Sightseeing in Wittenberg is easy as all the major sights are in a straight line in Collegienstraße, which turns into Schlossstraße after the Market Square.
Martin Luther in Wittenberg
The Luthereiche (Luther Oak) is in a small park on the corner of Collegien and Lutherstraße. In 1520, Luther burned a copy of the papal bull that excommunicated him along with books by his opponents here. (Through the years, he burned various other copies in other towns as well. The original bull is in the state archives in Dresden.) The original oak died long ago and the current one dates from 1830.
Up the street, past the park and parts of the former city walls is the stately Collegium Augusteum (Augustus College). Dating from the mid-16th century, it currently houses the Evangelical Seminary and Library.
The most interesting exhibitions are on the ground and first floor. In 11 rooms, Luther’s life and his move from critic to outright reformer are illustrated with more than a thousand exhibits. In the Lutherstube on the first floor, the original wood paneling survived in the room that Luther and his family used as dining and reception room for his numerous guests. Note the “Petr” scratched on a doorsill – graffiti left by Czar Peter the Great in 1702. The top floor has mainly coins and newer items, with the library visible through glass panes. The cellar has exhibitions on daily life in Luther’s time that are mainly aimed at younger children.
The museum has more than 15,000 prints dating from the 15th to 18th century and 11,000 manuscripts from the 11th to 19th century. The library has 30,000 books, a complete collection of Luther’s works including 90% of his first editions. Paintings include several from the Cranach studio of leading Reformation figures as well as a large panel painting of the 10 Commandments that used to hang in the courtroom of the local town hall. Of particular relevance and interest are numerous indulgences from all over Germany – the items that sparked Luther’s protest in the first place.
Nearby is the Melanchthonhaus, (Melanchthon House), Collegienstraße 60, with its characteristic gable. Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), one of Luther’s closest friends and strongest supporters, lived here from 1536 until his death. His role in building the Evangelical church as well as an education system gave him the nickname “Teacher of Germany.” The house has an interesting interior with mainly prints and panels on his life. All information is in German only. Behind the house, facing the Elbe, is his famous garden. Practically next door is the Alte Universität (Old University) that existed from 1502 to 1817. This institution drew both Luther and Melanchthon to Wittenberg as teachers of Philosophy and Greek respectively.
Like most similar towns, the Marktplatz (Market Square) is still the heart of the town. Most festivals are centered here and many restaurants are on the square or in the immediate vicinity. On the square is a Luther statue (1821) and one of Melanchthon (1865). The large Renaissance Rathaus (Town Hall) was completed in 1535. Opposite is the birthplace of Lucas Cranach the Younger, Markt 6. Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked here from 1505 to 1547. The house was severely damaged by bombardments during the Seven Years’ War. It was repaired and the Baroque façade added in 1760.
Clearly visible from the Marktplatz but accessible from here only through a narrow alley is the Stadtkirche St Marien (Town Church of St Mary), on Kirchplatz. It is the oldest building in town and has a famous Cranach Reformation altarpiece. Most of this Gothic church dates from the early 1400s, but parts of the towers are from the 13th century. The adjacent chapel is from 1370.
The Cranach Höfe (Cranach Courtyards), Schlosstraße 1, dates from 1506 and has around 100 rooms in which Cranach the Elder lived and worked up to 1550. Major work in recent years restored the building to what it used to be like in Cranach’s time. It is used as a museum, with a historic printing press and gallery.
Furniture and other consumer items from the former German Democratic Republic are currently in vogue in Germany. The Haus der Geschichte (House of History), Schlossstraße 6, is a small museum dedicated to life in the former GDR. The focus is on everyday life and the articles that were used by ordinary people. Living rooms of every decade from the 1940s to 1970s show how fashion changed even in the Communist era. It also has kitchens, bathrooms, and toys from various eras. On the ground floor is an exhibition of bulky radios and televisions, some with modifications to receive western broadcasts. Information displays are very limited as the explanations are done live, in German only, by local residents.
The Schloss Area
At the far end of the old town on the Schlossplatz are the Schloss (Castle) and more famous Schlosskirche (Castle Church). Both were built by Elector Frederick theWise around 1500 but were damaged during wars and rebuilt differently from the originals.
The Schloss was changed into a citadel in 1819 after Prussia annexed Saxony- Wittenberg as punishment for Saxony’s alliance with Napoleon. It currently houses a not particularly interesting Nature and Ethnology Museum. Of more interest is the restaurant in the cellar, the views from the garden, and the plaques in the courtyard with names of famous people associated with Wittenberg.
The Schlosskirche Allerheiligen is a major tourist draw. It is on the doors of this church that Martin Luther was supposed to have nailed his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. The church, and said door, burned down in 1760 during the Seven Years’ War. The current church was reconstructed in 1892 and incorporated one of the original castle towers as a church tower. In 1855, the 95 Theses were cast in bronze and are seen on the door facing the square. Inside the church are the graves of several Askanian counts who ruled the area from 1157 until 1422, but generally of more interest are the graves of both Luther and Melanchthon in the front of the church. Also of note are the bronze epitaph (1527 by Peter Vischer) of Fredrick the Wise and an alabaster statue (1537) of him kneeling in knight’s armor. The pulpit, altar, baptism font, and most other decorations date from 1892, although most are made to look older.
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