There were no musical connections for me in Wittenberg, in the context of my Grand Tour, but the town – now known formally as Lutherstadt-Wittenberg – was the home of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and of his friend and colleague Melanchthon, and the place where the Protestant Reformation started, early in the 16th century, with its inevitable knock-on effect on composers later: Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, was a Lutheran. It was also the home of Lucas Cranach, the great and prolific artist, and friend of Luther, whose works, and those of his son and apprentices, had been striking highlights in many of my earlier destinations. Logistically, Wittenberg was conveniently on a route between Köthen and Berlin... / more

Lutherstadt-Wittenberg highlights

Martin Luther

Martin Luther started teaching at the university in Wittenberg in 1508, settling permanently in the town in 1511 and being appointed to the Chair of Biblical Studies. His protest against the sale of Indulgences – a scheme which allowed people to "offset" some or all of their sins by paying money to the Church – began in 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses, setting out his views, to the door of the church. In 1520 the Pope issued a 'Papal bull' threatening him with excommunication unless he retracted them, and in 1521 he was declared a heretic...

Click for photos and more


Stadtkirche St Marien

The twin towers of Stadtkirche St Marien dwarf the buildings on the eastern side of the Marktplatz. The church is the oldest surviving building in Wittenberg, with the choir dating back to 1300 and much of the rest of the church built between then and 1470. The altar painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder depicts The Last Supper, with Luther shown as the disciple receiving the cup. Luther was married in the church in 1525, and often preached there, and his six children were baptised in the late Gothic font, made by Hermann Vischer of Nürnberg in 1457.

Click for photos and more


Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) was not only a remarkable painter and an artist in copper-plates and wood-cuts – creating likenesses of many of the significant figures of the day as well as the outstanding altar panels and other works – but was also a successful businessman and politician, for several years the Mayor of Wittenberg.

My own time in Wittenberg was not as successful as Luther's or Lucas Cranach's, due entirely to a series of poor decisions on my part. I ended up leaving the town far too early, after not visiting the places I should have visited, and then wasting time in Berlin where I was due to catch the sleeper to Warsaw later that evening and was anxious not to miss it. I should have stayed longer – I could have visited the Cranach, Luther and Melanchthon museums and still had time to kill; although whether I could have absorbed any more information is open to question.

I was tired, after four and a half weeks on the road. My brain was already in Berlin. Wittenberg had been something of a last-minute addition to the itinerary, and although I'd researched it I hadn't made detailed plans. Then, when I arrived at the station, I found there is no left luggage facility – possibly the only DB station in Germany without one – so I had to drag my heavy case around the town over the cobbled pavements, and might not have been a welcome visitor with it in the museums. Amazingly, I found it difficult to get from the station to the town, as the station lies between two railway lines and there are exits on both sides, with no signs, so for a while I lost my bearings. And the weather was cold, dull and grey, as it had been for days. So by the time I arrived at the Luther Oak at the head of Collegienstrasse, to begin my tour of the town, I was feeling pretty grumpy.

I'd travelled to Wittenberg from Köthen, via Dessau. The Dessau train was quite full, including six bikes and some pushchairs in the area where I was standing. A fat family was playing the on-board ticket machine all the way – I assume the trick is to set up the ticket purchase and only press the button if the ticket inspector gets on. A flat agricultural landscape with occasional small groups of wind turbines.

One day I shall go back; I feel there's unfinished business!

You are here: Home > Grand Tour > Destinations > Lutherstadt-Wittenberg : top
<-  Köthen Wittenberg Warsaw ->