Me and Brother Martin - Wittenberg

Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
Trip End Apr 09, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Saxony-Anhalt,
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Luther's Wittenberg.

[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.

In all honesty, it seemed little different than the town where I grew up in Midwestern South Dakota. Sure, Martin Luther was a professor. But in modern terms he would have been professor of a community college. The town of Wittenberg was only 2000 people at the time he posted the 95 theses. His church, compared to so many others of the day, was unremarkable. Even in such a small town, there were two others larger than it.

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.

Luther was a populist and an every-man. A regular joe-sixpack.  He was just lucky enough to come along at a time in history when inventions such as the printing press would allow him to express his views in a new way.

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.

One strange thing did stick out to me, however. The city’s’ Castle Cathedral. This is where Luther posted his 95 Theses, and where his gravesite is.  It also held some other very interesting attractions. For one, built into the castle wall right next to the church is a bar (You don’t even have to go outside to get there). For two, it houses a museum that begins with Lutheran history (as you would expect) but then quickly changes to display South American and African cultural history. Seriously 90% of the museum has nothing to do with Lutheranism. I'm pretty sure the curator of the building had ADD.

Anyway, I had a great time there. Those of you who are Lutheran should come and enjoy it. 
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