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Germany A-Z travel guide 2020: Lutherstadt Wittenberg

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 place were rarely complementary. All of a sudden, however, Wittenberg changed the story of Europe.

The gathering and interaction of a remarkable group of Renaissance men, in the confines of an Elbe town of a few thousand people, thrust Wittenberg from regional significance to the forefront of history. The town became the cauldron for one of the continent’s two most significant revolutions, the Protestant Reformation.

In 1508, the monk Martin Luther had 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. He reportedly 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 built by the Wettin duke Friedrich III. It was a critical moment, setting in motion events that would split Europe. Wittenberg became the cradle of a religious mutiny.

Friedrich, elector prince of Saxony, had appointed Luther and the humanist and theologian Philipp Melanchthon to the new Wittenberg university. Luther was irritated 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 led to the foundation of the Lutheran Evangelical church. The backing of Friedrich and other influential princes allowed Luther to stand beyond the grasp of Rome.

For today’s traveller, the old town of Wittenberg has changed little in 500 years. The centre of what is now called Lutherstadt Wittenberg is largely a collection of monuments significant for their role in the story of Luther, 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 own conventionally Catholic faith.

Wittenberg’s ‘historic mile’ includes the castle, Schloßkirche, the Lutherhaus, Melanchthon’s house, buildings associated with Cranach, 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. Most of these sites are covered by UNESCO world heritage listing.

The castle has had recent extensive restoration and some reconstruction. 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 rest of 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 a seminary. The west portion houses a research library on the Reformation.

The Luthereiche, on the corner of Lutherstraße near the rail station, is the site of the oak where Luther burned Leo X’s papal warning of excommunication.

The so-called Theses Door of the Schloßkirche was cast in bronze in 1858 to record Luther’s rebellion – a Prussian Protestant celebration. In a 16th century account, Luther nailed his 95 theses to the original door, but this cannot be verified. That door was destroyed, along with much of the church, during battles of the Seven Years War. The theses are reproduced in Latin on the present door. Further damage to the church in the Napoleonic wars was made good by the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The 88m tower, which was originally a castle tower, appeared at the end of the 15th century, but much of the Gothicised interior and the lookout, bearing the title of the Luther hymn A Powerful Fortress is Our God, is later.

Inside the church, on either side, are the graves of Luther and Melanchthon, marked by tablets bearing epitaphs. 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. The house 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 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 Lucas Cranach the elder at Markt, completed in 1506, were the artist’s first Wittenberg base. 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 again sold it in the 1540s. The building was later partly recast in Baroque.

Cranach took over the many rooms and courtyard of Wittenberger Hof at Schloßstraße 1, the town’s biggest residential complex, now known as 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 Lucas the younger. 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 the Lutheran reformer Johannes Bugenhagen faced the faithful. 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 facade.

The Rathaus, on Markt, built during Luther’s lifetime, has four facade gables in Renaissance style with late Gothic touches. The main entrance portal and the bell tower come from a rebuilding in the second half of the 16th century. Dungeons were built below, cells and torture equipment inside. Executions would take place in the square outside.

Luthers Hochzeit, the street festival celebrating the marriage of Luther in the second week of June, takes over the town and restricts access to parts, including Markt in front of the Rathaus, to all but ticket holders. Inquire at the tourist office near the castle.

A free PDF city guide to Lutherstadt Wittenberg is available for download at the Culture encounters section of Raven Travel Guides Germany.

Germany A-Z travel guide 2020: Meissen

The seat of Saxon rulers before Dresden, and an early centre of viticulture, millennium-old Meissen came to be overshadowed by its successor in most respects. Yet its contribution to Saxon culture helped maintain Saxony for generations with one of the world’s famous reinventions.

Meissen’s appeal is obvious from the bank of the river Elbe. Its Gothic castle and cathedral are reflected in the waters and its restored late medieval townscape is a thing of beauty.

High on the rocks of the Burgberg above the river, the castle Albrechtsburg and the cathedral dominate. The first castle was built on the site early in the 10th century by the German king Henry the Fowler and became the stronghold of the margraves of Meissen. When the house of Wettin divided in the 15th century one branch emerged with possession of the present late Gothic castle while the electors of Saxony moved to Dresden.

The castle also became the birthplace of the European porcelain industry. The elector-king August the Strong prized oriental ornament and imported porcelain was considered of equal value to precious metals. August, addicted to splendour, was also a patron of alchemy in the search for a formula for gold.

Thus the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger became a prisoner of the Saxon court in Dresden. Originally reluctant to turn his talents to porcelain, Böttger in 1709 suddenly professed to have hit on a recipe. His claim to independent invention has been challenged in favour of his former manager Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus, but the following year Böttger – to August’s delight – began directing the manufacture and further development of porcelain from Albrechtsburg. The Böttger room of the castle celebrates the achievement in a wall painting and the castle housed the Saxon state porcelain works for 150 years.

Whoever was responsible, porcelain made Meissen’s name. It is still manufactured in the city, both as precious pieces of art and as valuable tableware. The present factory, Staatliche Porzellan Manufaktur Meissen south-west of the old town, opens its museum and factory shop daily to the public.

The castle and cathedral are reached via the Rote Stufen stairs, winding up to the fortified 13th century Schloßbrücke terrace, which provides superb views over Meissen’s rooftops. Through the gate tower, the Domplatz is the site of an array of period structures.

The Albrechtsburg itself is a jewel of German Gothic architecture. Its extension, which took place over two generations either side of 1500, was financed by silver mined in the nearby Erzgebirge range. Its design is highlighted by a superb spiral staircase and its interiors by what was for the period innovative vaulting. In later centuries the castle’s vaulted halls and chambers were richly painted with dazzling Neoromantic historical motifs, including images of members of the Wettin Meissen line, and one complete ceiling is devoted to heraldry.

Like the castle, the cathedral’s beginnings and the founding of the diocese go back to the 10th century but the present structure was built between the 13th and 15th centuries. In its burial chapel the early Wettin lords are interred. Not large, but impressive in its hilltop location, it is one of the purest of Gothic cathedrals inside and out.

Much of the old town was wrecked during the Thirty Years War but the landmark structures are rebuilt in their former glory and later Baroque town houses complete a spectrum of historical styles. Notable are the late Gothic Rathaus facade and the Frauenkirche with its porcelain carillon, just off the main town square Markt.

Meissen, worth at least a day’s excursion from Dresden, is an S-Bahn ride from the Saxon capital or a two-hour river cruise with Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt from Terrassenufer below Dresden’s old town.

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Culture Encounters

Jewels of the Past

Berlin

Great Cities of Germany

Füssen

Füssen travel guide PDF in 3 pages

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 famous Romantic castles nearby.

● How to visit Schloß Neuschwanstein and Schloß Hohenschwangau

● The Wieskirche, a UNESCO-listed Rococo pilgrimage church, is a short ride away

● The town’s own castle, churches and museums

Hyperlink access to essential tourist and accommodation information

Aachen

Aachen travel guide PDF in 5 pages

The Romans developed the hot springs at Aachen, then 1200 years ago the Frankish king Charlemagne set up his court there and the town became the centre of his empire. The 2018 Raven Guide to Aachen is available for free download now.

● A guide to Charlemagne's church, which grew to become the present Aachen cathedral, one of the first world heritage sites

● The Roman and medieval survivals of the city and details of the city tour

● Essential services with hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Eisenach

Eisenach travel guide PDF in 4 pages

The new Raven guide to the Thuringian town, birthplace of Bach and hiding place of Martin Luther early in his revolt against the established church. It is also the site of one of Germany’s great medieval castles, with links to another great German composer, Wagner, and a centre of automobile making.

● Guide to the Wartburg castle

● Guides to the Bach museum of his life and work and museum of car manufacture

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Wittenberg travel guide PDF in 4 pages

More than 500 years after Martin Luther's Reformation, this free guide covers the place where it all began. The town was the cradle of the religious movement that threw off the structures of the Catholic church and shaped new ideas and ways of worship, but also more than a century of bitter conflict that shaped Germany forever.

● Key sites, now world heritage monuments, include Luther's house and the castle

● The church where Luther's revolt began and churches Luther and his associates preached

● Hyperlinks to further tourist information and to websites for city accommodation

Bamberg

Bamberg travel guide PDF in 5 pages

The layout of the UNESCO heritage-listed city centre and a range of Baroque and medieval architecture makes Bamberg one of Germany’s most beautiful cities.

● The Romanesque cathedral, the opulent bishops’ Residenz palace, and its Renaissance predecessor dominate the old town

● The old town hall in the middle of the river Regnitz and the mysterious statue Bamberger Reiter attract millions of travellers

● Summaries of 35 historic sites and museums

● Information on tours, parks, food and the arts

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Trier

Trier travel guide PDF in 7 pages

The Roman Trier was at one time second only to Rome itself. It was home to one of the most powerful Roman emperors, Constantine the Great, and later to Karl Marx. Signs of its past greatness remain for travellers to marvel at. Germany’s oldest city – and one of its oldest cathedrals – remain and are world-heritage listed.

● Read about the ancient Roman city gate Porta Nigra, the Roman bath complexes, a well-preserved amphitheatre and Constantine’s former imperial palace, plus the buildings of the medieval city

● The guide includes more than 30 sites, churches and museums, with essential services, *transport links, transit and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg travel guide PDF in 4 pages

Completely walled with more than 40 towers, the cobbled pedestrian streets of the Romantic Road town perched above the Tauber valley are little changed since the 17th century, with medieval and Renaissance half-timbered houses and stone churches.

● The guide includes 17 sites and museums and an excursion to the Franconian open-air museum at nearby Bad Windsheim

● Essential services, transport links, food tips and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and websites for many of the town’s small accommodation houses

Potsdam

Potsdam travel guide in 11 pages

Potsdam is a curious but beautiful mixture of Prussian palaces and military buildings established by its martial rulers. The Stadtschloß palace was the first royal residence and others gradually multiplied in the city's extensive parklands over 250 years. The city’s minorities grew with waves of immigration, leaving the Dutch quarter Holländisches Viertel, a Bohemian district and the Russian colony Siedlung Alexandrowka and its tiny Orthodox church. This guide offers:

● An introduction to the delicate Rococo palace Schloß Sanssouci and the palaces and pavilions of Park Sanssouci with brief histories

● The story of Potsdam’s ornate city gates, its Baroque streetscapes and 15 museums

● Details of essential services, transport links and fares, accommodation, food and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Regensburg

Regensburg travel guide PDF in 6 pages

The streets, archways and buildings of this medieval city, which grew from remains of a Roman legionary camp, remain. The range of ancient monuments and its streetscapes justify Regensburg’s world heritage listing.

● One of Germany’s classic Gothic cathedrals, several medieval churches, rare Gothic tower houses and one of Germany’s oldest stone bridges

Almost 30 sites and museums, including the nearby Walhalla gallery of great Germanic figures of history

● Information on essential services, transport links and urban transit and fares plus listings of travel essentials

● Hyperlink access to accommodation websites and further tourist information

Würzburg

Würzburg travel guide PDF in 7 pages

The prince-bishops who controlled Würzburg for centuries built wealth, power and influence expressed in Baroque by their huge palace, the UNESCO world-heritage Residenz. Their medieval castle still commands the city, reached by a stone bridge.

● Summaries of Würzburg’s grand residences, the medieval cathedral, churches and other sites

Museums and galleries including one of Europe’s prominent Jewish museums

Tours, essential services, transport links, transit services and fares and food tips

● Hyperlink access to accommodation and further tourist information websites

Passau

Passau travel guide PDF in 4 pages

The border 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.

● Descriptions of 13 sites and museums, including the exhibits of Passau’s Roman past and history of glass manufacture

● Details of essential services, transport links and urban buses including fares, accommodation, food, tours and spectacular views

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Dinkelsbühl

Dinkelsbühl travel guide PDF in 2 pages

This short guide covers a tiny medieval walled town, left unchanged by a royal decree and now a favourite of artists and a small number of travellers.

● Dinkelsbühl’s town walls and many Gothic and Renaissance buildings keep its atmosphere alive

● Small hotels, pensions and restaurants complement the historical scene

● Essential services, tourist and transport information are included with hyperlinks to accommodation

Augsburg

Augsburg travel guide PDF in 6 pages

The wealth and influence of Augsburg’s powerful families brought the Renaissance to Germany at a time when the city was also the site of key events of the Reformation.

● The home of Germany’s onion-domed towers, museums with magnificent works of art, and one of the beautiful Renaissance streets of Germany, the Maximilianstraße

Guides to more than 30 sites, including monuments to Roman settlement

Transport links and fares, food and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Heidelberg

Heidelberg travel guide PDF in 7 pages

The most common description for Heidelberg is Romantic. This comes from its valley location, half-ruined castle and the towered stone bridge crossing the river Neckar.

● Explore Heidelberg’s cobbled streets in search of the essence of the city – Germany’s oldest university, the churches, monuments to its religious struggles, and its restaurants and cafes

● Discover the castle, its history, and the funicular railway that makes the climb – and vantage points above the city – much easier

● Several budget hotel and private hostels that help make Heidelberg accommodation affordable, plus hyperlink access to other accommodation and tourist information sites

● Guides to 27 sites and museums

Goslar

Goslar travel guide PDF in 5 pages

The medieval town has hundreds of colourful half-timbered houses, Romanesque churches and the Kaiserpfalz, one of Germany’s oldest palaces. Its ancient Rammelsberg mines were the source of its wealth and are partly responsible for the town’s world heritage status.

19 sites and museums including the finest town houses

● A town walk and Rammelsberg tour

● Information on transport links plus listings of travel essentials and hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

● An excursion to the nearby half-timbered Harz town Wernigerode

Lübeck

Lübeck travel guide PDF in 7 pages

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.

● The commercial and civic culture of the city through guides to 30 sites, museums and galleries

Tours, the best views and food options with other travel essentials

● Information on transport links and transit services including fares

● Hyperlinks to further tourist information and to websites for city accommodation

Berlin

Berlin travel guide PDF updated for 2019

Get 34 pages of things to do in Berlin free. Berlin is used to crisis, novelty and immigrants – so to visit Berlin is to visit many Berlins. The city that the Enlightenment and industrial progress created survived years of destruction and division.

● Descriptions of places to visit in Berlin including more than 60 historic sites, with guides to walking sections of the Berlin Wall, its museums and its memorials

● A complete guide to what to do in Berlin, including tours, cruises, parks and the best views

● Separate sections for the districts Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Schöneberg-Tempelhof, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Spandau, with local food and accommodation lists and quick guides to essential services

● Summary of major transport links with Berlin

● How to use urban transit services including Berlin U-Bahn and S-Bahn, with their differences and the fares

● Summaries of more than 50 Berlin museums of history, art and culture, and information on all major performance groups including orchestras, opera and theatre

● Short history of the city and its precincts

● Hyperlinks to websites for Berlin hotels and hostels and further tourist information

Bremen

Bremen travel guide PDF in 8 pages

One of Germany’s oldest cities includes UNESCO world heritage monuments, ornate Renaissance architecture with a regional stamp, the story of world travellers including emigrants to the US and arts precincts with works by some of the most innovative German artists. This guide is updated for 2020.

● The ancient St Petri cathedral and 11 other sites including the giant Roland figure

17 Bremen museums including art and the remarkable Übersee-Museum, with exhibits of the wonders of the continents touched by Bremen’s worldwide trade interests

Transport links and the city’s complicated transit system explained

● Hyperlink access to websites for accommodation houses and further tourist information

Dresden

Dresden travel guide PDF in 11 pages

Twice over the centuries, Dresden has been an amazing place. The first period was the Baroque magnificence of the 17th and 18th centuries. The second is now, with much of the city’s splendour restored.

Dresden's city palaces with their museums and galleries, highlighted by the two Green Vault museums, are among the most remarkable in Germany

● The exquisite, rebuilt Frauenkirche

● The Saxon ducal and royal summer palaces of Pillnitz and Moritzburg

● In all, 30 museums and galleries of art and culture

● Information on tours, essential services, parks and views, food and performing arts

● Details of excursions to the medieval city of Meissen, centre of European porcelain, and the fortress of Königstein

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Hamburg

Hamburg travel guide PDF in 8 pages

Germany’s mighty port city attracts travellers from all over the world and was the departure point for generations of migrants. ● 25 sites, ships, museums, monuments and churches that reflect Hamburg’s maritime and trading traditions

● The UNESCO world heritage Speicherstadt, centre of Hamburg’s former free port

● Essential services are listed with a choice of tours, including port tours

● Information on transport links and extensive urban transit services including fares

● Listings of essential traveller services

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

● The city’s arts and music scene, including opera

Nuremberg (Nürnberg)

Nuremberg travel guide PDF in 8 pages

Modern Nuremberg has preserved or restored many walled and historic areas. The city’s leading late medieval citizens were some of the best known German personalities. Then came the Nazis.

● Guides to 20 buildings, historic streets and monuments, among them the Kaiserburg, the castle of early imperial German assemblies

● 13 museums, including Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Germany’s leading cultural history museum

● The courts of the post-World War II war crimes trials, now also a museum

Transport links, urban transit, tours and essential services

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Cologne (Köln)

Cologne travel guide PDF in 15 pages

Cologne is Roman, medieval and modern all at once, a city known for piety, carnival and perfume. Travellers can walk the historic centre and the remains of the Roman wall. The guide has been updated for 2019-20 and expanded with new material.

Germany’s mightiest cathedral, which took more than 600 years to complete

● Cologne’s Roman and medieval walls and gates picked out for travellers

● 12 precious Romanesque churches with historical background

● In all, 25 sites and 17 museums of art, history and culture including the Römisch-Germanisches Museum and associated archaeological sites

Transport links and urban transit services including fares

Tours, parks, views, food and performing arts

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Stuttgart

Stuttgart travel guide PDF in 6 pages

The Baden-Württemberg capital is one of Germany’s beautiful lifestyle cities, surrounded by hills and some of the country’s most beautiful palaces and pleasure pavilions.

● 10 sites including Stuttgart’s castle complexes, Schloß Solitude and the magnificent palaces of Ludwigsburg nearby

● 10 museums and galleries of art

Tours, walks through the city’s extensive parks and views

● Guide to essential services and hyperlinks to tourist information and accommodation house websites and a guide to performance art

Munich (München)

Munich travel guide PDF in 13 pages

Munich was founded by monks and built up by dukes and kings, but became a centre of revolution as well as a home for arts, industry and travellers enjoying the good life.

● Germany’s largest museum, Deutsches Museum, and some of its richest art museums

● The city’s extensive palaces and palace gardens are featured

● Almost 30 museums of history, art and culture

● 30 historic sites in and around the city

● Information on major performance groups including orchestras and opera

Accommodation, food and a guide to essential services including transport links and urban transit services and fares

● A choice of city tours and some of its finest views

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites