Considering the religious orthodoxy of my youth, I never thought it likely that I would travel to the home of Martin Luther. In fact, it seemed way beyond highly unlikely.
And yet today we visited Lutherstadt Wittenberg, home of the University of Wittenberg, and now renamed for its most famous resident.
The wooden door of the elegant Schlosskirche on which he allegedly posted his 95 theses 500 years ago is no longer there, replaced by bronze doors on which are inscribed the original text. Luther is buried inside this church.
His own parish church nearby is a more humble one, where he preached, married his wife, and baptized their children. It is where the first Protestant services took place, with the liturgy in German, all partaking of Communion, and music with singing revolutionizing the existing protocols.
His home is now preserved as a museum, with many of his published works and artifacts. Of particular interest is a chest used to collect money for the infamous indulgences that started all the trouble, and the signature of Peter the Great, who visited this home as a tourist.
Martin Luther was the best-selling author in Germany of his day, cranking out pamphlets by the hundreds. It almost seems – if I may dare to speculate – that the more famous he became, the more he expostulated on subjects far and wide. He wrote many anti-Semitic texts, which must have helped set the tone for years to come. In fact, there is a shocking relief on the side of his church showing Jewish children and a pig, that is quite nasty. The local Jewish community asked that it be left there as post-war repairs were being done, with a modern memorial to the Jews lost in the Holocaust placed below it.
The man was a revolutionary who did not set out to change the world, but who quickly had an enormous effect on the Catholic Church. Its leaders would have been much better off taking his theses seriously, but things were too far gone at that point.
At any rate, I can’t say that I can put aside years of programming to be totally objective about Martin Luther, but let’s just agree that he was indeed a man of history, whose original intentions were good. Plus, he had a very nice house.
There was one other house we visited, and this was far more contemporary. It was the House of History, a somewhat homemade affair showcasing everyday life in East Germany from 1949 to 1989. The audio guide tells a rather sad and bitter story of the deprivation and regimentation of life under the Soviets. Every house had the same furniture and furnishings, because that’s all there was – take it or leave it. Indoctrination started with kindergarten and went on from there. Refugees could be assigned to your best bedroom and the state controlled the pubs. Not a pleasant time.
Today, the town looks like a picture book, with everything neat and tidy. Before lunch, (think pork) which we ate at one of the local hotels, all the shops were still closed on Saturday morning and there was no one much on the streets. A bit spooky.
We left this morning from Berlin, whose central train station is the largest in Europe, and very nicely designed. We are ending our day in Leipzig, which is extremely bustling, with a real town center. Will get to know it a bit tomorrow.