Me and Brother Martin - Wittenberg
Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
52Trip End Apr 09, 2011
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[As one travels, one is frequently surprised by the effects history and myth will have upon the reputation of a place. A work of art or famous city, when visited, turns out to be nothing like the stories make it out to be. I found Wittenberg to be such a place. Being raised Lutheran in the Midwest, this was a city I heard about time and again as the birthplace of the reformation. This was the place Martin Luther and those who followed him raised their fist at the Catholic Church, decrying and ultimately destroying a majority of the fantastic cosmology Catholics had believed for generations. Within 20 years Protestants here stopped the veneration of the saints, dethroned the Virgin Mary, and pulled the Pope from his special standing as head of God’s church on earth.
Surely this place must be fantastic and radical.
And yet Luther is remembered as one of the most important men in Western History. Many times historical figures become famous because they manage to best capture and express the feeling of the day. I realized when I was here how much Luther fit this designation. His critique of the Catholic Church gave voice to the discontent that had been growing within the population for years before this. People felt their church tithe was going to foreign cities to build Cathedrals instead of into their own communities. And it was.
Lutheranism (and much of Protestantism) reflects this proletariat attitude. Catholic churches are grand, protestant churches are simple. Cathedrals dominate the centers of large cities. Protestant churches (at least the early ones) were mostly rural, and tended toward minimalism. Luther himself was earthy to the extreme. This is a man who was fine with cursing from the pulpit, and who drank with the best of them. (Which, by the way, is a great part of Lutheranism. How many founders of sects/religions have alcohol brands named after them that their followers will gladly drink? Anyone have an urge for a Muhammod’s Meccan Ale? Buddha’s Bodhi Tree Brew?)
The city itself is quiet and generally contemplative. It’s easy to get a hostel room literally 50 feet from where Luther posted his Theses. The museums are all well run and inexpensive. And they seem to go out of their way to make Lutheran (read- Midwestern) tourists feel at home.
Anyway, I had a great time there. Those of you who are Lutheran should come and enjoy it.