Sunday, July 10, 2016

What to do in Lutherstadt Wittenberg

I arrived by train from Berlin - less than one hour ride - on a cold rainy Sunday morning this February. I wanted to come here for a long time, attracted by the historical background of the city, but somehow, there were always temptations elsewhere. This time, the historian in me was thinking that I better hurry up before the big 500 Years of Reform celebration, the next year, are starting. 
From the train station until the old city area, with streets covered in cobblestones, it was hardly anyone on the streets. On the way to the central area, we passed near old bricked outposts and red post office building, but even behind the windows no movements were visible.
The first stop was at the Lutherhaus, a former monastery in the 16th century, that was given to Luther by the Elector John the Steadfast, and he lived here together with his wife and seven children. Many students used to come here to stay too, as the city was for a long time a prestigious university center. 'Come to Wittenberg, where citizens are well educated and devoted to the sciences', sounded a local call to students from all over the German states.
Since 1883, the place hosts the Reformation Museum, and hosts interesting testimonies about the history of this religious denomination. The most part is dedicated to outline the life and works of Luther, presenting documents signed or annotated by him as well as the first Bible translation into German.
It also hosts an impressive library, with collections of Reform documents, the first edition of Luther writings, manuscripts of other Reformation representatives, such as Zwingli or Melachton and 14,500 sheets of graphic arts. Paintings by Cranach decorate the walls. An interesting experience regardless of your religion.
A couple of meters away, another memorial place: Melachton house, where the other representative of the Reformation lived between 1539 and 1560. It documents his life and works, through extended explanations and reconstructions of spaces in the spirit of times.
The former university buildings were turned into baracks in 1842 and nowadays are hosting a foundation dedicated to preserving the local heritage. Many houses keep the memory of famous students or learned men that used to visit or live here, such as Goethe or Schiller. 
In the historical center, colourful houses bring more life in a grey day, mourning the lack of sun and warm.
Many historical buildings were recently repainted and host elegant fashion or antique shops or Italian restaurants. Hotels and a hostel are also available, including an elegant Grand Adler Hotel, at the time in process of renovation.
Despite the light deprivation, the central area looks like a time stopped a couple of centuries ago. It is the Altmarkt, usual place of meeting and trading, nowadays the meeting point for tourists.
Different architectural styles demonstrates that in fact, the city changed, although in its own pace. Nearby, the Elbe river shores bring a corner of nature into the crowded city life. 
A timbered house with some new colourful patches is hosting now various artists workshops, but used to be the memorial Cranach house, whose paintings are associated with the city and this part of Germany.
During the Cold War, the city was part of the DDR, and a small museum is dedicated to those memories.
The borders of the old city are quite narrow, and in half an hour slow walking you are almost done. Walking in the middle of the historical buildings is an interesting experience, as you can always learn something about a famous resident or some episode from the story of Reformation.
But, as usual, I am here to discover more than the usual travel guides are advising. I am curious about the new life here and then, I am heading for a bit of travel adventure: I took the Berlinerstrasse road and soon I am facing some massive street art, embelishing the usually boring Plattenbau. 
And there is something else I am here to see: the Hundertwasser vision of decorating a high school. It looks like a castle, you just need to watch which princess is about to go out. The bright colours and unusual shapes recreate the standard space of learning. 
Hurrying up back in town, before it is too late, I choose to eat at the Indian Taj Mahal Restaurant, packed iwth people at this time of the day. The mushroom pakoras are very small but tasty, and the Binyani with veggies has the tasty combination of sweet, dried fruits and discrete coconut fragrance. 
Before saying 'good bye', I discover some more hidden backyards, with more historical memories and luxuriant vegetation. It was a short but intense trip, during which I learned a lot about German history and religion. This is what travel is mostly all about for me.

For more inspiration, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: https://de.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/lutherstadt-wittenberg/

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