly exhibits, all of which have to do with gardening and horticulture. Whether it includes pottery or exotic plants, the exhibits provide you with detailed insights into the topic.
Japanese Garden: This is probably the most recommendable place to visit. The garden features a combination of Japanese architecture and rocky landscapes with a gorgeous waterfall. Many plants 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 impressive of the egapark portion of the BuGa. The exhibition hall is dedicated solely to water, a theme more relevant than ever these days. The hall features an exhibit on desert vegetation with a gallery of cacti and other plants that adapt to hot and dry conditions. The other half features a jungle section resembling the Amazon rainforest. Rare live animals are on display, including butterflies and frogs, as well as desert prairie dogs. For this hall itself, I would recommend two hours to allow for the information to sink in how important water really is for our planet.
Bees’ Exhibit: Located on the south end of egapark, near the rose garden, the Bees’ Exhibit presents visitors with not only the history of bee-keeping but also ways to help bees thrive through bee-friendly plants and other measures. Bees are the other topic of interest for this year’s BuGa. They are facing the increasing threat of extinction caused by overfarming and urbanization. Yet at the BuGa the bees are plenty, for one will see a bee pollinating every third plant Thousands of bees of different types can be found where ever 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 over the entire length of the egapark complex. A garden featuring plants from Erfurt’s sister city, Mainz, must not be excluded from the list.
The 2021 Erfurt Garden Show (BuGa) leaves a lasting impression. It goes well beyond tourism. Despite the ongoing fight against Covid-19, the BuGa has attracted thousands of visitors since its opening in April. It brings together local culture and specialties that are typical of the region. It also brings forth the importance of preserving our planet and the environment. Two major factors for sustaining human life – bees and water – will play an even bigger role in the coming decade and beyond. The BuGa brings together children, who are treated with lots of activities. It brings together art and creativity in gardening. 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 free usage of public transportation, meaning all of Erfurt’s buses and trams, but also the VMT, which includes train service along the Jena-Weimar-Erfurt-Eisenach corridor as well as within Thuringia.
Hotels in Erfurt may be expensive. Therefore, you might consider other lodging possibilities in small towns between Erfurt and Weimar as well as to the North and West. As a tip, call the hotels or bed and breakfasts directly instead of booking online, for a direct call will give you cheaper rates.
The 2021 German Garden Show in Erfurt runs from April 23rd through October 10th. The next Garden Show will be held in Mannheim in 2023.