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The provincial German town of Wittenberg in Sachsen-Anhalt had no great importance until the early decades of the 1500s. Then, contemporary accounts of the town were rarely complementary. But then, the gathering and interaction of a remarkable group of Renaissance men, in the confines of a town of a few thousand people, thrust Wittenberg from regional significance to the forefront of Europe. The town on the Elbe became the cauldron for one of Europe’s two most significant revolutions.
In 1508 the monk Martin Luther travelled to Wittenberg. By 1517, as a theology professor, he was troubled by what he saw as abuses rife in the Roman Catholic church and drew up 95 propositions as a basis for reform. According to stories of the period, he attached them to the door of the so-called Schloßkirche, a church with origins going back to at least the 14th century and attached to the new Wittenberg castle residence built by the Wettin duke Friedrich III. It was a critical moment in European history, setting in motion events that would split Europe. Wittenberg would be the cradle of a religious revolt.
Friedrich, duke of Saxe-Wittenberg, had appointed Luther and the humanist and theologian Philipp Melanchthon to the new Wittenberg university. Luther was troubled by practices such as priests selling absolution and increasingly viewed the church of Rome as corrupt. It needed reform, Luther reasoned, so the humble worshipper could get closer to the true meaning of God and his word. Over 30 years, Luther studied the Bible, preached and unfolded ideas that became the Lutheran evangelical church. It was the support of Friedrich and other influential princes that allowed Luther to stand beyond the grasp of Rome.
For the traveller, the centre of what is now called Lutherstadt Wittenberg is largely a collection of monuments significant for their role in the story of Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Luther’s chief collaborator, the leading Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the elder, whose works depicted Luther’s career, and Friedrich, who supported Luther’s work and protected him while maintaining his conventional Catholic faith.
Wittenberg’s so-called ‘historic mile’ includes the Schloßkirche, with a door embossed with Luther’s theses, the Lutherhaus, Melanchthon’s house, Cranach’s house, the Stadtkirche St Marien, where Luther preached, Wittenberg’s university, the Leucorea, and Markt, the town square where statues of Luther and Melanchthon stand today.
The castle has had recent extensive restoration and some rebuilding. It was built by Friedrich III in Renaissance style to replace the old Ascanian castle — built about 1340 on the site of an even earlier castle — and completed in 1525. The south wing was destroyed in the Seven Years War and the castle was used for storing grain. It was again damaged late in the Napoleonic wars and the complex was reshaped by the Prussians in the 19th century. Ethnography and nature museums have been based inside, but extensive rebuilding of the south wing has made way for the Schloßkirche visitor centre and seminary. The west portion houses a research library on the Reformation.
The Luthereiche, corner Lutherstraße near rail station, is the site of the oak where Luther burned the pope Leo X’s warning of excommunication.
The so-called Theses Door of the Schloßkirche was cast in bronze in 1858 to record Luther’s rebellion. In a contemporary account, Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in 1517 – but this cannot be verified. The original door was destroyed, along with much of the church, by damage during the Seven Years War. Further damage in the Napoleonic wars was made good by the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The 88m tower appeared at the end of the 15th century, but much of the Gothicised interior and the lookout, with the inscribed Luther hymn ‘A powerful fortress is our God’ is later. The theses are reproduced in Latin on the present door. Inside the church, on either side, are the graves of Luther and Melanchthon, marked by tablets bearing epitaphs, and the resting place of the elector. The church is also the resting place of Friedrich — with a bronze monument by Peter Vischer the younger — and Friedrich’s brother and successor Johann ‘the Steadfast’, with monument by Hans Vischer. Both Cranach and Albrecht Dürer contributed altar paintings.
The Lutherhaus, the former Augustinian monastery where Luther lived and worked as a monk and which was taken over by him after his marriage, is today an extensive museum of the Reformation. The ornate Hörsaal is a feature, along with the Lutherstube, a living room that was part of the original house with wooden interiors and furniture, and works by Cranach the elder. The Katharinen-Portal (1540) was a gift from Luther’s wife, the former nun Katharina von Bora, to her husband. It includes Luther’s study, a pulpit and monk’s habit he used, family rooms, a biographical tour, artworks and a treasury – in all about 1000 associated exhibits. The Lutherhaus and connected buildings, including university buildings, are all 16th century but the present appearance of the house is shaped by the 19th century rebuilding of Friedrich August Stüler.
The Melanchthonhaus consists of the Renaissance residence, expanded into a museum of Melanchthon’s work including manuscripts and art.
The former home and workshops of the artist Lucas Cranach the elder at Markt, completed in 1506, was Cranach’s first Wittenberg home and workshops. Many young artists of the period travelled here to work under Cranach’s teaching. Cranach moved in 1518, but later repurchased the Markt property as a print shop, where Luther’s first New Testament translation was published. He sold it in the 1540s. The building was later partly rebuilt in Baroque. Cranach took over the many rooms and courtyard of Wittenberger Hof at Schloßstraße 1, the town’s biggest residential complex, now the Cranach-Hof. The east wing and rear were the studios. The complex, which included a pharmacy, was enlarged to include workshops in 1540, renovated again in the 18th and 19th centuries and twice recently. Cranach left Wittenberg in 1550, ceding the site to his son. It is again being used for art, printing and teaching and the pharmacy later returned to the site.
The Stadtkirche St Marien — also known as the Marktkirche — is where Luther, Melanchthon and Johannes Bugenhagen preached. It includes works of art depicting Luther and his ideas by Cranach the elder and his son, chiefly the Reformation Altar of 1548. But it is also the oldest building in Wittenberg, with a 13th century Gothic façade.
Luthers Hochzeit, the street festival weekend celebrating the marriage of Luther and the former nun Katharina von Bora in the second week of June, takes over the town and restricts access to parts of it to all but ticket holders. Inquire at the tourist office near the castle.
A free PDF city guide to Lutherstadt Wittenberg is now available at the Culture encounters section of Raven Travel Guides Germany.
The tiny town at the foot of the Alps has its own medieval castle and Baroque monastery as well as being the jumping-off point for visits to the nearby Romantic castles of Schloß Neuschwanstein and Schloß Hohenschwangau. A short ride from Füssen is the Wieskirche, a UNESCO-listed Rococo pilgrimage church. This concise guide includes all castles, sites, churches and museums as well as the essential services and transport information necessary to visit these treasures. Hyperlink access to accommodation websites included.
The 2018 Raven Guide to Aachen, city of Charlemagne, is available for free download now. Even earlier than the Romans, the local hot springs was highly valued, but 1200 years ago the Frankish king who set up his court there, leaving buildings that still stand and making Aachen eventually the centre of an empire. Charlemagne's church, which grew to become the present cathedral, was one of the first world heritage sites.
The new Raven guide to the Thuringian town, birthplace of Bach, with its museum of the life of the great composer, history of car manufacture and one of Germany's best preserved medieval castles, is now available for travellers for free download. Eisenach, as a hiding place of Martin Luther early in his revolt against the established church, also played a key role in the Reformation.
More than 500 years after Martin Luther's Reformation, Raven Guides presents its free guide to the place where it all began. The town now known as Lutherstadt Wittenberg was the cradle of the religious movement that threw off the the structures of the Catholic church and shaped now ideas and ways of worship, but also more than a century of bitter conflict that shaped Germany forever. Key sites associated with this revolution have become listed world heritage monuments, including Luther's house, the church where his revolt began, and the place he preached.
The layout of the UNESCO heritage-listed old town and a range of Baroque and medieval architecture makes Bamberg one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. The 5-page guide covers the Romanesque cathedral, the opulent episcopal palace the Residenz and the old town hall in the middle of the river – summaries of 35 historic sites and museums in all. Information on essentials for travellers, tours, parks and musical performances. Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
The Roman Trier was at one time second only to Rome. It was home to one of the most powerful Roman emperors, Constantine the Great, as well as Karl Marx. Signs of its past greatness remain, including the ancient city gate Porta Nigra, Roman baths, an amphitheatre and Constantine’s former imperial palace, plus the buildings of the medieval city. This guide of 7 pages includes more than 30 sites and museums, with essential services, transport links, transit services, tours and hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
Completely walled with more than 40 towers, the cobbled pedestrian streets of the Romantic Road town above the Tauber valley are little changed since the 17th century. The 4-page guide includes 17 sites and museums and an excursion to the Franconian open-air museum at nearby Bad Windsheim. Essential services, transport links, food and tours with hyperlink access to further tourist information and websites for many of the town’s small accommodation houses.
The Stadtschloß palace was the first Prussian royal residence and palaces and pavilions eventually multiplied in extensive parklands. This guide of 8 pages covers the many sites, chiefly the Rococo palace Schloß Sanssouci, the Dutch quarter Holländisches Viertel, the Russian colony Siedlung Alexandrowka and its Orthodox church, 10 museums, the Nikolaikirche, the surviving ornate city gates and the Baroque streetscapes. Essential services, transport links and fares, accommodation, food and tours with hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
The medieval streets, archways and buildings of this former Roman camp remain. One of Germany’s classic Gothic cathedrals, several medieval churches, rare Gothic tower houses and one of Germany’s oldest bridges combined to justify the city’s world heritage listing. Information on essential services, transport links and urban transit services and fares plus listings of travel essentials are part of this 6-page guide. Almost 30 sites and museums, including the nearby Walhalla gallery of great Germanic figures of history, with hyperlink access to accommodation websites and further tourist information.
The prince-bishops who controlled Würzburg for centuries built wealth, power and influence expressed in Baroque by their huge palace the Residenz. Their medieval castle still commands the city, reached by an ancient stone bridge. This 7-page guide includes more than 30 grand residences, churches, museums and galleries, including one of Europe’s prominent Jewish museums. Essential services, transport links, transit services and fares, food and tours plus hyperlink access to accommodation and further tourist information websites.
This 4-page guide to the city of three rivers includes the Baroque cathedral of St Stephan, with one of the world’s largest organs, the fortress Veste Oberhaus and the well preserved old town. In all there are 13 sites and museums, including the exhibits of Passau’s Roman past and glass manufacture. Details of essential services, transport links and urban transit services including fares, accommodation, food, tours and views. Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
This short guide covers a tiny medieval walled town, left in its unchanged state by a royal decree and now a favourite of artists and a small number of travellers. Dinkelsbühl’s walls and many Gothic and Renaissance buildings keep its historical atmosphere alive and its small hotels, pensions and restaurants complement this scene. Essential services and transport information are included with hyperlinks to most accommodation.
The wealth and influence of the city’s powerful families brought the Renaissance to Germany at a time when Augsburg was also the centre of key events of the Reformation. First a Roman settlement, it also has some of Germany’s oldest remains and is known for its many onion-domed towers and magnificent works of art. This 6-page guide includes more than 30 sites and museums plus essentials, transport links and fares, accommodation, food and tours with hyperlink access to further information websites.
The most common description for Heidelberg is Romantic. This comes from its valley location, half-ruined castle, and the towered stone bridge across the Neckar. But this 8-page guide also explores the city’s cobbled streets in search of the essence of the city – Germany’s oldest university, the churches that are monuments to its religious struggles, and its restaurants and cafes. Find out about the funicular railway that makes the climb to the castle – and vantage points above the city – much easier, and several of the budget hotels and private hostels that help make accommodation in Heidelberg affordable. The 2017 Raven Guide to the Romantic charms of Heidelberg is downloadable free here now.
The medieval town has a colourful array of half-timbered houses, Romanesque churches and the Kaiserpfalz, one of Germany’s oldest palaces. Its ancient Rammelsberg mines are partly responsible for the town’s world heritage status. The 5-page guide covers 19 sites and museums, a town walk, Rammelsberg tour and an excursion to the nearby half-timbered Harz town Wernigerode. Information on transport links plus listings of travel essentials and hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
Trade made Lübeck the centre of the Baltic and the red-brick Gothic old town its merchant wealth built is now UNESCO world heritage-listed. Its churches, town houses and civic institutions are preserved and restored. In 7 pages this guide describes the commercial and civic culture of the city through summaries of 30 sites, museums and galleries. Information on travel essentials, transport links and transit services including fares, tours, parks, views and food. Hyperlinks to further tourist information and to websites for city accommodation.
A concise but detailed Berlin travel guide of 31 pages including separate sections for the districts Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (with Neukölln), Schöneberg-Tempelhof, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Spandau, with local food and accommodation and quick guides to essential services. A summary of all transport links with Berlin and urban transit services including fares. Summaries of more than 50 museums of history, art and culture, more than 60 historic sites and information on all major performance groups including orchestras, opera and theatre. Included are a short history of the city with guides to walking sections of the Berlin Wall and its memorials, the city’s historic precincts, churches and public buildings, parks, views, tours and cruises. In the text are hyperlinks to websites for accommodation houses and further information.
A guide in 6 pages to one of Germany’s oldest cities including its UNESCO world heritage monuments, the ornate Renaissance town hall and the giant Roland figure, plus 10 other sites. Among 17 Bremen museums summarised are some of Germany’s leading houses of art and the remarkable Übersee-Museum, with exhibits of the wonders of the continents touched by Bremen’s worldwide trade interests. Essential services, transport and city transit details and tours, complete with hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
The palaces of Baroque Dresden with their museums and galleries, highlighted by the two Green Vault museums, are among the most remarkable in Germany. This 11-page guide covers 18 palaces, monuments and other sites and 30 museums as well as information on essential services, accommodation, tours, parks and views, food and performing arts. Details of excursions to the medieval city of Meissen, centre of European porcelain, the summer palaces of Pillnitz and Moritzburg, and the fortress of Königstein are provided. Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
This 8-page guide to the port city includes the unique Speicherstadt, centre of the former free port, and a range of 25 sites, ships, museums, monuments and churches that reflect Hamburg’s maritime and trading traditions. Essential services are listed with a choice of tours, the city’s best views and parks. Information on transport links and urban transit services including fares plus listings of travel essentials. Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites and a guide to Hamburg music including the city’s opera.
Modern Nuremberg has preserved or restored many walled and historic areas, including the Kaiserburg, the castle of early imperial assemblies that today provides a view over the old town. The city’s leading late medieval citizens were some of the best known German personalities. This 8-page guide includes 20 buildings, streets and monuments plus 14 museums. These include the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Germany’s leading cultural history museum, and the courts of the post-World War II war crimes trials. Essential services, transport links, transit services, tours and hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
The city’s Roman and medieval walls, cathedral and 12 Romanesque churches are features of this 11-page guide. Walks cover the historic city centre and the remains of the Roman wall. Summaries of 25 sites and 17 museums of art, history and culture including the Römisch-Germanisches Museum of Cologne’s Roman and medieval past and its associated archaeological sites. Information on all essential services, transport links and urban transit services including fares, accommodation, tours, parks and views, food and performing arts. Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.
This 6-page guide to the historic city contains summaries of 10 sites including Stuttgart’s castle complexes, Schloß Solitude and the magnificent palaces of nearby Ludwigsburg. A listing of 10 museums and galleries, a guide to essential services, tours and the city’s extensive parks. Information on transport links and urban transit services including fares, accommodation, food and views. Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites and a guide to performance art.
A concise Munich travel guide of 13 pages including accommodation, food and a quick guide to essential services. Germany’s largest museum, Deutsches Museum, and the city’s extensive palaces and palace gardens are featured. Information on all transport links with Munich and urban transit services including fares. Parks, a choice of tours and where to find views. Summaries of almost 30 museums of history, art and culture, 30 historic sites in and around the city and information on major performance groups including orchestras and opera. Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites.