In Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, Hamlet and his friend Horatio study together at the university in Wittenberg. For some, the fact that the Danish prince, a Catholic, was attending a Protestant university with its "new" ideas is an important key to Hamlet's soul-searching.
Wittenberg is located in Saxony-Anhalt, East Germany, and its official name is Lutherstadt Wittenberg for its close connection with Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation. Here in 1517, he posted his celebrated
95 Theses onto the door of the Schlosskirche or Castle Church.
In 2017, the town celebrates the 500th anniversary of this historic event in the town where Luther memorials are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The closest international access is through
Berlin's Tegel Airport located about 100 km northeast.
Luther spent most of his life in Wittenberg and during 35 years, he was first a monk and student, then a professor and priest; he eventually married and raised a family; he continued to write about and teach the new faith; and it was here that he was buried.
For the traveller, here are some important must-sees in Wittenberg -
The Castle Church (Schlosskirche) While the original wooden door no longer stands, a massive bronze memorial door marks the spot that dramatically changed Christian, as well as world history. Martin Luther's grave rests inside.
St Mary's Church (Marienskirche), also known as the Town Church. The "Mother Church of the Reformation" is the oldest building in town. Martin Luther preached here, was married (1525) and baptized his six children in the font that is still employed today. On Christmas Day in 1521, the first "Protestant service" was held here and communion was observed. The altarpiece, created by Lucas Cranach the Elder, is significant for its symbolism: ordinary people are portrayed close to Christ; yellow, worn by Judas, signifies evil and Luther, Cranach and Cranach's wife are found in the picture. Mounted in 1547, this altarpiece was a powerful statement of a new way of thinking and a new type of Christian art.
The Luther House (Lutherhaus) This former Augustinian monastery was Luther's home; now it's a Reformation museum. The highlight is Luther's living room with the original desk and 500-year-old period furnishings.
Other must-sees include the pulpit from the Town Church where Luther preached, the Refectory with the Ten Commandments painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, a Lutheran Bible from 1534, a portrait of Luther from 1520 and a letter of indulgence.
The town's main street is called the Cultural Mile, a reminder that 500 years ago the university was an intellectual powerhouse in Europe, attracting inventors, philosophers and others.
Amidst old streets with their historic buildings and cozy restaurants, sits one of the finest buildings in town, the 1536 former home (now a museum) of Philipp Melanchthon, Luther's best friend and colleague.
Also, make sure to take in The Cranach Courtyards (Cranach-Hoefe) which commemorate painter Lucas Cranach, who lived here for 45 years. Besides his busy art studio, Cranach owned a pharmacy, farm and a printing company where he printed copies of
Luther's New Testament in German.
Thanks initially to Luther, the Protestant Reformation in Europe established Protestantism as a constituent branch of contemporary Christianity. The efforts of the self-described "reformers" who objected to or "protested" the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Catholic Church, led directly to the creation of new national Protestant churches.
In Wittenberg, you may directly witness where the remarkable history of soul-searching - far beyond that of Hamlet, actually began.
German National Tourist Office
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.