Above/featured: “Luther war hier. // Luther was here.” Eisleben, Germany – 27 Oct 2016.
In pre-teen years, I attended a Catholic elementary school by weekday, and a missions-oriented Protestant church by weekend. I already had multiple questions running around my pre-scientist brain, like electrons appearing and dissipating in a fuzzy halo. When various disparate elements began to settle with few satisfying answers, I left behind the churches and their respective religions. But one thing that’s remained is my love of history. History has never been boring, because I carry the past (as offspring of immigrants), and I’m determined to bring history’s lessons into the present.
Even in youth, I had to ask: why was one set of churches called “Protestant”? What was under protest? How did one man help spark a movement that would help merge and create a version of a language that continues today, that would bring accessible means to literacy for the public, and that would begin to change rule by religion to rule by law?
Martin Luther (‘Luder’, at birth)
From his birth in Eisleben; to formative years in Mansfeld, Magdeburg, and Erfurt; to the bulk of his working and teaching years in Wittenberg; to his death in Eisleben, Martin Luther set upon a course that helped change language, education, culture, religion, and governance. In many ways, Luther had much to thank Jan Hus for the latter’s efforts to reform the Catholic Church in Bohemia one hundred years earlier.
Every year on the 31st of October, a number of cities, regions, and federal states in Germany mark an important event in this movement. It’s widely understood Martin Luther walked up to the Castle Church in Wittenberg and pinned his 95 Theses to the church doors on 31 October 1517. Even if direct evidence Luther actually posted papers to the doors is debatable, what’s not is that 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Germany.
16 places in Germany
Luther influenced people and cities throughout what is now present-day Germany. In a non-exhaustive list, here are 16 cities (in alphabetical order) where he left his mark: 6 are in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, 3 in Thuringia, 2 in Saxony, 2 in Rhineland-Palatinate, 2 in Bavaria, and 1 in the state of Baden-Württemberg.
- Augsburg (Bavaria)
- Dessau (Saxony-Anhalt)
- Dresden (Saxony)
- Eisenach (Thuringia)
- Eisleben (Saxony-Anhalt)
- Erfurt (Thuringia)
- Halle an der Saale (Saxony-Anhalt)
- Heidelberg (Baden-Württemberg)
- Leipzig (Saxony)
- Magdeburg (Saxony-Anhalt)
- Mansfeld (Saxony-Anhalt)
- Mittenwald (Bavaria)
- Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)
- Weimar (Thuringia)
- Wittenberg (Saxony-Anhalt)
- Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate)
- More & maps
Every city listed above is accessible with German national rail (Deutsche Bahn).
1. Augsburg (Bavaria)
In 1518, Martin Luther was called to Augsburg to meet with Cardinal Cajetan. Cajetan ordered Luther to withdraw statements challenging the morality of the practice of indulgences and the authority of the Pope. Luther refused and with Cajetan’s subsequent orders to arrest Luther looming large, Luther managed to escape Augsburg. In the Augsburg Confessions (Confessio Augustana), Phillip Melanchthon set down into print the underlying principles of the Reformation as “confessions” in 1530. The document was delivered to and read by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg. In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg recognized the Confessions and allowed local rulers the authority to decide what religion their subjects could follow (cuius regio, eius religio).
• At the Domportal: REVOCA! Cajetan demanded of Luther in 1518; Luther said ‘no’.
2. Dessau (Saxony-Anhalt)
Situated only 30 kilometres (20 miles) west from Wittenberg, Martin Luther visited Dessau regularly and preached at St. Mary’s Church (Marienkirche). The city’s authorities declared the city as Lutheran in 1534, and in the same year on the Thursday before Easter, Luther offered communion to the community. Today the building is used as event space for the public.
3. Dresden (Saxony)
Standing in the square in front of Dresden’s landmark Frauenkirche is a late 19th-century memorial to Luther’s visit to the city in 1516 and 1517. The memorial statue was destroyed along with the church in Allied air raids of 1945. Post-reunification meant repair funding and work, and the statue was restored and reinstalled in conjunction with the unveiling of the Frauenkirche in 2005.
4. Eisenach (Thuringia)
After being called to the Imperial Diet (parliament) of Worms in 1521 to answer charges of heresy, Luther departed with his life under threat. His benefactor Frederick the Wise of Saxony arranged to have Luther “kidnapped” and brought to Wartburg Castle in Eisenach to ensure Luther’s safety. In Wartburg, Luther hid as “Junker Jörg” (Knight George), and proceeded to translate the New Testament from Greek into German. From a variety of dialects at the time, he created a common simplified version of German to ensure accessibility to as many people as possible which would improve literacy at large. The Wartburg Castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
5. Eisleben (Saxony-Anhalt)
Eisleben is the city where Martin Luther was born in 1483 and where he died in 1546. However, most of his youth- and adult-years were spent in Mansfeld and Wittenberg, respectively; see below. The Luther Birth- and Death Houses are part of the inscription as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Below is a picture from inside the Peter-Pauli-Kirche (Peter and Paul Church) where Luther was baptized the day after he was born.
6. Erfurt (Thuringia)
Erfurt is the city where Luther enrolled at the University of Erfurt in 1501 to successfully complete the Baccaleureat and Master’s degrees in arts and humanities, and where he changed his life and entered the Augustine monastery in 1505 at the age of 22 to become a monk. After successfully hiding out in Eisenach’s Wartburg Castle (see above), he visited the Kaufmannskirche (Merchants’ Church) in 1522.
7. Halle an der Saale (Saxony-Anhalt)
Halle was the home of Luther’s great rival, Cardinal Albrecht, Archbishop of Magdeburg and Mainz, who was the highest-ranking dignitary after the Pope in the Holy Roman Empire. Albrecht would have been the recipient of Luther’s letter with arguments against Catholic dogma and challenges against excess by Albrecht and the Church. Albrecht would eventually be forced out of Halle in 1541. After Luther’s death in Eisleben in 1546, the subsequent funeral procession on foot to Wittenberg stopped in Halle where molds of his death mask and hands were made. These relics now reside in the Marktkirche St. Marien (St. Mary’s Market Church). Across from the church is Germany’s oldest and likely largest Protestant library, the Marienbibliothek, with several Luther Bibles.
8. Heidelberg (Baden-Württemberg)
The Universitätsplatz (University Square) in Heidelberg is over the foundation walls of the former Augustinian monastery. To commemorate Luther’s visit to the monastery and debate (Disputation) in 1518, a memorial plaque was installed at Universitätsplatz in 1983. The plaque reads:
“Martin Luther (1483-1546): zum Gedenken an seinen Aufenthalt im Kloster der Augustiner und an seine Heidelberger Disputation am 26. April 1518. Im Lutherjahr 1983.” // “In commemoration of his Heidelberg visit at the Augustinian monastery and debate on the 26th of April 1518. In Luther year 1983 (500th anniversary of his birth).”
9. Leipzig (Saxony)
The Leipzig Disputation in 1519 pitted Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Andreas Bodenstein (Karlstadt) against Johannes Eck from Ingolstadt. During the debates, the Protestant reformers cast doubt on the absolute doctrinal authority of the Pope. The Reformation movement bore fruit in the city with the first Lutheran sermons in 1522. Luther returned to Leipzig in 1539 with a visit to St. Thomas Church after the city converted officially to the Reformation. This same church is best known for Johann Sebastian Bach; he was the church’s Kapellmeister (music director) from 1723 until his death in 1750, and his grave is near the church’s main altar.
10. Magdeburg (Saxony-Anhalt)
In 1497 at the age of 14, Luther left Mansfeld for further education in Magdeburg for about a year, before he moved onto Eisenach and Erfurt. Luther would subsequently visit Magdeburg a number of times later in life. Most notably in 1524, he visited the Johanniskirche (St. John’s Church) and his sermon helped convince most of the city’s council to convert to the Reformation. A monument to Luther by Emil Hundrieser in 1886 now stands in front of St. John’s Church.
11. Mansfeld (Saxony-Anhalt)
Shortly after Martin was born in 1483, his parents, Hans and Margarete Luder, moved the household from Eisleben to nearby Mansfeld for better economic opportunities; historically, the surrounding area was dotted with many mines for ore and minerals. With steady income from mining and subsequent mining operations, the Luder family lived comfortably, and Martin’s parents lived in Mansfeld for the rest of their lives. Martin grew up in Mansfeld until the age of 14. In 1497, Martin departed for Magdeburg and Eisenach to further his education. Martin would sign documents and letters with the surname evolving from Luder to Eleutherius to Luther. The restored family house and the modern museum across the street provide an account for life in the late-15th and early-16th century in the Mansfeld-Südharz region.
12. Mittenwald (Bavaria)
In 1511, Luther and a colleague were sent to Rome on a business trip for the Augustinian order. Luther began and ended the trip in Erfurt. On the return journey, he likely stopped in Mittenwald where it’s thought he spent the night in the Pilgerhaus (Pilgrim House). Although there’s no direct evidence of his time in Mittenwald, the Pilgerhaus and the local evangelical church (Evangelisch-Lutherische Dreifaltigkeitskirche Mittenwald) have respectively signage and a monument commemorating Luther’s visit.
13. Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)
Completed in 1904, the Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church) acknowledges the reformers’ protests against the reinstatement of the absolute authority of the Catholic Church at the Imperial Diet (royal parliament) in Speyer in 1529. To a large extent, reformers from this point forward would become “protestants”, as the Reformation gathered additional steam to become the Protestant movement.
14. Weimar (Thuringia)
Weimar’s St. Peter and Paul parish church (also called the Herder Church) contains a pulpit that was used by Luther between 1518 and 1540. The church also features the 1555 altar triptych. The triptych was painted by Lucas Cranach the Senior and Junior, both of whom were Luther’s contemporaries. The altar piece is an important testament to Reformation history for Weimar and present-day Thuringia. The Herder Church is part of the “Classic Weimar” inscription as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.
15. Wittenberg (Saxony-Anhalt)
Wittenberg is where Martin Luther spent a large part of his life and career, happily married to former nun Katharina von Bora who would be his business and managing partner. Four sites make up the town’s inscription as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996: St. Mary’s Town Church, Castle Church, Luther House, and Melanchthon House. Wittenberg will be a centre of attention for events marking the Reformation quincentenary in 2017.
16. Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate)
Martin Luther was called to the Imperial Diet (parliament) of Worms in 1521 to answer charges of heresy. He went to Worms to defend himself, but he would have been wary, no doubt thinking about what happened to Bohemian reformer Jan Hus in 1415. Luther denied all charges and stuck to his arguments against excess and absolute authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church. Designed by Ernst Rietschel and unveiled in 1868, the Luther Memorial in Worms is the world’s largest Reformation monument which also includes other important persons of the Reformation.
More & Maps
Click on the arrow-window icon at the upper-left corner of the map below for details.
The map below of “Luther Country” in the German federal states of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia shows places where Martin Luther left his mark; nine cities marked with orange squares are included in the list above.
This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-9aV. I made all photos with a Canon EOS6D mark1 on visits between December 2014 and March 2017. Leipzig Tourismus und Marketing supported my visit in December 2014. Germany Tourism, Visit Thuringia, and TMG Saxony supported visits to Erfurt, Weimar, Dresden in April 2015. In December 2015, Romantic Cities (Rheinland-Pfalz) supported visits to Speyer and Worms, and Magdeburg MMKT supported my visit. IMG Sachsen-Anhalt supported my October 2016 visit to the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt with additional assistance from the cities of Eisleben-Mansfeld, Dessau-Rosslau, Wittenberg, and Halle. Augsburg Tourismus supported my visit in March 2017.