With restless feet and an insatiable appetite, Annemarie Strehl has made it her goal to travel the world and uncover the best places it has to offer. Despite her roving, she has lived in Jena, a major university city in the German state of Thuringia, for most of her life and returns to it again and again.
“I can’t believe how many people—even Germans—have never heard of my hometown,” Annemarie says. “My typical reaction is to just tell everyone about its benefits and usually people end up asking me if they [can come] visit.”
Here are a few of her favorite things about the central German city she’s proud to call home.
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Jena Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to a local bratwurst stand for a taste of the best sausage in the world.
June and August are the best times to visit my city. In June, the wild orchids come into bloom in the mountains surrounding Jena and August brings the best—and warmest—weather.
You can see my city best from the 360-degree viewing platform at the top of Germany’s second highest hotel, Scala.
The market is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. Tip: check out the fluffy dumplings.
In the past, notable people like playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe, theologian Martin Luther, scientist Ernst Abbe, entrepreneur Carl Zeiss, philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel, poet Friedrich Schiller, and many more have called my city home.
My city’s best museum is the Optical Museum because it provides interesting historical, cultural, and technical insights into optical inventions over five centuries. Also, it is the only one of its kind in Germany.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that you can easily walk around the city center, and even to several residential areas just outside town. For those who can’t or don’t prefer to walk, there is a good tram system in place, and lots of buses.
My city really knows how to celebrate Christmas because we have two lovely Christmas markets with attractions, foodie stands, and handicrafts. The Christmas market located next to the city’s original walls even has fire dancers and traditional music and food.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they refer to themselves as Jenenser, meaning they were born in Jena. The ones that call themselves Jenaer moved here later.
For a fancy night out, I leave the high heels at home (because the cobblestones kill) and head to the Wagnergasse, Jena’s foodie street.
Just outside my city, you can visit several castles, old forests, and mountains.
My city is known for being a university city, but it really becomes a ghost town when the students are on holiday—all the better for a visit without crowds.
The best outdoor market in my city is the weekly market on the old market square next to Jena’s town hall. It is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout the year and daily during special celebrations, such as Christmas time.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go to Fritz Mitte for the best Belgian frites and the most generous mayonnaise portions ever. They are house-made and incredibly yummy.
To escape the crowds, I head to the super quiet cemetery turned park, Johannisfriedhof. It has beautiful old tombstones among crooked trees. If you’re lucky, squirrels and birds will stop by.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The dish that represents my city best is a Thüringer bratwurst (Thuringian sausage), and beer, is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at local bratwurst stands and at the Papiermühle, respectively.
Seeing the “Seven Wonders” (okay, only five of them still exist) could only happen in my city. One of them could even mean the world’s end, according to legend.
In the spring you should visit the botanical garden with its many flowers and tropical greenhouses. Tip: Don’t miss the huge water lilies and exotic piranhas.
In the summer you should go picnicking in a park. Tip: Wear bug repellent and long clothes to ward off ticks.
In the winter you should head to the Christmas markets and get up early in the morning to see frost covering all the plants.