In the course of running this website, we had included references to several locations significant to the Protestant Reformation, even including some as travelogues. As examples, you can see our travelogues of the city of Worms in Rheinland-Pfalz where the monk and profession Martin Luther made his famous stand against the Church, and the Thuringian city of Eisenach where Luther was sequestered for a year (assumed dead by his enemies, while he worked furiously on his German-language translation of the Bible). Consequently, we received e-mails from various American Protestant groups and leaders asking about Luther-oriented tours, or tours of the city of Lutherstadt Wittenberg itself. 'Hadn't been there,' we replied. Well, we decided it was time we did.
The historical significance of Wittenberg is enough of a draw. Long before the Cold War, Germany had already endured a bifurcated history with the Protestants and Catholics waging competition and occasional holy war against each other, followed too by wars among the Protestant factions themselves. We felt it was useful to learn more about the Reformation from the 'source', more or less, especially now that the Cold War is long over and places such as Wittenberg are now available (and sit as one of Germany's new long-distance train hubs).
Wittenberg was also drew us in other ways. First, it was a key location in Sachsen-Anhalt along the Elbe River, a particularly scenic and peaceful part of Germany. It is popular for riverside bike tours among farmland, fields, and low forests. Second, the city was undergoing a tremendous renovation effort to bring in tourists (especially those like us interested in its history). Third, we had only so far done the bigger cities in the former East, especially in the Saxony region (see Leipzig and Dresden). So seeing a smaller Saxon city would help round out the experience.
Wittenberg's old city is coming along just fine, although the renovation work is far from over. The heart of the downtown follows along a bend in the Elbe, though set back from it due to the flood plains. The most restored parts of the old city follow along two main east-west streets that are now pedestrian -- Coswigerstrasse / Mittelstrasse and Schlossstrasse / Collegianstrasse. We came in from the Hauptbahnhof at the east, and began our tour at the Luther Hall.
The Luther Hall is shown in the first photograph, and serves as the city's main museum. The building itself is a huge manor that included both residences and university facilities for the University of Wittenberg. The main manor building you see at left faces the Elbe river, while the museum's entrance is among the archways to the right.
The museum is about as well-organized and well-presented as any museum we have seen. Two of its four floors are dedicated to a full biography of Martin Luther's life -- focusing primarily on the conditions leading to his beginning the Reformation. These included a careful depiction of the man as strong academically with a powerful sense of conviction and purpose, despite his own self-doubt; plus an exploration of the conditions around him that included the corrupt practice of selling indulgences. Some may view the biography as unduly favorable to Luther as it does not discuss some of his supposed lesser qualities (particularly regarding to his alleged poor treatment of his family that I read elsewhere), but what would one expect?
The most interesting part of the museum was the Treasury on the top floor. Not because of its riches, like most 'treasuries', this one had an enormous quantity of old original Reformation-oriented documents stacked on shelves or opened for display. Also, one of stations on Luther's life displayed letters and documents describing the various controversies that arose during the course of the Reformation (things like the disagreements about adult baptism, for example) and how some eventually turned into greater conflict. The museum clearly achieves its goal of educating about this important event in European history.
Returning to the town, we followed along Collegienstrasse to reach the main marketsquare and the town hall. The streets were lined with newly renovated buildings, mostly commercial buildings, so under the beautiful bright sun of that Sunday the downtown seemed quite alive. Two historic buildings of note were found along the way -- Melanchthon House and Cranach House, both of which were preserved relatively well. The second and third photographs were both taken from the marketsquare. The former shows the Marienkirche, now a Protestant church, overlooking the square. The latter shows a close up of a memorial to Martin Luther himself before the town hall. This memorial has a companion memorial offset to its right honoring Philip Melanchthon.
Going beyond the town hall square, the road bent southwest toward the magnificent Schloss, the main tower of which is shown in the fourth photograph. The Schloss's claim to fame was it being where Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door. Which door? Refer to the fifth photograph. This was the main entrance to the Schlosskirche (palace church), but it is no longer the original door. The door shown here is one that was introduced much later, upon it are inscribed in Gothic text the 95 Theses.
The interior of the Schlosskirche was magnificent, with colorful marks of heraldry lined across the railing up top and a brilliant Cranach-vintage altar. Martin Luther's burial spot is located in front and to the right of the altar. Walking around the inside, we felt the full weight of its history on our shoulders.
The rest of the Schloss, however, left some to be desired. It has been totally neglected, its exterior bricks dulled and crumbling, and the courtyard unpaved and muddied. The opposite view from the park was no better -- the tower and church were not so bad but the rest of the building is in need of multi-million dollar repairs. Perhaps those days will come.
History aside, we also enjoyed one of the best lunches we've had anywhere. We strongly recommend seeking out the old historical brewhouse just off the main square. The entrance alleyway is really beautiful, with wooden balconies overhead that would probably host flowerpots in the summer. The food and beer inside were first rate and the interior was gorgeous. Perfectly set up for tourists, we would say.
Wittenberg was a fabulous trip. We recommend it for anymore, although certainly those not interested in its religious history are less likely to devote special time to it. Even so, it's location on the Elbe and the main train line from Leipzig to Berlin makes it an ideal stop.
Trip taken 14 March 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin