Jena (pron. YAY nuh) is a quiet little town on the Saale River. The Saale forms the left segment that, with the Elbe, defines the triangle in which the Saxons finally settled.
Here is a map that may help to place Jena intuitively. However, it is a bit misleading since originally there was no unified nation as implied by the picture. Instead, picture Saxony as a square with Jena near the lower-left corner, and the upper edge between Magdeburg and Berlin. Wittenberg (not shown) is roughly in between Berlin and Leipzig.
In 1485 Saxony divided into two parts ruled by the two inheriting brothers. The Albertine part retained the heart, including Leipzig and Dresden. The Ernestine part included the left and upper edge of the square, with Wittenberg as the seat; it retained the Elector privilege, i.e. the right to sit on the Imperial Diet and cast a ballot for the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Wittenberg is, of course, the town where a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther ended up. As he came to understand the gospel and initiate the reforms of the church, the Elector Frederick the Wise gradually got on board as well, and became Luther’s protector in the ensuing conflicts.
Jena was already on the map during the Lutheran reformation. For example, when Carlstadt, after his first partial exile, came under suspicion of sedition, a meeting with Luther took place in Jena.
After the death of Frederick the Wise, his nephew John Frederick succeeded. His cousin Maurice, Duke of Albertine Saxony, perfidiously turned against him, and this gave the troops of Charles 5 enough advantage to take John Frederick prisoner; while captive, his concern for the safety of his family and the town itself induced him to cede the city of Wittenberg to the Empire. Later, released from prison, he established his headquarters at Weimar. Jena is kind of a bucolic twin-city to the more politically-oriented Weimar.
I found the town relaxing to hang out in, and ended up spending three nights. Good food and beer at a reasonable price is easily obtainable.
[Here is a restaurant at the back of the Rathaus. There was a pop organist playing not too atrociously. Good beef and three large beers for under 15 Euro.]
The university was envisioned by John Frederick to become the successor university to the now-lost Wittenberg as the vanguard of the Reformation. He died before being able to execute the plan, but his sons carried it out, founding the University in 1558.
[Here is a glimpse from some university buildings to St. John’s Church, on the corner of Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Way). With a street name like that, why, that’s my kind of town.]
[Here is an eating district on Wagner Str.]
Fast forward two centuries. (I would like to back-fill my knowledge of those two centuries in due time.) In the late 18th century Goethe, though based in neighboring Weimar, beat a retreat to Jena whenever possible. He became instrumental in the revitalization of the University and cultural life. Thus, the prestige of the University reached a new apogee in the first years of the 1800’s, when Schiller, Goethe, Fichte, and Hegel were all associated with it — and (apparently) around to “welcome” Napoleon when he arrived to crush the Prussians in 1806. What a confluence of the who’s who!
Jena became famous for its university, its advanced science and industry. Later notable figures of Jena included Haeckel, often thought of as an evolutionist, but actually with a theory of recapitulation that is almost mystical; the great logician Frege; and the optics guru Zeiss.
Jena was under Communist rule after the war, until the wall fell. One blight of the communist period that, oddly enough, the literature still boasts about, is the round tower in the center of town. Like so many marks of modern man in his immaturity and rebellion, this one has got to go.
Based on my contacts with waitresses, asking people for directions or help with laundry, etc. — admittedly I am generalizing from contacts with only a dozen or two people –, I would say the people in Jena, like many places in modern Saxony, are polite and cooperative but non-effusive; not very outgoing. There is a marked contrast with people you meet from Bavaria or other parts of West Germany. I am speculating that this is due to the half century of communism; but there may be more to it. More research is needed.
There are several house-and-garden type places to visit in Jena; however, I ran out of time. It is also not a bad location to camp out for a few days for day trips to Weimar or Naumburg, and (especially) to explore, by both car and foot, the great Napoleanic battlefields and their surrounding villages. I will expain this history and how to visit it in a future post.