Wittenberg is famous for only one thing, and that one thing draws visitors by the thousands from all over the world. From 1508 to 1546 it was the home of Martin Luther — the place where he taught, where he preached, where he defied the church, and where he allegedly nailed those 95 theses to the castle door. So much does his memory dominate this small town in Saxony-Anhalt that its official name is actually "Lutherstadt Wittenberg." Not even the atheistic communist regime of East Germany was able to eradicate his influence; in fact they more or less adopted him as a "hero of the common folk."
Wittenberg began as a fortress around 1130, and achieved town status in 1293. Its university was formed in 1502, becoming a center of European intellectual life during the time of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, but later merged with nearby Halle University as Wittenberg increasingly became a backwater place. Today, its historic core is a beautifully preserved bit of the past attracting a great many tourists and church groups, while the newer sections have been prospering since reunification.
Trains of the IC and ICE classes leave Berlin's Hauptbahnhof Station at about one-hour intervals for the 40-minute run to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, with return until mid-evening. There are also slower (and cheaper) trains of the RE class that take a bit over an hour.
By Car, Wittenberg lies about 108 km (67 miles) southwest of Berlin. Take the A-9 (E-51) Autobahn south to Coswig, then the B-187 east. Park as close to Lutherhalle as possible.
Some sights are closed on Mondays between November and March. The Tourist Information Office (Wittenberg-Information), T: (03491) 498-610, W: wittenberg.de, is at Schlossplatz 2. Wittenberg has a population of about 47,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Heavily touristed Wittenberg abounds in places to eat. Here are a few good choices:
Schlosskeller (Schlossplatz 1, behind the Schlosskirche) Dining in a cavernous cellar deep below the ancient castle, very atmospheric and tasty. T: (03491) 480-805. €€
Brauhaus (Markt 6, on the Market Place) Local dishes and freshly-brewed beer, indoors or out. T: (03491) 433-130. € and €€
Kartoffelhaus (Schlossstrasse 2, near the Market Place) Serves a variety of tasty potato-based dishes. T: (03491) 411-200. €
Click on map to enlarge
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Those coming by rail will begin at the train station (Bahnhof Lutherstadt Wittenberg) (1), located outside the town proper but within walking distance. Just beyond the railroad underpass, on the right, stands the so-called Luther Oak (Luthereiche) (2). Planted in the 19th century, it commemorates Luther's public burning of the Bull of Excommunication on December 10th, 1520. Although this action is historically documented, its exact location is not, so the tree may or may not be in the right place.
Stroll a few yards up Collegienstrasse to the:
*LUTHERHALLE (3), T: (03491) 420-30, W: martinluther.de. Open April-Oct., daily 9-6; Nov.-March, Tues.-Sun. 10-5. €.
This is the former Augustinian monastery (photo, above) in which Luther lived in 1508 and from 1511 until his death in 1546. Although the monastery was closed in 1522, Luther continued to reside here (with his wife and family since 1525), and in 1532 the building was given to him as a present. His heirs sold it to the University in 1546, who used it until 1816, after which it housed a theological training college and later a free school for the poor. Since 1883 the structure has been occupied by the Museum for the History of the Reformation (Reformationsgeschichtliches Museum). Luther's living quarters have been preserved, and there are numerous artifacts relating to him. Among the treasures are paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (portrait of Luther, above) and other artists of the German Renaissance, early Bibles, exhibits devoted to Luther's monumental translation of the Bible into German, and much documentary evidence of the turmoil he created.
A few yards up Collegienstrasse stands the:
MELANCHTHONHAUS (4), T: (03491) 403-279, W: martinluther.de. Open April-Oct., daily 9-6; Nov.-March, Tues.-Sun. 10-5. €.
Luther's closest colleague Philipp Melanchthon lived here from 1536 until his death in 1560. His actual family name was Schwarzend, but he adopted the Greek translation of that when he became a professor of Greek at Wittenberg in 1519. Melanchthon's influence on the Reformation was considerable as he was a far more tolerant man than Luther, able to reconcile differences between factions and bring about a measure of Christian unity. The house, given to him as a gift by the local ruler, is quite handsome and today houses both memorabilia of his life and a small museum of local history.
Follow the map to the Town Church (Stadtkirche St. Marien) (5) (photo, above), a triple-aisle Gothic structure begun around 1280 and modified over the years. Martin Luther preached here frequently, and it was here that he was wed and had his children baptized. His marriage, in 1525, was quite a daring act for a monk, especially as his bride was a nun. The most striking item in the church is its *Reformation Altarpiece, an unusual triptych by Lucas Cranach the Elder, the famous artist and friend of Luther. The center panel of this masterpiece depicts the Last Supper, with Jesus and the twelve apostles seated around a circular table, portraying Luther as the twelfth disciple. The bottom panel shows Luther preaching from a pulpit, with the crucified Christ in front of him.
Continue on to the nearby Market Place (Markt) (6) (photo, above), a large open square fronted by the impressive 16th-century Town Hall (Rathaus). Inside, there is an exhibition of 20th-century biblical art by such talents as Picasso, Chagal, and Beckmann. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-5. €.
In front of this are two large, canopied statues — one of Luther and the other of Melanchthon. Leading off from the south side, at Schlossstrasse 1, is the home of the artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, who was also the mayor of Wittenberg. Stroll down into the courtyard (7), where Cranach had his workshop and apothecary.
Schlossstrasse leads to the Palace Church (Schlosskirche) (8), one of the few remaining parts of the former palace complex. It was to the door here that Martin Luther supposedly nailed his famous 95 Theses condemning the doctrine of indulgences on October 31, 1517. Whether this actually happened is uncertain, but the original door has long been replaced with a bronze one inscribed with the full text in Latin. The church, the site of the first Protestant service ever, also contains the tombs of both Luther and Melanchthon. The church tower, 288 feet high, is topped with a crown-shaped dome under which is inscribed the opening words of that famous Lutheran hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. It may be climbed for a good view, should you have the energy left. T: (03491) 402-585. Church open daily 10-6. Free. Tower open Mon.-Fri., noon-4; weekends 10-5. €.
Behind the Palace Church stand what remains of the once-great palace, built at the beginning of the 16th century. In its courtyard is another attraction, the Schlosskeller, a colorful cellar restaurant where you can stop for a drink or a meal before heading back to the station.
Copyright © 2008 by Earl Steinbicker.
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