If you know me personally, you know that I have recently suffered the loss of my dear friend J. You may have seen references to her throughout this blog, and if you have the inclination to go back to 2013-2015, you’ll see various posts dedicated to our all-too-brief time together in Maine. Such a life event demands reflection, and as I come out of my fog, I realize that I want to continue to embrace my glorious life in Germany, with all the challenges these days seem to bring. But I will still miss her like hell.
The challenge of “no travel” has been a big one for the last couple years, and understanding that, some of the local transport companies have offered annual pass holders *free travel* on regional trains running nearly all over the country for a period of two weeks this month. Up-side: free! Down-side: these trains stop at every damn barn and outhouse and it takes sometimes double or triple the time to get anywhere from anywhere. But since I can’t see the words “free” and “travel” without a huge dopamine hit, it was time to hit the rails.
First stop: Lutherstadt Wittenberg, a place that I’ve been meaning to visit for a while. I studied religion as an undergraduate, even did a graduate degree in Applied Theology and as a result was quite familiar with the name Martin Luther and his outlaw deeds (in the mind of the Catholic Church at least). But I had never seen him quite like this. Nice to see the locals have a sense of perspective on their main man:
Originally settled by Flemish colonists in 1180, Wittenberg (the Lutherstadt is basically an honorific) became an important regional center in the fifteenth century, seeing the foundation of the University of Wittenberg in 1502 and hence Luther’s arrival there as a professor of theology in 1508. On the 31st of October, 1517, as legend has it, Luther nailed his 95 theses (his complaints against the Catholic Church) to the wooden door of All Saints, the castle church, and so marked the official beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
Because of its significant religious history, the town center was spared from Allied bombing during World War II. The consideration only went so far, however… just outside the city limits there was an aircraft parts factory which was bombed to holy hell, as it were, taking with it over the one thousand prisoners and POWS who manned it. Wittenberg fell to the Soviets after the war and then became part of East Germany until the reunification in 1990. Here’s a map of the main historical section of town:
Because tourism is such a key part of the town’s economic foundation, the local inhabitants have gone out of their way to make sure people can find their way around and can appreciate the various offerings. Here two bikers read one of the many civic markers (the ones in orange above) that help us hapless visitors navigate this vast expanse:
If you’re been following my blog for any time at all, you know I am not particularly happy about the “Disneyization” of many Europe’s historic inner cities. Unfortunately, Lutherstadt Wittenberg has fallen prey to this condition as well. I don’t envy the civic mothers and fathers who had to decide how to move forward at various difficult economic moments and decided to take piles of money to turn their towns into World Heritage sites, but I still rue that I will never see any of these places as they were most of their lives, vibrant lively urban centers. Here’s a very beautifully restored but somewhat antiseptic main street:
Just when I was getting really grumpy about this, I finally saw something seemed mostly authentic and unrestored. Here’s a boot selection from….a while back, goodness knows when…showing the various styles available by some local bookmaker at some not-so-recent point…mysterious, but at least, not made last week and flown here from China:
Okay, now, time to stop whining and get to the attractions. First up, of course, the main city square (#9 Platz in the map above), seen here through the fisheye of the 500-year Jubilee marker. You might make me out as well as the single human on the square at that moment:
Nearby a dignified statue of Martin himself, graced this day by a fresh new communicant:
But since you know me, you know that once I get the main idea of a place, I start looking for the chewy interesting bits that I didn’t know about before I arrived.
First up was that Lutherstadt Wittenberg was also significant in the lives of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) and the Younger (1515-1586). These German Renaissance painters and portraitists worked for the Electors of Saxony and ended up immortalizing many of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. (Martin apparently was a good friend of the Elder Cranach.) They are considered among the most successful German artists of the period, although I must confess I hadn’t been aware of them before I moved to Europe.
The Cranach painting studio has been renovated and the rest of the Hof (Courtyard) that included his living space and barns is currently being upgraded as well. Here’s a “before” picture of the Hof, which shows that some places really do need an Extreme Makeover:
And after some tender loving care and mountains and mountains of Euros, voila:
Cranach himself was seated nearby but seemed to be lost in his work…
Just a few steps further along the main street, I came across Haus der Geschichte Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Now, you know I love museums, and the crazier the better. I’ve been to the Museum of Tobacco and Salt in Tokyo, the Museum of Dirt and Soap in Bydgoszcz, and a few other gems. But this one…was verrrrrry interesting. Here’s the floor plan. Look carefully:
Hint….here’s who greeted me on the stairs…a youngish, “handsome” Erich Honecker:
So, yes, although they didn’t say it in so many words, this is a museum dedicated to the “good old days” of the East German 20th century and showing a good bit of what we call “Ostalgia” (Nostalgia for the East (Ost)). Each room of the museum is inhabited by a different family of curious and creepy aging mannequins and shows a different decade of the 20th century, paying particular attention to the furniture and furnishings of the era, kind of a snapshot of each ten-year period. Most didn’t catch my eye particularly, but I was taken by the re-creation of a swingin’ groovy East German nightclub circa 1970 or so:
Probably a favorite of the AfD. Hmmmmm. Moving right along…
Speaking of political parties, the German elections are coming up soon, to be held this year on Sunday the 26 (those practical Germans) and as you probably know, Frau Merkel will be departing the stage after her 16 years at the helm. I’ve been curious to know what the future holds in store for her, so I was happy to see she already has some plans to stay active:
Ba-da Boom! It’s dirty exhausting work trying to learn and share all this history and culture. Fortunately, among its many attractions, Lutherstadt Wittenberg offers a variety of restaurant options for the weary and peckish visitor. Most seem to be either Italian or Indian, but it seemed that in this most historic of German historical towns I wanted to stay local as it were. I ended up having salmon (being Friday and all; not that local), but the beer was superlative and came from Leipzig, only 72 km away.
So, since the free travel lasts until election day, get ready for a few more of these quick hits from here and there. Until then, cheers, and thanks for coming along for the ride.