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Wittenberg Sightseeing

From: Wittenberg, Germany

Bettina Brett with Cranach the Elder

ABOVE: Bettina Brett, an Engish-speaking tour guide, poses with a statue of Martin Luther's friend and portrait artist, Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Luther landmarks

Schlosskirche doors with 95 ThesesThe Schlosskirche, a.k.a. the Castle Church that belonged to the Elector of Saxony, is where Martin Luther jump-started the Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses to the church doors.

Although the content of his theses was controversial, the act of nailing them up was fairly tame: The Schlosskirche's doors served as a university bulletin board, and Luther intended for his handbill to stimulate debate, not to serve as a manifesto for a new church. (The old wooden doors were destroyed in a fire, and the current bronze doors from 1858 display a more permanent version of the 95 Theses.)

Schlossturm WittenbergNote: You can climb 289 stairs to the Schlossturm viewing platform next to the church, but you won't be walking in Luther's footsteps: The tower was added in 1892 and restored in 2005.

Reformation altar by Lucas Cranach the ElderA few blocks away (and just behind Wittenberg's marketplace) is the Stadtkirche, or Town and Parish Church of St. Mary, where Luther preached. It's the oldest building in Wittenberg, dating back to 1280. Many of its pre-Reformation artworks were destroyed by the Iconoclasts in 1522, and its most impressive interior feature--the Reformation Altar--was painted in 1547 by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who was a court painter to the Electors of Saxony and a friend of Martin Luther.

English Lutheran services in WittenbergNext door to the Stadtkirche is the historic Fronleichnamskapelle or Corpus Christi Chapel, which offers English-language devotional services from May to October. (See the chapel schedule if you'd like to sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God with other Lutherans from abroad.)

Luther House WittenbergThe Luther House is the most important secular Luther landmark in Wittenberg. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's said to be the world's largest museum of Reformation history. Luther lived in the house from his arrival in Wittenberg in 1508 until the year of his death, 1546. (The home, a former Augustinian monastery, also served as a boarding house and lecture hall for university students during Luther's lifetime.)

Melanchthon houseMelanchthon House is a three-story mansion that was built for Philipp Schwartzerd (in Greek, "Melanchthon"), one of Germany's greatest educational reformers. Melanchthon was a close friend and colleague of Martin Luther during the Reformation, and his 16th Century home is now a museum. (The herb-filled garden is said to be delightful in the warmer months.)

The Cranach House at Schlossstrasse 1 is the newly restored home of Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), who was court painter to Frederick the Wise, a friend of Martin Luther, and an important chronicler of the Lutheran Reformation. (His son, Cranach the Younger, later took over the family workshop.)

Andreas MeschkeWander into the courtyard, admire the Cranach statue, and visit the Historic Printing Shop where master printer Andreas Meschke (inset photo) makes prints and cards with a hand-operated letterpress.

A second Cranach House at Markt 4 has a permanent exhibition devoted to Cranach the Elder. For more information about the artist(s) and the two courtyards, visit the Cranach Foundation's Web site.

Other attractions in Wittenberg

Wittenberg Markt and RathausEven without its ties to Luther, Wittenberg would be a town worth visiting. The main shopping street is lined with handsomely-restored buildings, and the Rathaus or Town Hall on the Markt, or Market Square, looks as it did when it opened in 1535. (You can see the towers of the Stadtkirche looming over the houses on the square.)

I haven't visited the House of History (Schlossstrasse 6), but the city tourist office bills it as "a journey into the past" with a "Living in the GDR" exhibit and special exhibitions.

The Hundertwasser School is a once-bland GDR building from the 1970s that was given a fanciful facelift by artists and children under the direction of Friedensreich Hunderwasser in the 1990s. The school has inexpensive tours in German and English.

The Werksiedlung Piesteritz was built in 1916 as a housing estate for factory workers. It was created by a German town planner and a Swiss architect, and in recent years the site has been turned into a car-free community. Tours are available; call 03491 614715 for information.

Wittenberg also has one of Germany's smallest zoos, the Tierpark Wittenberg,  within the former town walls. About 20 minutes from Wittenberg, the Alaris Schmetterlings Park is a tropical environment with hundreds of free-flying butterflies from around the world.

Finally, the sightseeing boat MS Lutherstadt Wittenberg offers trips and meal cruises on the Elbe from March through December. The vessel departs from the Hafen, or Harbor, which is slightly west of the town center. (You can buy cruise tickets downtown at Schlossstrasse 16.)

Next page: Hotels, restaurants





1st, 3rd, 8th inset photos: TourismusRegion Wittenberg.

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