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Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Stadtkirche towers in Wittenberg

ABOVE: A foggy morning in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, with the Stadkirche's towers visible behind the market square.

Of all the Luther cities in Germany, Wittenberg may be the most important: The town is home to the Schlosskirche or Castle Church where Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the entrance doors on October 31, 1517.

Luther was a professor of Bible studies in Wittenberg for most of his adult life, and he is buried in the church where he launched the Protestant Reformation.

Man in Martin Luther costume In 1922, the town fathers added the "Lutherstadt" prefix to Wittenberg's name, and the change was officially recognized in 1938.

Today, Lutherstadt Wittenberg is an attractive town of 48,000 inhabitants that bills itself as "the Renaissance city on the Elbe.

Reminders of Martin Luther are everywhere, from Luther Beer  to the "Luther's Wedding" festival that attracts nearly 100,000 guests every June.

FerropolisIn addition to being a pilgrimage site for Lutherans and other Protestants, Lutherstadt Wittenberg is the capital of a tourist region in Eastern Germany that includes the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm, the original Bauhaus in Dessau, the Dübener Heath nature park, industrial monuments from the "brown coal" era, and the junction of two important cycling routes: the European Bicycle Route R1 from France to Russia and the Elbe Bicycle Path from the estuary above Hamburg to the river's source in the Czech Republic.

When to come:

organLutherstadt Wittenberg is pleasant at any time of year, but if you like organized events, you may want to come during Advent (when the town has a Christmas market), on Reformation Day in October, or when a fair or festival is scheduled.

Even during quieter weeks, you may be able to enjoy free organ concerts and other cultural events.

The city's Web site (see the "Toutist Information" links below) normally has an events calendar with month-by-month listings.

How long to stay:

You can visit most of Wittenberg's churches and museums in a day, but I'd recommend arriving in the afternoon and staying two nights unless you're on a tight schedule.

That way, you'll have a full day to explore the town and its monuments, plus a little extra time for casual sightseeing and shopping.


Sightseeing

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 house Melanchthon 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 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 Hundertwasser 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.

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.


Where to stay

Hotel Adler sign on bicycle, Lutherstadt Wittemberg

ABOVE: A sign on a parked bicycle advertises a bike-storage room in the Hotel Goldener Adler.

Hotels:

Lutherstadt Wittenberg has a dozen or so hotels, plus a reasonable selection of guesthouses, holiday apartments, private rooms, and other accommodation.

Lutherhotel WittenbergI can personally recommend the four-star Luther-Hotel Wittenberg. The modern hotel is located in the town center, about two minutes on foot from the Rathaus and the Stadtkirche.

The hotel's 165 rooms are furnished in German contemporary style (lots of blond wood, with duvets on the comfortably firm beds), and the moderate rates include a generous buffet breakfast. It has its own parking garage.

Interesting fact: The Luther-Hotel Wittenberg is owned by a Protestant church organization in Berlin that uses the profits to benefit homeless people, hungry children, and other people in need.

Brauhaus-Hotel WittenbergThe Brauhaus-Hotel Wittenberg is an affordable choice for beer aficionados. The building, which dates back to 1512, has been a microbrewery, restaurant, and hotel since 1999.

For more hotel listings, visit Europe's No. 1 reservations site (and our booking partner) at Booking.com.

Hostels and campsites:

Two hostels are in the city center: the Hostel Wittenberg at Schlossstrasse 14/15, and the Herberge im Gloecknerstift at Fleischer Strasse 17.

Camping is available at the Marina Camp Elbe, which has caravan spaces and "Radler huts" for bicyclists, and a marina for boaters on the Elbe.


Restaurants

I haven't spent enough time in Wittenberg to become familar with the local restaurant scene, but I'll mention a couple of places that I enjoyed:

Luther-Hotel Wittenberg menuThe restaurant at the Luther-Hotel Wittenberg is on a level with many big-city peers. The hotel's talented chef, Christian Hirsch, makes good use of fresh fish, vegetables, cheeses and other regional ingredients when preparing his international and Mediterranean menus. Vegetarian and vegan meals are available on request.

Brauhaus-Hotel Wittenberg plateFor more rustic fare, the Brauhaus-Hotel Wittenberg is worth trying. Prices are reasonable for ribsticking specialties like beer and onion soup, Schnitzel with mushrooms and potatoes, and grilled pork hocks with sauerkraut.

Wittenberg's tourist-information site describes many other restaurants and cafés in its "Gastronomy" section. If you're on a tight budget, check the list of Döner Kebab shops in Wittenberg at Doenerfreund.de.


Transportation 

Wittenberg Information office

ABOVE: The Wittenberg Information office is across the street from the Schlosskirche.

Getting to Wittenberg:

Lutherstadt Wittenberg is approximately 100 km (63 miles) from Berlin and 70 km (44 miles) from Leipzig.

ICE trainRail. By ICE (InterCity Express) train, Berlin is only 40 minutes away; regional trains cover the distance in 72 minutes. Leipzig is even closer at 29 minutes by InterCity Express. For train schedules, use the English-language journey planner at Bahn.de. (Use "Lutherstadt Wittenberg" as your arrival or departure station.)

Road. Look for driving directions at ViaMichelin, which will also help you plan excursions between Wittenberg and other "Luther Trail" cities such as Eisenach (where Martin Luther hid in Wartburg Castle for 300 days) and Erfurt (where Luther tooks his vows as a Catholic priest before coming to Wittenberg).

Ship. River-cruise lines such as Viking River Cruises and CroisiEurope call at Wittenberg during cruises along the Elbe between Berlin, Potsdam, or Magdeburg Potsdam and Dresden or Prague.

Local transportation:

The Vetter Bus Company operates local and regional buses. It has a ticket and information office at the Bus Station Wittenberg, which is next to the Hauptbahnhof or main railroad station.


Tourist information

Wittenberg has a well-equipped Tourist Office on the Schlossplatz in the town center. You can pick up free maps and brochures, purchase guidebooks (see below), book guided tours, buy souvenirs, and watch a movie in English or German. The tourist office will also help you find a place to stay if you haven't booked a room in advance.

The Tourist Office is open daily from morning until late afternoon between April and October, with shorter hours in the off-season.

For details, see the Wittenberg municipal Web site's English-language Tourist information page.

For information on vacation opportunities in the surrounding towns, villages, and countryside, visit the World Heritage Region of Anhalt-Dessau-Wittenberg Web site.

Saxony-Anhalt Tourism is another useful resource.

Guidebooks and brochures:

Wittenberg guidebooks and brochures

Several English-language guidebooks and brochures will make your visit more productive. Look for them at the Wittenberg Tourist Information office:

  • The Historic Mile: Lutherstadt Wittenberg is published by Drei Kastanien Verlag. It's a small 36-page guidebook with descriptions of Wittenberg's major historic sites and a three-dimensional picture map of the town.

  • Lutherstadt Wittenberg: Experiencing World History is published by the tourist office, and it's well worth the modest cover price.

    The illustrated 36-page brochure is packed with detail and includes maps of both the city center and the neighboring districts where several attractions (such as the Piesteritz car-free residential complex, the butterfly park, and the Hundertwasser school) are located.

  • Luther Path Wittenberg is a free brochure for pilgrims. It offers a prayer or meditation itinerary with seven stations in the Old Town.

Next page : More Wittenberg photos


In this article:
Lutherstadt Wittenberg travel guide
Wittenberg photos

More Wittenberg articles:
Bettina Brett (English-speaking tour guide)
Historic Printing Shop
Luther-Hotel Wittenberg
Brauhaus-Hotel Wittenberg

Also see:
Luther Cities

1st inset photo: 1879 woodcut after Lucas Cranach.
2nd inset photo: Klizsch/TourismusRegion Wittenberg.
3rd, 11th inset photos: TourismusRegion Wittenberg.