In 1349, during the wave of pogroms which followed the Black Plague across Europe, the Jews of Erfurt were rounded up, with more than 100 killed and the rest driven from the city, and the ghetto burned. Recently, the remains of the medieval synagogue have been discovered beneath newer buildings, and are being restored.
In 1392 the University of Erfurt was founded, which was famous in its time, became defunct in 1816, and was refounded in 1994 by the Thuringian state parliament.
Erfurt became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1802, part of the First French Empire in 1806 as Principality of Erfurt, and was returned to Prussia in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars. Although enclosed by Thuringian territory, the city remained part of the Prussian Province of Saxony until 1944. The city was the site of the failed Erfurt Union of German states in 1850.
On April 12, 1945, during World War II, Erfurt was taken by units of the U.S. Third Army under General George Patton. On July 3, American troops left the city and it was occupied by the Soviet Red Army. In contrast to most other major German cities, Erfurt suffered only limited damage from Allied air raids during the war. Erfurt fell in the Soviet Zone of occupation, which would later become East Germany.
Erfurt has preserved an intact medieval city centre.
Erfurt is symbolised by the two churches, Erfurt Cathedral (Mariendom) and Severikirche, which stand directly side by side and together form the emblem of the city. Both churches tower above the townscape and are accessible via huge open stairs.
Another remarkable site is the Krämerbrücke, a bridge crossing the narrow Gera River. The bridge is covered with inhabited buildings. It was built in 1325 with a church on either bridgehead, one of which still functional.
Martin Luther attended the University of Erfurt and received his bachelor's and master's degrees there. Luther lived there as a student from 1501-11 and as a monk from 1505–11.
Erfurt is the birthplace of one of Johann Sebastian Bach's cousins, Johann Bernhard Bach, as well as Johann Sebastian Bach's father Johann Ambrosius Bach. Bach's parents were married in a small church that still exists on the main square, Anger. Meister Eckhart and the sociologist Max Weber also lived in the city.
Johann Pachelbel served as organist at the Prediger church in Erfurt. Pachelbel composed approximately seventy pieces for organ while in Erfurt. After 1906 the composer Richard Wetz lived in Erfurt and became the leading person in the town's musical life. His major works were written here, including three symphonies, a Requiem and a Christmas Oratorio.
Erfurt is an important population centre in the fictional United States of Europe in the alternate history book series based on the novel 1632. It is the major city of substantial size located nearest (to the displaced in time and space) town of Grantville, WV whose citizens are the joint protagonists unifying Germany and introducing the industrial revolution 'a few centuries early' during the complications posed by the Thirty Years' War.
Since 2003, the modern new built opera house is home of Theater Erfurt and its Philharmonic Orchestra. The "grand stage" section has 800 seats and the "studio stage" can hold 200 spectators. In September 2005, the opera Waiting for the Barbarians by Philip Glass premiered in the opera house.
The Erfurt Theater has been source of controversy recently. In 2005 a performance of Humperdinck's opera Hänsel und Gretel - stirred up the local press since the performance contained suggestions of pedophilia and incest. The opera was advertised in the program with the addition "for adults only".
On April 12, 2008, a version of Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Un ballo in maschera" directed by Johann Kresnik opened at the Erfurt Theater. The production stirred deep controversy by featuring nude performers in Mickey Mouse masks dancing on the ruins of the World Trade Center and a female singer with a painted on Hitler toothbrush moustache performing a straight arm Nazi salute, along with sinister portrayals of American soldiers, Uncle Sam, and Elvis Presley impersonators. The director described the production as a populist critique of modern American society, aimed at showing up the disparities between rich and poor. The controversy prompted one local politician to call for locals to boycott the performances, but this was largely ignored and the premiere was sold out.
Also there are two Autobahnen crossing each other at Erfurter Kreuz nearby: The Bundesautobahn 4 from Frankfurt am Main to Dresden and the Bundesautobahn 71 (Erfurt-Meiningen-Schweinfurt) from Würzburg to Sangerhausen (and Halle (Saale) via Bundesautobahn 38).
There have been trams in the city since 1883. Today there are seven tram lines to most of the parts of Erfurt.
Railways run from Erfurt station to Berlin (via Weimar, Naumburg, Halle and Wittenberg), Dresden (via Weimar, Naumburg, Leipzig and Riesa), Frankfurt am Main (via Gotha, Eisenach, Bebra, Fulda and Hanau), Würzburg (via Arnstadt, Suhl, Meiningen, Bad Neustadt and Schweinfurt), Ilmenau, Saalfeld, Nordhausen (via Sondershausen), Magdeburg (via Sömmerda, Sangerhausen, Staßfurt and Schönebeck), Bad Langensalza and Kassel/Göttingen (via Mühlhausen, Leinefelde-Worbis and Heiligenstadt).