Lutherstadt Wittenberg & Berlin

Given it is the 500th year of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door in Wittenberg, we had always planned to make that a stop on our European tour. Originally we thought we would take the train from Prague to Wittenberg (as it is south of Berlin) and then on to Berlin but I discovered when I tried to book the train tickets that the train to Wittenberg from Prague actually went through Berlin first. So it made sense to rather just stay 3 nights in Berlin and take the train down and back again one of the days. That is what we did today.

Our train was at 9:30am – it is only 40 minutes down to Lutherstadt Wittenberg (the town renamed itself relatively recently so important is Luther to its history). Helen and I visited Wittenberg in 1993 shortly after reunification (Wittenberg was part of East Germany) and we could see the effects of East Germany on the town at the time. It was very run down but today we got a totally different impression and it is now a quaint small town proudly celebrating its history and connection to Martin Luther and the Reformation. The whole town is focused on the 500th anniversary of Luther’s rebellion against the Catholic Church and there are numerous special displays for the event.

Our first stop was Lutherhaus which was originally the monastery that Luther took over and then became his personal house. It is much larger than I expected and you had to keep reminding yourself it was actually originally a monastery. The displays and history of Luther’s life are very informative and well done. Definitely worth the relatively low entrance fee. What struck me about Luther was (a) how hard-working he was and (b) what a huge impact he had on both Church and secular life (not just in Germany but throughout the world). I could write a blog post just on Luther (and I might still) but I’ll restrict myself for now to illustrate the (a) and (b) above.

Regarding how hard he worked, he translated the New Testament from Greek to German in 11 weeks. Admittedly he was in isolation at the time (to keep him from further threatening the Church doctrine and in particular indulgences) but it shows how he was prepared to turn difficult circumstances into something positive by simply working hard.  In addition, Luther wrote a lot challenging many of the traditional Catholic doctrines. In 1924, 15% of all the printed books in German came from Wittenberg and most of them were written by Luther himself.

Regarding the impact on Church and secular life, here are some of the impacts Luther had:

  • he believed each person to be equal in God’s eyes (both men and women) and so his wife ran the household as her domain entirely (totally against the culture of the day). She was also a pretty good business woman it seems as they ended up with the largest amount of property in Wittenberg and definitely had the most sheep, goats & cows at the time Luther died (sign of their wealth).
  • he introduced schooling for girls (again a totally unique concept at the time)
  • he introduced a ‘community chest’ in the town square where people with wealth could contribute to those who were struggling financially (I wonder if this is the origin of the charity Community Chest?)
  • he allowed parishioners to partake of both the bread and wine (Catholic Church only allowed them to have the bread)
  • he stopped the use of the confessional booth and said confession of sins for salvation was sufficient and that your daily walk with God in faith was what was important
  • he stopped indulgences entirely (which was just a way at the time of taking money from the poor in his view – and he was right)
  • most importantly after studying Romans he concluded that we are saved by grace alone and no works at all matter

He always encouraged non-violence and even during the Peasants War in Germany he kept stressing to both sides that war was not the way to resolve the conflict and when the peasants were defeated he stressed the need for grace from the victors (though it seems this wasn’t heeded). He believed the way to change people’s minds was through dialogue and discussion and so each night he would discuss a variety of topics with the students who were living in his house (the students started taking notes and these were eventually printed in what is known today as Table Talks).

Luther also had some priorities sorted out.  He built a cellar under his house to store his wine and beer. We preferred wine to beer though he drank both. In fact his wife (Katharina) brewed the beer herself (I have asked Helen why she hasn’t been doing that for me?!).  The only annoying thing about the visit to the house was that there were a large group of Asians touring too. They were taking photos of everything and had to pose next to each picture of Luther (and I’m not exaggerating). But they also took photos posed next to random items (like a chair or a book or leaning on the railing .. see example of photo of Chloe!). They will have to spend hours going through all those photos! After the visit to his house we went to the Stadtkirsch where Luther used to preach.  We unfortunately couldn’t go in as there was a prayer service operating at the time. Finally we went to Castle Church which is where he nailed his 95 theses on the door 500 years ago. The door is unfortunately no longer there but has been replaced by commemorative doors with the 95 theses engraved on them (this was done in 1858 to commemorate Luther’s 375th birthday).

We took the train back into Berlin and decided to walk from the station back to our hotel (about 2.5 kms) as the walk takes you past the Reichstag building and through the Brandenburg Gate. The Reichstag building now houses the German parliament but in fact wasn’t used from 1933 to 1999. It was damaged by fire in 1933 and then damaged further during WWII. It was right on the border of East & West Berlin (the wall ran right behind the building). It was almost torn down in 1950s but they decided against it and eventually after reunification the building was restored and parliament moved back to Berlin and into the building from 1999.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was 4:30pm and our feet and legs were very tired. We had dinner tonight at an Asian restaurant near the hotel (we didn’t feel like walking very far!). The food was pretty good and as always the company was good again. My nephew joined us for most of the day. He was offended I didn’t include him in the sign off from yesterday so I’ve added him today (but because he was offended I’ve added him to the appropriate spot).

Until tomorrow

H (because she ordered breakfast in her broken German today from a grumpy lady and because she said no one ever gets above me .. #provedwrong), P, S, M, O, C & D

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