The walls of the Bastille ensemble of buildings have the rugged charm of a medieval defensive structure as well as the characteristically wild tectonics of a complex that has been expanded over a matter of centuries. The buildings have been in uninterrupted use for more than five hundred years, and to this day the electoral coat of arms is emblazoned above the gatehouse, a symbol of the Ernestine dynasty's unbroken claim to the dignity of elector, long after this power was lost.
For a long time, this gatehouse was also the home of the sovereign court and administration. The detention chambers, some still equipped with benches and anchor loops for the iron shackles, are in the cellar. The most prominent detainee was most likely Johann Sebastian Bach, and there is a high probability that the ill-fated maid and child murderer Johanna Catharina Höhn was held here until her execution by beheading on 28 November 1783. The views of the still young Enlightenment and its protagonists – in particular Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who had only recently arrived in Weimar – were severely put to the test by this historical criminal case. The Duke Carl August envisaged such draconian punishments for the young maid that the “Secret Consilium” of the Weimar principality instead recommended the death penalty as a more compassionate alternative. On the day, 300 soldiers were required to secure the public execution against the anger of the public.
We can only guess at the number of tragedies and fortunes that have played out in this ensemble over the centuries. On the other side of these storied walls, the courtyard side will be a perfect backdrop for transporting the Genius Loci audience to times long past.