On our recent vacation, we explored the part of Germany where the Reformer Martin Luther’s tracks run deep, namely Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt.
The first stop was Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt, where the Reformation began, as it were, with the watershed event of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the church door of the Schlosskirche in 1517.
Luther, who came from the region, was first a student in theology at the University of Wittenberg and later a minister in the Marienkerk and there he campaigned against the abuse of power and errors of the church – not with the intention of bringing the church to not to make it, but to return it to its roots of the gospel message. His message fell on fertile ground in this area and the areas in present-day East Germany were among the first followers and supporters of Luther.
Wittenberg proudly calls itself “Lutherstadt Wittenberg” and Luther’s name is everywhere. The irony of the matter is, however, that in this birthplace of the Reformation today only 15% of the population still belong to the Lutheran faith, by far the majority are secular (the Catholic Church is even less of a factor here).
Wittenberg not only has a great history, its old town is also a gem of beautiful squares, now cobblestone streets. The person who made Wittenberg his capital and built it up beautifully was the prince Frederik the Wise, who lived from 1486 to 1525 and who also became the protector of Luther.
Luther’s clash with the emperor Karl V as protector of the Catholic Church, he literally would not have survived if there were not powerful territorial princes like Frederik who helped the Reformation to its breakthrough.
Another place that played a key role for Luther and the Reformation and which we also visited is the Wartburg, a mighty castle above the city of Eisenach in Thuringia. It belonged to the very Frederick the Wise and is where Luther, after the emperor declared him bird-free, hid disguised as a knight. He used his exile to translate the Bible into German in a small room. According to tradition, the devil appeared to him to tease him and Luther threw his inkpot at him which left a black spot on the wall.
Another place in Thuringia that was significant for the Reformation is the town of Schmalkalden. To defend the Reformation against the powerful emperor and the Catholic Church (who wanted to nip it in the bud), the princes who supported Luther and his Reformation here in 1531 Schmalkaldischer Bund (Alliance of Schmalkalde) founded.
It consisted of the first Protestant states within the German Empire, Hesse, Thuringia, Saxony and Prussia. With the Small Chaldean War from 1546 to 1547, this alliance was attacked by the emperor and finally had to give up, but the Reformation did live on despite all attempts at suppression.
Schmalkalden’s fully preserved old town, with the castle on one side on the mountain and the main square with the cathedral down in the center of town, is quite picturesque. In addition to the many historical places, Thuringia also offers a lot of unspoiled nature with forests and mountains where you can enjoy wonderful walks.