Sites of the Reformation — Wittenberg, Eisenach, Eisleben and Torgau
Over 500 years after Martin Luther started the Reformation, several German towns still bear witness to his work. From UNESCO World Heritage sites in Wittenberg, through Eisenach and Eisleben to Torgau, you can follow in the footsteps of the Father of the Reformation.
Wittenberg — The Mother of Reformation
Wittenberg is most famous for its crucial role in Reformation history. The small town of 50.000 inhabitants in the state of Saxony-Anhalt was the place where Martin Luther is said to have posted the ’95 Theses’ to the Castle Church’s door which marked the starting point for monumental changes. UNESCO recognised the importance of both the Castle Church and the Lutherhaus, making them World Heritage sites in 1996.
Things to see and do
Castle Church, also referred to as All Saint’s Church, was the cradle of Lutheran Reformation. On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther is said to have posted his ’95 Theses’ on the entrance of the church, launching an ideological and intellectual revolution throughout the Western world. In 1760, during the Seven Years’ War, the church was set on fire, irreversibly damaging the infamous wooden doors. The building was later (1885–1892) restored and the doors replaced with a bronze model. Recently, the church’s 15th century chapel underwent major renovation works for its 500th anniversary.
Martin Luther’s home
In Wittenberg, you can also visit the very home in which Luther lived from 1507 to 1521 and set out his ’95 Theses’. The “Lutherhaus” was constructed in 1504 as part of the University of Wittenberg and expanded in 1564 to host the Augusteum — a Protestant seminary and library. The entire complex still exists today and houses the world’s largest museum relating to Reformation.
Eisleben — Luther’s birth place
The magnificent medieval town of Eisleben in Saxony-Anhalt is home to 25.500 people and was both the birth and death place of its most popular citizen, Martin Luther.
Things to see and do
Luther’s childhood home
Today, visitors can trace Luther’s first and last steps in his childhood home where he was born on 10 October 1483. His birthplace was entirely destroyed in 1689 but later re-built.
The house where Martin Luther passed away on 18 February 1546 can also be visited. Both buildings, which now functions as museums, were designated UNESCO World Heritages in 1996.
Eisleben further marks Luther’s first encounter with religion. The original baptismal font in which Martin Luther was baptised in 1483 is still on display in the local St-Petri-Pauli Church.
Eisenach — A religious and artistic epicentre
The picturesque and historic city of Eisenach with its many well-preserved timbered houses in the Federal State of Thuringia is both the birthplace of the ingenious composer Johann Sebastian Bach and home to the famous Wartburg Castle.
Things to see and do
On 31 March 1685, the composer Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, where he lived for ten years. In his honour, the “Bachhaus” was transformed into a museum and opened in 1907, praising Bach’s legacy and displaying around 250 original exhibits, including a Bach music autograph. The core of the building complex is a half-timbered house which was built about 550 years ago. During US bombing on the city in 1944/5, the museum suffered partial destruction. However, only days after the war, US officials ordered restoration works to be commenced immediately and the museum was re-opened the subsequent year.
Just outside Eisenach’s south-side city borders, Wartburg Castle dominates the beautiful landscape. It functioned both as a mighty fortress and an imposing residence, witnessing some of the greatest figures in German history. While the magnificent Romanesque palas (great hall) was erected in 12th century, the castle’s (unconfirmed) origins date back to as late as 1067. Its cultural and artistic heritage is next to unprecedented in Germany. It once echoed to the songs of Walther von der Vogelweide, inspired a number of epic poems by Wolfram von Eschenbach, and is the setting of the Battle of Bards which Richard Wagner integrated in his opera Tannhäuser.
Wartburg castle was also home to Saint Elisabeth until 1228. About 300 years later, it became refuge to one of the most important religious thinkers in history, Martin Luther, who fled prosecution, hiding under the alias of „Junker Jörg“. During his stay, Luther translated the New Testament from Latin to German to make it accessible to the less educated.
In 1817, it then hosted the infamous Wartburg Festival which was organised by student fraternities to celebrate the achievements of Luther, the Reformation and the Leipzig Wars. It was the first instance of a proclamation of a sentiment for an independent and unified nation state.
UNESCO honoured the castle’s impeccable curriculum vitae and set it on the list of World Heritage sites in 1999.
Torgau — The “wet nurse” of the Reformation
The small Saxonian town of Torgau was the political centre of the Reformation movement. Due to its central historical importance Torgau was made European City of the Reformation by the German Community of Protestant Churches in 2015.
Things to see and do
Once the residence of the Elector of Saxony, Hartenfels castle was the key reason for Martin Luther’s numerous well-documented visits. The Elector had significant influence in politics and played a major role in the establishment of new Protestant ideas and changes in religion. His acquaintance, appreciation and outreach were indispensable for Luther’s endeavours. Hartenfels castle was also an important venue in the emergence of Protestant traditions: Its chapel was the first newly-built Protestant church and was inaugurated with a sermon by Martin Luther in 1544. The castle is well-preserved and has remained largely unchanged since the 15th and 16th century. Today it is open to the public and hosts changing exhibitions.
Torgau also commemorates Martin Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora (1499–1552). To celebrate her and other female historical figures, the town hosts an annual series of cultural events, the so-called “Katherinentag”, or Katharina Day.
British-German Town Twinnings
Town twinnings between British and German cities play an important role in promoting cultural exchange. Since 2014, Wittenberg has been twinned with Wycliffestead Lutterworth, and Eisleben has been twinned with it since 2015.