CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
I graduated from Martin Luther College. The building at the hub of the campus is named the Wittenberg Collegiate Center. There are statues of Martin Luther around campus and the college’s logo is based on the Luther family crest. So it was pretty inevitable that we would visit Wittenberg while stationed in Germany. I waited until my sister and brother-in-law, who are also alumni of the same college, came so we could nerd out together!
Dr. Martin Luther was born in 1483 and became a Catholic monk. From 1508 until the end of his life in 1546 he lived in Wittenberg. In 1517 he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The theses were meant to be talking points to urge reform in the Catholic church especially in the area of indulgences. As time went on, instead of reforming the Catholic church, the followers of Martin Luther formed the Lutheran church body separate from the Catholic church. This series of events is known as the Reformation and eventually led the the 30 Years War in which different areas, towns and principalities of Germany and other parts of central Europe battled over which belief would be held in their area.
Today Wittenburg is know as LutherStadt and the entire city celebrates it’s role in the Reformation. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses, the town is busy refurbishing the Castle Church and preparing for the influx of tourists coming for the anniversary. We enjoyed walking through the old town which holds four sites which are now UNESCO World Heritage sites because of their role in the Reformation. The four sites are the Melanchthon House where Philip Melanchthon, a friend, colleague, and fellow reformer with Martin Luther, lived; the Castle Church (Schlosskirche) where the 95 Theses were nailed and where Martin Luther is buried; the Parish Church St. Marien where Luther often preached and was married; and the Luther House where Luther lived and taught.
The Luther House was originally the monastery where Luther was a monk. At the outset of the Reformation the monastery was dissolved and the buildings were repurposed. The property was given to Martin Luther and his wife as a wedding gift by John Frederick, Elector of Saxony. Part of the property became the private home of the Luther family, part became a place for Luther to teach, another part was the residence hall for students who came from great distances to learn from Luther. The grounds also supported a small working farm used to feed those who lived there.
Inside, the first two floors of the museum tell the story of Luther’s life and show artifacts such as his Bible, robe, drinking mug, and the pulpit from which he often preached at nearby church.
After Luther’s death the entire estate was turned into the Wittenberg University and therefore not much of the inside looks as it did in Luther’s day. One room that was preserved was the living and dining room. During dinner, it was common for guests and scholars to come to hear Luther talk. Many of these talks were recorded in a book called “Table Talks.” After Luther’s death, this room was preserved and often shown off to visitors. One of these visitors was Peter the Great from Russia. You can still see his signature on the door to the room – royal graffiti.
The third floor of the museum is where many pieces of art from the Reformation, likenesses of Luther, collections of his work and even his death masks are on display. The volume of these items make this the largest Reformation museum.
In the Keller (cellar) is a display about life at the Luther House. Katharine von Bora was once a nun who escaped the convent during the early days of the Reformation. She and Martin Luther were wed in Wittenberg and she efficiently ran this large house with a constant flow of scholars and other visitors. Together, they had six children. She had a large garden, cattle and even a brewery to support the household.
Our visit to the Luther House took about two hours. There is a cafe on the grounds if you get hungry or thirsty. Almost all of the signs are in both German and English. There is no parking within the old city, so you’ll have to park a few blocks out and walk in. Once you have parked for the day, it is easy to walk down the main street and see the other prominent buildings in Wittenberg: Melanchthon House, the Cranach house and studio (Reformation-era artist and family friend of Luther), the Parish Church St. Marien, and the Castle Church. The Castle Church and Luther House are on opposite ends of the street and the old town, but only a kilometer away from each other.
Tips for Your Trip:
GPS: 51.863914° N, 12.652522° E
November – March:
Tuesday – Sunday 1000-1700
April – October:
Tuesday – Sunday 0900-1800
€6.00 per adult
Combination ticket with Melanchthon‘s House:
€8.00 per adult