Köthen sits in a rich agricultural plain, but unless you are a sugar beet nut, you are not coming to the city to see what’s growing.
You might be coming for the history museum, as Köthen has been settled since the Stone Ages. And this very town was the capital of its own country, Anhalt-Köthen, for nearly 200 years.
Yet it is likely that you are not visiting to see any of these things. Hundreds of thousands of people visit Köthen each year to pay homage to the memory of a dead man instead. It helps that it’s Bach. He worked in the city for 6 years, and was very successful and prolific in his music during that time. The castle of his patron, Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen, was where many of his secular works were first performed.
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Now restored from its bombing in 1944, the castle has a Hall of Mirrors like Versailles, and is open to the public. In its halls and galleries a Bach festival has been hosted with great success since 1967. Seeing Bach’s music performed where it was written is a concept that has proved so popular that the large numbers of concerts held during the festival now overflow from the castle into the local churches.
That’s a good thing — the local churches are pretty amazing. The church of St. James has a pair of turret-like towers that dominate the landscape, and St. Agnus church was where Bach attended when he was in Köthen. St. Agnus is 400 years old, which St. James is an impressive 609 years old.
If you find that all the crowds overwhelm and you feel ill, don’t worry… Köthen was also the home to Samuel Hahnemann, who founded homeopathy, an alternative medicine practice that is gentle on the body. The European Homeopathic Library is here, and the town is the national center of homeopathy in Germany.