National Lutheran News

Make Luther land a destination stop

Martin and Katharina Luther’s wedding celebration is re-enacted. “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is inscribed on the turret of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Photo courtesy of Mark Laiosa

Martin Luther’s amazing life becomes all-the-more remarkable when viewing the key sites of his journey. Beginning in Berlin, the pilgrimage can be made in one week traveling by train. Whether the trip is taken solo or with a companion, careful planning and point-to-point tickets will be less expensive than a rail pass. Accommodations vary, so plan ahead and save. Such a non-chronological tour makes best use of time and travel dollars.

About 45 minutes southwest of Berlin is Wittenberg, where the Reformation began in 1517. The Castle Church turret with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” inscribed in German greets the arriving tourist.

The original doors of the Castle Church, where Luther nailed his 95 theses, were destroyed during the Seven Years War. A reproduction was cast in bronze in the late 1800s and mounted where the side doors had been. Enter the church to the right of the theses and visit Luther’s final resting place. His tomb is in front of the pulpit, usually bedecked with flowers, the gifts of pilgrims.

Visit in early June for a three-day festival celebrating the marriage of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, complete with costumed re-enactors, musicians, food, and English language services. The town church of St. Mary’s holds Lucas Cranach’s altar painting, including a panel picturing Luther, Melanchthon, and Bugenhagen.

Behind the panel is another painting with student graffiti done centuries ago. After a student passed his exams, he added his name to the river of knowledge; if he failed, he was “damned” and went to “hell.” Look carefully at those names for Johannes Luther, Martin and Katharina’s son. He went on to have a successful law career. Can you guess where Johannes scratched his name?

And after Wittenberg …

Luther spent most of his life in Wittenberg, teaching at the university, raising his family, and refining his ideas with the likes of Philipp Melanchthon, all under the protection of the Catholic Frederick II (the Wise). Stop by the Luther Oak, planted in the early 19th century, where legend states that Luther burned the Papal Bull threatening excommunication if he did not recant his theses.

In 1501, Luther was a promising law student at the University of Erfurt. While traveling, he found himself in the midst of a thunderstorm. He promised that, if he survived, he would become a monk. Thus he entered the Augustinian monastery.

The room in Wartberg Castle, where Luther wrote his New Testament translation on the desk top.

In contrast to the opulence of the castle, Luther lived in humble circumstances.

The simple life wasn’t a good match with his robust intellectual spirit. Luther became a priest in 1507 and, soon after, a teacher. Visit his monk’s cell in the Martin Luther Museum, including his writing table and simple artifacts. The wall text is in English. The Georgenburse was Luther’s dorm when he was at University, showing student life in the Middle Ages. The architecture of the Cathedral and adjacent St. Severus are worth a visit.

Luther’s criticism of Catholic Church policies brought the full brunt of the ecclesiastical authorities and the emperor. Luther was excommunicated; he needed protection and found it in a small room in Wartburg Castle, very close to Erfurt. He spent almost a year translating the Greek language New Testament into German. This translation gave the common people a direct relationship with God, and laid the foundation for the modern German language. In contrast to the opulence of the castle, Luther lived in humble circumstances. A small collection of paintings related to Luther’s life is in the castle museum.

The town of Eisenach, at the base of a mountain, is the location of Luther’s childhood home. It contains representative furnishings of the Luther family. J.S. Bach’s birth house is minutes away with a state-of-the-art museum joined to a house that might have been the birth house, but representative of the architecture of the late 16th century. Don’t miss the computer-generated head of Bach that is based on his death mask.

Visit Luther’s birthplace in Eisleben, a small village not far from Berlin. His father’s original name was Luder, and was later changed to Luther. He owned a copper smelter, was affluent for the time, and owned the half-timbered house. The exterior has a porcelain image of Luther.

The modern annex has English panels describing the household. A short bed was filled with straw, and people slept sitting up. Recordings of crying babies, foot steps, doors squeaking, and general domestic sounds make the house come alive so that the visitor almost expects a young Martin to come in and say hello!

For more information …

To plan a trip, go to www.visitgermany.com. The following pages have English links www.eisleben.eu, www.wittenberg.de, www.eisenach.de, and www.erfurt.de. And, www.raileurope.com offers train tickets.

Mark Laiosa is a freelance writer living in New York.

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