Wittenberg

Martin Luther and the 95 Theses


This sleepy little town in rural eastern Germany doesn't look like the center of a revolution. But the events that played out here in the 16th Century shook the foundations of Christendom.

wittenberg germany street scene
Wittenberg, Mittelstrasse

It was here in Wittenberg, Germany, that Martin Luther lived and preached, and on October 31, 1517, he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church. The Protestant Reformation had begun.

Visitors come here from all over the world to see the places where these historic events took place. This could be a good day trip from Berlin; it's about one hour on the IC train. But to see everything without having to rush, I would recommend spending at least one night here.

See Hotels, Tourist Information Office, Getting There.
Also English Tours, Medieval Faires, Map.

For such a small town, there is a lot to see:

  • The town itself. A charming collection of 16th Century houses and a striking market square.
  • The Castle Church. It was on the doors of this impressive church that (allegedly) Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses. Luther's grave is inside.
  • The Town Church. Another beautiful Medieval church where Luther preached many sermons.
  • Luther's Residence. Martin Luther lived in this converted cloister with his family for many years. Now a museum.
  • The Oak Tree planted where Luther burned the Papal Bull.
  • Lucas Cranach's Home and art studio. This artist documented much of the Reformation with his portraits and woodcuts.

Other things to see:

  • The Castle Museum, in the castle part of the Castle Church building. History of Wittenberg, from prehistoric times through the middle ages and later as a Prussian garrison town.
  • Philip Melanchthon's House, on Collegienstrasse. Luther's friend and fellow theologian, who contributed enormously to Lutheran doctrine.
  • An East German nostalgia museum, Haus der Geschichte, on Schlossstrasse. Rooms furnished in 50's, 60's and 70's DDR style.
  • An interesting second-hand shop on Mittelstrasse, crammed with German Army items, WWI to the present.

What to See in Wittenberg


The town's official name is Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, and this is definitely Martin Luther Central! Everywhere you turn, there's a spot associated with Martin Luther's life. The shops carry everything you could imagine associated with their most famous resident: books, posters, mugs, statues...even Martin Luther socks! In spite of that, it's really a pleasant little town and crammed with interesting history.

The Town of Wittenberg

Wittenberg is designed for easy walking. The old town is long and narrow, and flat, laid out along two parallel streets: pedestrian-only Collegienstrasse (which turns into Schlossstrasse), and Mittelstrasse.

Most of the historical sights are along Collegienstrasse and Schlossstrasse.

wittenberg germany  street, view of castle church
Castle Church at end of Schlossstrasse

A stream runs along the main street, partially underground. Half way along, the street opens out into an attractive square, or Markt, with a statues of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon.

wittenberg germany, main square, markt
Main Square, Town Church Towers

Pretty pastel-colored buildings, many from the 16th and 17th centuries, line the streets and there are a number of inviting restaurants serving hearty German cooking. During warmer weather, many of the restaurants have tables on the sidewalk, great for relaxing and people-watching.

The Tourist Information Office is located at the western end of Schlossstrasse across the street from the Castle Church. You can get maps of the town, as well as information on all the local activities. This is a good pace to book a hotel if you don't have reservations. Open daily (except in winter). They also have a smaller office in front of the train station with more limited hours (closed Saturday afternoons and Sundays). www.wittenberg-information.de.

English tours: the Tourist Office can arrange English tours for groups, but the regular daily tours are in German. They do have do-it-yourself audio tours in English for rent. In addition, they have a "cell phone tour", where you call a certain number and extension at each sight, and hear information about it in English, for only a connection fee.


Castle Church

This is the famous church where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door. Luther gave some of his sermons in this church and now is buried just under the pulpit. The church was severely damaged twice during wars in the centuries following the Reformation, but it was rebuilt each time.

castle church tower, wittenberg grmany
The Castle Church Tower

The doors you see now were put up in the 19th century (the original wooden doors are long gone, with the Middle Ages). The current doors are made of bronze and are engraved with all ninety-five theses.

church doors, wittenberg
Doors of the Castle Church

It is called the Castle Church because it is part of a church-castle complex. The castle tower rises high above Wittenberg and you can climb the winding stone stairs for a great view of the town. Open daily from noon to 4:00. On the Schlossplatz, at the end of Schlossstrasse.

Something cool: English services are conducted on Saturday evenings at 6 p.m., at either this church or the Town Church. You can sing Luther's most famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God in English, in the church where he sang it. Check for scheduling on the website: www.wittenberg-english-ministry.com.

wittenberg castle
Wittenberg Castle

Town Church

This is a lovely old church (the Stadtkirche), very large, with its double towers reaching high above the town. It is just behind the Markt on Kirchplatz.

town church, wittenber germany
The Town Church, or Stadtkirche
Martin Luther preached many sermons in this church, and he and Katharina von Bora were married here. Their marriage is re-enacted annually in a popular festival. All of his children were baptized in the church. A large painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder is above the altar showing Luther receiving the cup at the Last Supper.


Martin Luther's Residence

One of the first buildings on the left on Collegienstrasse as you enter the old town is the large cloister that Martin Luther used as a home.

luthers house, wittenberg
Martin Luther's Home

The Luther family, wife and six children, and various students and visitors lived in the central part of the building. He was given the building by one of the aristocrats supporting his movement.

katharina von bora stature, wittenberg
Luther's Wife, Katharina von Bora

The building is now a museum, open daily, and maintains Luther's living rooms in their original state. This is where Luther sat with his family and friends in the evenings, discussing a wide range of subjects from the sublime to the earthy (yes, earthy, not earthly!)

Martin Luther was known for his rather blunt way of speaking as well as for his eloquence. Students were allowed to be present during these evening discussions; they took notes and later published thousands of his comments in a book called "Table Talk". To read a sampling of his sayings, see Martin Luther Quotes.

luthers house, museum entrance, wittenberg
Museum Entrance, Luther's Residence

Inside the museum are some interesting artifacts from that period, including one of chests used for collecting money for indulgences, an "indulgence" letter itself, and the pulpit that Martin Luther used for preaching.

Lucas Cranach's fascinating painting of the Ten Commandments is located on wood panels in the refectory of Martin Luther's home. The Wicked Deeds are presented quasi-cartoon style for the faithful to ponder.

ten commandments, lucas cranach, wittenberg
The Ten Commandments, Lucas Cranach

Lucas Cranach's House


lucas cranach apotheke

Lucas Cranach (the Elder) was not only one of the most accomplished and prolific painters of the 16th century, he was also the mayor of Wittenberg and owned a pharmacists shop that is still doing business as a pharmacy (or Apotheke) in Wittenberg!

He painted many of the well-known figures of the Reformation, as well as the local princes and princesses, and his paintings, drawings and woodcuts are in museums all over Europe. His house on Collegienstrasse is now a museum and his artist studio behind the house has some interesting exhibits.

lucas cranach the elder, painting of saxon pricesses
Saxon Princesses, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1535

Luther's Oak

In 1520, Martin Luther's supporters piled up a stack of writings of Church doctrine and set them on fire. Luther threw in the Papal Bull, the document threatening him with excommunication unless he recanted his writings.

luthers oak tree, wittenberg
Luther's Oak

In 1830, an oak tree was planted on the spot where all this allegedly took place. The tree is at the corner of Am Hauptbahnhofstrasse and Collegienstrasse on the way in from the train station, just before you enter the old town.


Medieval Faires

Twice a year the town of Wittenberg turns into a medieval village, with music, costumes, hearty peasant fare, plenty of wine and beer, and medieval dancing, juggling and processions.

pottery fair, wittenberg
Wittenberg Faire
  • Luthers Hochzeit, or Luther's Wedding, is a celebration based on the wedding of Luther and Katharina von Bora which takes place in June each year. The next "wedding" is June 7-9, 2013.
  • The Reformations Fest is another Medieval Faire, with additional classical concerts, plays, seminars and special church services. This takes place for several days around October 31 every year (the date the 95 Theses were nailed up).

There is also an annual Pottery Fair in September, where local potters display their wares in the main square.

wittenberg germany pottery fair
Pottery Faire

Wittenberg University

There has been a university here since Martin Luther's time, located on Collegienstrasse. Parts of the structure date back to that period, and Luther himself worked within these walls. Quotations of his are displayed on the walls in the entrance hall.

entrance to wittenberg university, germany
Entrance to the University

Travel Tips


Hotels in Wittenberg

There are several charming, older hotels in the heart of the old town, conveniently located and loaded with ambiance:

  • Goldener Adler, on the Markt, www.goldeneradler-wittenberg.de.
  • Schwarzer Baer, at Schlossstrasse 2, www.stadthotel-wittenberg.de.
  • Alte Kanzley, Schlossplatz 3-5. www.alte-canzley.de

Less expensive, but only a six minute walk from the Castle Church, is the Am Alten Anker (At the Old Anchor), at Dessauerstrasse 286, just outside the old town (where I stayed). A friendly, family-run hotel with a nautical theme, it's very quiet and clean . It has an impressive breakfast buffet and a restaurant, in case you don't want to go out again in the evening. www.hotel-am-alten-anker.de.


Travel to Wittenberg


map of wittenberg in germany
Wittenberg

Wittenberg is located on the Elbe River in eastern Germany, 62 miles (100km) southwest of Berlin and it's about one hour by train from both Berlin and Leipzig.

The train station is just to the east of the old town, about a ten minute walk. If you come by train, take a left on the street in front of the station (Am Hauptbahnhofstrasse) and follow that until the street ends near a traffic circle. See maps below.

The famous oak tree is to the right of the circle. Turn right and you will be on the main street of the old town, Collegienstrasse. Most of the main sights are on this street. The Castle Church (Schlosskirche) is at the far end, and you will pass Luther's house, the old University, Melanchthon and Cranach's houses and the Markt. The Town Church (Stadtkirche) is on the parallel street, Mittelstrasse. It has enormous towers; you can't miss it.


Map of Wittenberg




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