Halfway between Leipzig and Potsdam lies Wittenberg, the birthplace of Martin Luther, the figurehead of the Protestant Reformation. A trip to this German city means that you can delve into the fascinating life and works of the great reformer and learn about his impact on Christianity. Therefore, the city holds a special place in the hearts of history enthusiasts and religious pilgrims. Whether you are drawn to its religious significance or architectural wonders, Wittenberg promises an unforgettable journey through time. Here are the top things you need to experience when visiting.
What was initially built as an Augustinian monastery, served as the home of the Luther family in the early to mid-1500s. These days, the building is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds a museum dedicated to the life and works of the Protestant Reformation leader. On display are various examples of his manuscripts, paintings, Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Ten Commandments and a Lutheran Bible from 1534. Visitors also get to see where Luther participated in the Table Talks.
Another famous humanist and reformer who lived and worked in Wittenberg and a great friend to Martin Luther was Philipp Melanchthon. In homage to Philipp Melanchthon’s legacy, his former family home has been converted into a museum which documents his doing with artefacts from, including an oversized portrait of the man, created by the renowned artist Lucas Cranach the Younger. The building itself is a sight to see with windows stemming from the late Gothic period, in addition to Renaissance gables.
A must-see during your visit of Wittenberg is the Castle Church. What’s considered an architectural gem already, is also a place of historical importance. Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the church door back in 1517, an act which helped bring about the Protestant Reformation. Though the original doors were destroyed, the words are inscribed in the massive bronze doors. Both Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon are buried here.
None other than the Viennese artist and visionary Friedensreich Hundertwasser designed the Luther-Melanchthon grammar school. The world-renowned architect took it on himself to transform the uninspiring GDR-era block into a piece of art as one of the last projects of his lifetime. Today, the so-called Hundertwasserschule draws art and architecture fans to the site who admire the vivid colours and wavy shapes the artist is known for. Guided tours in English are available but need to be arranged ahead of time.
Church of St. Mary
The castle church mentioned above is not the only one worth visiting. Also known as the ‘Mother Church of the Reformation’, the Church of St. Mary was the scene of Martin Luther’s wedding to Katharina von Bora. Its iconic octagonal twin towers soar high above the city centre, but it’s the ecclesial treasures inside that draw the crowds. Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son joined efforts to create the imposing altarpiece which was unveiled in 1547, and are symbolic of the shift happening in the religious art of the time.
Cranach House and Courtyard
As far as famous residents of Wittenberg go, the list wouldn’t be complete without shedding more light on Lucas Cranach, the Elder. The painter spent 45 years of his life at Cranach House and was a jack of all trades – artist, pharmacist, farmer and founder of a printing company which was the first to print Luther’s translation of the New Testament. Visitors can explore both his former residence and the neighbouring courtyard.
Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz
One of Germany’s most beautiful gardens is about half an hour east of Wittenberg. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the sprawling parklands of the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz lure with meadows, colourful flower beds, ponds, lakes and several chalets and palaces. When they were completed in the 18th century, they were the first English-style landscape garden in continental Europe and to this day, they enchant visitors who choose to spend a day strolling around the beautifully-designed park.
If you’re a fan of beer and German food, the Brauhaus Wittenberg brewhouse is for you. The restaurant occupies a lovely spot near the main attractions and dishes up hearty traditional German meals such as matie fillet, beef roulades and Königsberger Klopse (meatballs in caper sauce). Their delicious food is best washed down with their home-brewed beers.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolutionary act of nailing his 95 theses to the church doors, the artists Yadegar Asisi opened the 360°-panorama installation Luther 1517 depicting scenes of the reformer’s life and thea impact he had on those around him and on religious faith. Visitors can climb a viewing platform to look down on the giant artwork and spot Martin Luther, as well as his wife Katharina von Bora and friends Philipp Melanchthon and Lucas Cranach.
Market Square Lutherstadt Wittenberg
Much of public life centres around the spacious market square, needless to say, it’s one of the best spots in town to meet the locals. People come here to do their shop at the weekly farmers’ markets, have a chat over coffee at one of the cafés, or to get something to eat. While you’re here, have a look at the fountain which overlooks the plaza in memory of both Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, and marvel at the ornate Gothic facade of the 16th-century town hall.
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