What happens if you take Luther out of Lutherstadt Wittenberg? Actually that's rather difficult when the influence of Luther on history, and religious history in particular, is so great. The monuments connected with Luther, Melanchthon (aka Schwartzerdt) and others easily merit the town's inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But what if you're not necessarily into religious history? Well, this is an interesting town within easy reach of Berlin and providing a pleasant contrast with the metropolis.
The pictures show the streets and typical town buildings - and you have to remind yourself that, not so long ago, this was part of the GDR - that you might expect in many an attractive German town. In addition, however, in the Friedrichstadt area to the north, is a school transformed in the late 1990s by the architect Hundertwasser from grey to a riot of colours and shapes.
With or without Luther, Wittenberg is well worth visiting - and Hundertwasser gives it a different dimension altogether.
The Caranach Court, which was the largest private residence in his time, was built in 1506 by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). the court includes several buildings, like a paint shop, a pharmacy and a workshop. In 1773 the house was remodeled to Baroque style.
Today it is planned to create a center for the graphic and plastic arts here.
We booked a guided tour of Wittenberg at the tourist information. The tour included a talk about the history of Luther's theses and the church door, a walk down the main street, the market square, town church, the old university and a tour of the Lutherhaus, Luther's home.
Generally it was a good tour, our tour guide was knowledgable, but only about Wittenberg. The reformation process was started here, but other places throughout Europe also took part in it, something which our tourguide had never heard about. I don't know if it was local pride or simply not knowing. I suppose I couldn't expect her to know all about it , but it was somewhat disappointing that she apparently knew nothing about the reformation outside of Wittenberg.
The tour was 8 Euro.
The most famous door in Wittenberg is of course the door of the Schlosskirche, the castle church. It was on this door that Luther supposedly - it's not 100% certain - put up his 95 theses (Thank you,Robert, for telling me about the correct plural form).
He had been unhappy with the state of the Catholic church, especially with the custom of buying letters of indulgence in order to go straight to heaven after death. Basically this meant if you were rich you went to heaven, if not, bad luck.
On the first of November 1517 a meeting was planned in the castle church with many scholars and priests discussing religious subjects. Luther took advantage of this and posted his thesis on the door the evening before, 31rst October.Little did he know that this would start the reformation process, would lead to a number of new denominations and that this day would become known as reformation day.
The door today is from 18th century and shows the thesis, above them a painting of a crucifixion scene, with Luther and Melanchthon kneeling below the cross.
Around the tower the words are written from Luther's most famous choral: Ein feste Burg - A mighty fortress
We attended service in this church. It's also the university church and this showed in the service, totally intellectual, almost like a lecture in university. The night before I had attended an English service in the town church which had been the absolute opposite.
16th century was a very important period for Wittenberg. Apart from the reformation process it was also famous for art. The Cranach family was living there.
Both Cranach the Elder and the Younger were well-known artists and created lots of paintings, mostly religious ones but also portraits of many Dukes and Counts.
Cranach the Younger was considered one of the richests citizens of Wittenberg. Their family crest was the winged snake.
The yard and the houses were they used to live are now open for the public. There is a painting school, a printer's press, a café and several other small shops.
In the garden of the Lutherhaus there is a statue of Katharina von Bora, Luther's wife. She is shown walking, full of energy.
From what I know about her, she had lots of energy and she really needed all of it.
She took care of her husband's affairs, the rather large family, other monks , her husband's students - they were also living and eating with the family -, she managed to get him pay raises and she even made money by brewing beer, raising cattle and managing a large garden. A superwoman, we would say today.
She had been a nun, but had run away with some other nuns and - if history has got it right -she decided to marry Luther. He had preferred someone else, but she convinced him that she'd be the better choice.
Entering the Lutherhaus you can see the Lutherrose up on the ceiling. Martin Luther had chosen this for his crest.
It's a cross within a heart. The heart is in a white rose, white for faith and angels.This rose is sitting in the blue sky, which is surrounded by a ring. The ring is the symbol for the joy in heaven, without any beginning and end, but everlasting instead.
Inside the building there is a wonderful, large painting by Cranach the Elder about the ten commandments. Each part of the painting depicts one of the commandments and in each one you can see a devil, sometimes huge, sometimes tiny, who tries to provoke the opposite.
Picture taking was not allowed ,but I found a link to a webpage showing this painting.
On the market square there are two statues, one of Martin Luther , the other of Philipp Melanchthon.
Philipp Melanchthon was a child prodigy. At the age of 13 he was studying at Heidelberg university, with 14 he had his Bachelor degree and he was 17 when he had his master's degree. He went to Wittenberg to teach at the university there.
Luther and he became good friends and he supported Luther during the trouble with the Catholic church. Melanchthon was the author of the Confessio Augustana, a paper which still forms the base of all lutheran churches.
Without him the reformation process would have been much harder.
In 1520 Luther was threatened with excommuniacation. He went outside of the town to the place where the belongings of people dead from the plague were burned. There he put fire to the letter threatening him with excommunication. He also burnt books containing the old church law. It was on this spot that later an oak tree was planted, called the Luthereiche - Luther oak. The first tree was cut down by the French troops when they needed wood in 1813. The oak you see today was planted in 1830.
One of the first protestant pastors was Johannes Bugenhagen. I must admit I had never heard of him before my visit in Wittenberg. He was very important for the reformation since he wrote the new liturgy. His statue is standing behind the town church.
You can see that the town church is very old when you look up on the outside. There on the roof is a small sculpture which is very insulting to the Jewish faith. Directly underneath is the Holocaust Memorial.
The sculpture is from 1304 and its age protected it from removal when the church was renovated. I'm not so sure this is a valid point. There are many things and ideas from late Middle Ages, which we today consider wrong and they are not protected because they are old. I felt this sculpture should have been removed and for history's sake a photo could have been saved in a book.
Instead it was left and the Holocaust memorial was put directly underneath it. This is an unusual shape.Four plates are pushing down people, suppressing them. Through cracks in the plates which form a cross you can see the people trying to get out. The cross is to remind us of the Christian churches' part in the Holocaust.
The town church is called St Marien, which sounds like a Catholic church, but it isn't. It is in fact a protestant church.It is much smaller than the castle church. This was the church where Luther was preaching. The building is from 13th century. It holds a famous altar, painted by both Cranach the elder and the younger in 16th century.
This church is used by the English community of Wittenberg for their service. I was able to attend it, it reminded me of evensong in English churches, even though the pastor was American. There were more songs then preaching, everyone said at the beginning where they were from, it was a very nice, welcoming atmosphere.
Opposite of St Marien there is a small chapel, called Fronleichnamskirche - Church of the Feast of Corpus Christi. This is a Catholic religious holiday and I was certain this chapel would be Catholic. But no, again it was protestant. Wittenberg is not the place to find out about the denomination of a church by knowing its name.
Luther-Melanchthon-Gymnasium (Luther-Melanchthon-Grammar School) is located a bit off the main spots in the center. However, it worth a detour to see this beautifully decorated building by Hundertwasser. It is the only school in Germany that was desined by Hundertwasser. I love his work!
Every market place has such a well. They were built to supply the surrounding buildings with fresh water. Today the town has pipe lines and they wells aren't used. But they still work.
This one was drilled in 1559 and is located on Market Square.
St. Mary's Church is the oldest building in Wittenberg. The first record comes from the year 1180. The interior is very bright and the huge organ is just magnificent.
The church belongs to UNESCO's world heritage list. Once Martin Luther preached in this church. The altar, constructed in 1547 by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) is a remaining of the Reformation time.
for more photos take a look at my travelogue