Here I stand, I can do no other
Trip Start Mar 26, 2010
14Trip End Apr 04, 2010
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At the front desk, we turned in our keys. It is mandatory to turn in your keys before you leave the ship. Each key has your room number on it, so when you leave the ship the crew will know who is still on the ship and who left for the excursion. Outside was cold, bright, and muddy. There was a lovely patch of mud between the pier and the bus which could be maneuvered by some strategically placed stepping stones. I boarded the bus regretfully. The only time we hadn't had to go onto a bus to get to our destination was at Dresden. Dresden's main square was 5 minutes walking distance from the river. And I disliked these buses for their warmness. Driving along, rocking back and forth in a warm bus is a recipe for sleep.
Wittenberg (pronounced Vittenberg), while not Martin Luther's hometown, has been put on the map because of Luther's ministry in this small town. He nailed the 95 Theses on a church door in this town, an act which kick started the Reformation. Our tour began with Luther's house. We went though doors, which I guess housed the outer wall? I'm not very good at naming what certain pieces of architecture are. Inside the 'wall' there were words inscribed just underneath the ceiling on the walls and the Luther rose was on the ceiling. Luther's house used to be a monastery, but the regent in that area, Prince Frederick, decided he wanted to go against the Catholic church for reasons not entirely Christian. He threw his weight in with Luther's cause and gave Luther this monastery.
I've never been in a monastery, but this was rather imposing. Our guide said that most people are shocked at how big his house was because they thought he lived modestly, which I think is ridiculous. He started out as a monk, yes, but once he became a Christian I don't see any reason why people think he lived in a hut with a straw roof wearing a tunic made of goat hair and ate locusts and honey! He lived modestly, yes, but why he shouldn't live in a rather large house. (Someone on the ship the previous night asked who influenced who, John Calvin on Martin Luther or vice versa. Ms Jones and I come from a staunch Presbyterian background and were slightly incredulous that someone would ask that question. I mean, if you know anything about Luther or Calvin or the Reformation, you know Luther came first. Shameful!)
His house was by no means a castle though. It was large and slightly imposing, but not fancy. We passed through the courtyard to the entrance to the museum. The entrance was clearly a building they built over a small portion of the house. Inside you could see an original wall with bricked up windows, but I guess they needed an extra building to house the front desk and the giftshop.
The museum itself is fairly modest. Like I said, the house is not fancy. No gilded edges, not much fancy wood work, and some spiral staircases. What they had in the museum, however, was fairly impressive. The first thing our guide pointed out to us was a model of the town. It showed that Luther's house was all the way at one end of the town and Luther's church was all the way at the other end. They also had what they believe to have been his original pulpit, the box of indulgences that he protested against, his robe, and several of his manuscripts and books. Luther's wife Katherine is very popular nowadays and was talked much of. In the 1990s they, the people of Wittenberg, placed a statue of her in the courtyard outside their house in her honor. She's wearing a ruby red ring that is said to bring luck to those who rub it. How anyone who knows anything about the history of Luther thought that was appropriate, I don't know. It's on his front lawn too. I'm sure both Luther and Katherine turned over in their graves, but what's done is done.
The next to the last room that we saw in Luther's house was a nice sized room with benches along the wall and a square table on one side of the room. Our tour guide noted with pride in her voice that this table was the table Luther and his students sat around while they discussed and debated theology and politics.
Luther's house is mostly a museum. A tour of the house is not a 'this is the living room...this is the bedroom...' kind of tour. There are cases of Luther artifacts and quotes on the wall in every room, just like a regular museum. The last rooms we were taken to run together in my mind. Books and prints either done by Luther, about Luther, or done by Luther's friends. The artwork of this time period is not my favorite, and since the books were all in German, it was hard to get excited about what they were (except for a Bible I think Luther translated himself and a hymnal he either wrote or had a large part in producing). There was a computer with a Luther game of pictionary in the middle of one of the rooms we were in, so I...well, played Luther pictionary while our guide talked about something (and in case you were wondering, I won the game of pictionary).
We were given ten minutes in the giftshop before the next leg of our tour. The giftshop was rubbish, in my opinion. I have been rather disappointed in the giftshops here in Europe. They don't have enough books on things that the tour might have piqued your interest and they really don't have many postcards. Since you can't use flash when you're taking pictures in a museum, a lot of my pictures are dark and kind of shaky. You'd think that the giftshop might have some postcards with pictures of Luther's house, his robe, the famous table, his pulpit, SOMETHING. But alas, nothing. I don't mean that as a snobby American. If you're going to have a giftshop (and I don't require you to have a giftshop per se), then please have postcards or at least books with pictures of your museum! They're lovely to scrapbook and to send to friends and family. It just makes sense.
I did, however, see a poster for 'Martin L. Das Luther-Musical' outside the bathroom.That was...weird.
Leaving Luther's house (I with nothing from the giftshop), we walked through the courtyard and got some pictures of Katharine's statue up close and personal. Walking onto the street was almost surreal, as it was very quiet. Good Friday through Easter Monday is a national holiday, so everyone is on holiday and everything is closed except museums and giftshops. We leisurely (I thought) walked up the main street and our tour guide pointed out various buildings and sights that I saw meant a great deal to some, but to myself, meant nothing. I now wish that I had written down all the names that our tour guide mentioned so that I could look them up on Wikipedia when I got back on the ship that night.
One name that I did know was Philip Melanchthon, Luther's great friend and helper. We stopped in front of his house and our tour guide gave us some background information about him, which was great because I only knew his name and occupation and not much else. I'm afraid our tour guide was rather eclipsed by the arrival of the, I suppose, town drunk. It was 10:30 am and the man was very clearly inebriated. He walked very slowly up the street with his back leaning far from his legs, sometimes walking to the right, sometimes walking to the left. He was so interesting to watch I almost forgot that our tour guide was still talking. I wasn't alone. Eventually almost everyone in our group, including our guide, couldn't take their eyes off him. I think our guide took longer than she was supposed to so as to give the drunk enough of a head start so we wouldn't run into him again. Once he was out of sight, we all chuckled to ourselves and moved on.
It was very cold in the shade of the buildings, so I stayed on the sunny side of the street as long as possible. Wittenberg is very small, like Meissien, and also filled with beautiful old buildings and cafe's. The Main Square was full of warm sunshine. Like most small towns, the Main Square is in front of the Town Hall. There are two large statues of Luther and Melanthcon in the Square, but they were under construction. Our guide told us that they undergo work every year because the men who made the statues and the men who made the bases for the statues did not confer with eachother on the weight of the statues and the weight the bases could hold. As such, the statues are really too heavy for the bases.
Walking up the street again we started to see a tower with what looked like a crown in the distance. We were told that that was Luther's Church. While I have heard of the 95 Theses since I was a teenager, I had no idea that Luther became the preacher at the church he nailed the Theses to. They have since taken down the original wood doors and replaced them with bronze doors with the 95 Theses detailed on the door. Before we went in, several of our group went across the street to get something to drink from the cafe. As I said, it was cold, and we had been outside for about 20min. No doubt there were plenty in our group who needed something warm to drink. I wanted to, but I wasn't sure if it would be wise to spend money on something to drink. I didn't want to run out of money before Berlin, so while everyone else warmed themselves in cafes, I spent our break walking towards the Main Square, but down a different street. It was eerily quiet. It didn't take me long to walk the block back to our group, and once we were all assembled we went inside Luther's All Saints Church.
It was beautiful. Not the same kind of beautiful as the Frauenkirche (which is the standard I now hold all churches to). The Frauenkirche is spacious, full of light and pastel colors, whereas All Saints Church is more closed in, dark and full of darker colors, but still very colorful (full on Gothic style). After pointing out several interesting features, we went back on the bus to go back to the ship.
Ms Jones and I parted for lunch. She to the dinner fare, and I to the soup and sandwich spread. Inbetween my conversation with my lunch mates I tried to decide what to do next. Our afternoon schedule was fairly open: there were two buses going into Wittenberg that afternoon at two different times and picking people up at two different times. Because it was a holiday, most of the shops were closed. There really wasn't much to do to occupy oneself for a whole afternoon. My other option was to stay on the boat for the whole afternoon.
After weighing both options the answer was obvious. I'm in Europe, who knows when I'll come back to Wittenberg, so go explore!
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