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Trip Report Germany -- with Reformation emphasis

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This is part 2 of a trip report, part 1 was Berlin . . . my daughter and I recently spent 3 days in Berlin, then joined the Globus European Reformation. I know that most forum folks aren’t fans of organized tours but we find this combination of some time “on our own” and then travel with a tour a good system for us. This Reformation tour was an unexpectedly small group, 14 of us, so worked very well.
We left Berlin about 1:30 & settled in for the drive to Wittenberg, Martin Luther’s home for 30 years and the birthplace of the Reformation. Our tour director/guide warned us that Luther Hotel would not have air conditioning, that the East Germans believed it to be unhealthy. We arrived at the hotel, immediately opened up our room’s windows and then set out to explore the town. We were looking for St. Mary’s Church, only a block or two from our hotel, but it was surprisingly hard to locate since it was closed and partially wrapped in scaffolding. We found a little chapel right beside it and peaked inside to see and hear the singing going on . . . sign said the chapel dated back to the 1300s.
We saw a large Holocaust stone right next to the church and were puzzled by it; seemed a bit out of place. There were lots of shops open and we browsed for a few minutes. By the time I spotted the Lucas Cranach house & museum, it was almost museum’s closing time. We walked inside the university courtyard; that was a nice. There was a small canal with flowing water along the street, big plaza next to their Rathus (town-hall) but dinner called so we headed back . . .
We joined our group for a buffet dinner (meal choices all good: pork, fish, potatoes, pasta, salad soaked in a delicious mystery dressing). We quickly realized our server, an older woman, spoke very little English (one of the few times we encountered this but older generation in former East Germany studied Russian in school). Daughter and I enjoyed a nice evening walk, this time heading towards residential streets, admiring the old houses, city garden, and the Rosa Luxemburg School.
I had my usual quick before breakfast walk in town; then began our city tour at 8:45, such a leisurely start! Our city guide was a young woman with a college major in tourism, who had spent a semester at an Atlanta university to improve her English (which was excellent). We visited St. Mary’s Church again, again regretting that we couldn’t get inside because of the extensive renovations going on to prepare for 500th anniversary of Reformation coming up in 2017. Our guide pointed out the Holocaust memorial and then pointed to the little statues of a hog suckling human babies on the church roof directly overhead, statues dating to early 1300s. She said that the church was adjacent to Wittenberg’s Jewish quarter and this was put up to insult the Jews . . . after WWII, the church asked Jewish community what should be done about it and they said to leave it as part of history so the Holocaust memorial was put underneath it . . . and it is one of the most meaningful memorials I’ve seen, 4 plates holding down people who are trying to get out.

We walked on to Luther’s house, which was given to him by the Elector, it was originally part of the Augustian monastery where he had lived before the Reformation. I really enjoyed learning about Luther and his wife, the former nun, Katharina von Bora. Katharina was raised in a convent, still a young woman when she left, a strong character, determined to marry Luther (who wasn’t eager at first to marry her), well-educated and very capable of running the Luther household. I was impressed that education was valued in the town, church and by the Elector. We enjoyed tours of both Lutherhaus and Philip Melanchton’s home. We saw lots of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, including his panels illustrating the Ten Commandments that had once hung in their Rathus. Also saw a nice sketch of the town and Lutherhaus as they were in the 1500s when one could see to the River Elbe.
We walked on to Castle Church where Luther posted his 95 theses (it was closed for renovation, too), stepped inside another church, and then headed back to a bakery for perhaps our best sandwich of the trip, it had a herb based yogurt dressing on it, cucumbers, tomatoes, greenery and cheese. Then back on the bus, heading to Leipzig.
In Leipzig, we visited the ThomasKirche, where Johann Bach worked for so many years. I had no idea Bach was known during his own times for his choirs and organ performances, not for his composing. We couldn’t view the church interior very well since a group was having a mid-afternoon concert. We took quick stroll through all the shops that made up their Rathus. The bus took us back to hotel & then daughter and I made the 20 minute trek back to the historical area on foot. This was our first encounter with trams – watching for bikes, trams and cars on busy streets not fun. We walked by some places that had been beautifully restored, some that had not. We wanted to visit St Nicholas Church, since guide said it was the site of the “peace revolution” against the Communists in 1989. We were both surprised by its interior though . . . it was very pink, with a little green, a very feminine church, very surprising for a church built in 1100s but it has been through many make-overs, of course, and the latest one was Baroque. It was raining lightly so we made our way back to the Westin hotel.
We had our fanciest dinner of the trip – started out with pumpkin soup & strudel (which was probably the best part of the dinner).
Friday, July 11th . . . Next morning I enjoyed a huge breakfast . . . I finished it off with some bread pudding. And then off to Eisenben, Luther’s birthplace and deathplace. Ironically, he only lived there for a year or so after birth and then had returned to preach some sermons and settle some quarrels when he died. The font where Luther was baptized still remains in the old church.
Then on to Erfurt, one of my favorite cities of the trip. We had a tour of the Augustinian Monastery, where Luther first lived as a monk. It was originally built around 1200 but was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in 1945. Our monastery guide told us that monastery was closed within a generation by the town, once the Reformation started. The town forbade bells and without the bells to mark time, the monks could not keep up their obligations to prayer and worship. Churches are confusing in Germany . . . are they Catholic or Protestant? We sat in the monks’ chapel and for the first time I understood that the monks had public confessional . . . I imagine they grew tired during Martin Luther’s lengthy one. The monastery is partially a hotel and conference center (also a school); would have been wonderful to have stayed here. Our tour lasted for perhaps 1 ½ hours but I could have stayed long.
I enjoyed the Luther Bible exhibits too in the monastery, too . . . very interesting to think that printers left space for hand illustrations in their earliest books, also that many families bought pages of the Bible, could not afford the complete Book.
On our walk back to the hotel, we saw the Merchants Bridge, a charming spot (longest inhabited bridge in Europe). Daughter and I then set out, at about 5:30, to follow our Michelin guidebook’s directions to Erfurt’s biggest church, St. Mary’s with St. Stephen’s beside it. It was 6:30 or so by the time we made it here (having sheltered in another church’s foyer for 15 minutes to escape a heavy rain shower) and we came up on the back side of the church, with wonderful views looking out over the city, which is a strange conglomeration of old and new, restored and rundown. The church was closed and they were setting up for some kind of concert in front of and on the side – the terrace area around the church had a rope but it was down so daughter and I walked around – we were the only ones there, of course, saw some of the statues and a clock on the side of the church.
As we came back around one of the concert staff said something to me in German & then when I looked blank, said in English, “area closed”, so glad we didn’t know that.
Then, as we were walking down by St. Stephen, we spotted a park across the street, with all sorts of ramparts, stairs, etc. My guidebook said that it was an area of fortifications, ramparts and munitions storage built to defend Erfurt from Napoleon, now it is a park. We couldn’t resist; we started climbing steps and walking in. We had great views; saw old brick barracks and an old church, a fancy little restaurant, and grassy overlooks. We got stuck under an awning for another 15 minutes while it rained and then finally made our way down again. So tired and then needed food . . . as we got closer to the Rathus, we saw a dressed up group following a guide to the Althes Synagogue, also noticed the old university and yet another old church. Once close to our hotel again, we stopped to eat at a large indoor/outdoor restaurant. Our older waiter asked if we could speak German, when we said no, we got a younger server, who spoke English and brought us English menus. We had wiener schnitzel and I have to say it wasn’t very good, very dry. Mine was served with pears and cheese on top. . . pears were crunchy and not-ripe.
Next day (Saturday, July 12th), we headed to Eisenach, a beautiful little city . . . it was a pretty drive with forests and hills. This is where Luther’s family was from, where they sent him to grammar school. We saw the grammar school and the big town church, Georgekirche, where Luther sang in the choir as a schoolboy and where Johann Bach was baptized. It was closed because of renovations (for 500th anniversary, of course). Town has nice Bach Museum; two members of our group skipped city tour and spent the 1 ½ hours in Museum. We were able to go inside the Nikolai Church, a Romanesque church from the 1100s.
We piled back in the bus for our ride up to Wartburg Castle, ate a quick bratwurst on our walk up. Very lush and green . . . not mountains but hills in this area, heavily wooded. There are parts of the castle that date from well before Luther but much of it was rebuilt when Romanticism became popular; it was an important place to Goethe because of its medieval connections. It was very much on top of a hill and huge; no wonder it was considered a secure place to hide Martin Luther when the Holy Roman Emperor was looking for him. We saw the room where he translated the Bible into German: There was a lot of nice art in the castle, much of it later than Luther’s times.
Back in Erfurt late afternoon, headed back to St. Mary’s and St. Stephen’s in time to view interiors. St. Mary’s was as impressive as hoped with a beautiful altar and a real feel of “being old”. We were restrained in walking around much inside St. Stephen’s since there was a youth choir performance going on at same time. I wish we could have attended a service at St. Mary’s. These 2 churches still dominated the physical landscape of the town from their perch on the hill; how much more that must have been true in medieval times.
Walked back by synagogue and peered in at what we could see of the museum part of it from the glass doors but it had already closed for the day. We rested for a while by the water, with a view of Merchants’ Bridge and watched the locals who seemed to have brought wine and food there for picnics (and dogs to enjoy the water). Made our way back to the hotel for 7:00 dinner and then tried to decompress and get ready for the next day. I did get out for short walks before breakfast both days here; the hotel (Radisson Blu) in good location. I would have liked a day on my own in Erfurt.
Sunday, July 13th Our longest driving expedition of the day – Erfurt to Mainz with rain predicted, very gray as we set out. We traveled through the area of Germany called “Franconia” and stopped at Coburg Castle, where Luther spent about 6 months, during the Diet of Augsburg. He couldn’t attend the Diet because it was in Bavaria, too dangerous, so stayed in a nearby Protestant area. The views from Coburg were lovely even with the clouds and rain – more mountains here than Wartburg. The castle was a combination museum and art gallery . . . reminded me a bit of the Biltmore House/Asheville, in that one of Coburg’s Dukes was a rich well-traveled collector, Alfred, 2nd son of Albert and Victoria. Beautiful collection of old Venetian glass (also modern glass but I didn’t find that as interesting). Also large collection of guns, armor, carriages and sleighs at castle (sleighs fascinated me, for whom 2 inches of snow is a blizzard).
It rained hard for part of the time we were inside, still drippy when it was time to leave so we didn’t spend much time looking around outside but enjoyed what time we had. Then we settled in for the afternoon ride to Mainz. We passed little ponds on the highway with ducks and herons in them. We stopped at a “fast restaurant” type rest area & tried out the Nordic Fish fast food spot (daughter and I shared good fish and chips & a cappuccino).
Our Hilton in Mainz was nice and location great – on the Rhine River, only a short walk from the main town square and cathedral. And our room was even better; we had corner room with great view of the river, boats, birds, people, and even the “beach-side” big screen set up for the World Cup. We had quick walk to the square, surprised by the very pink cathedral. After hotel dinner with our group, we walked along the river for a while, saw the big Viking and Avalon cruise ships, and then watched the Germans watching the World Cup (very quiet and well behaved, they were).
Monday, July 14th . . . for the first time on the trip, the alarm woke me. Must have stayed up too late the night before with television, watching the World Cup – traveling is tiring for me and requires “early to bed”. I walked very briefly by the river, had a large breakfast (and for the only time on tour, ate with someone other than a tour member, was joined by an American businesswoman based in Munich who was in Mainz for a week of computer training).
We headed out at a little after our usual 8:30, arrived in Worms about 9:30. We visited first the Dom St. Peter, now a Catholic basilica, also a pinkish red sandstone structure like the cathedral in Mainz. This church was completed in 1181 and had 2 altars. Surprising to me to think of 2 huge cathedral towns, with powerful bishops, as Mainz and Worms so close together (to us).
We also visited Trinity Church (Protestant), which was devastated by bombing during the war, and is now completely restored. We walked on the Luther Monument, which had statues or remembrances for the greatest of the reformers and the cities that were important in the Reformation (including Wycliffe, Melanchthon, Calvin, etc.). Now we had our free time & a lot we had marked in guidebook to see .. . we passed through beautiful garden right by Monument area, then trekked to much smaller, very old Romanesque St. Martin’s Church, entering the church through a charming garden.
We wanted to visit the Jewish Museum in Worms but our guide had told us we didn’t have enough time, nevertheless we decided we wanted to at least walk to the site of the old Jewish Quarter. I’m so glad we did. An old bridge and part of the old remaining city wall were our first signs that we were getting close & finally we saw sign for the reconstructed synagogue itself. Worms was a center of medieval Ashkenazic Judaism; there’s no recognizable Jewish community now but the Quarter was reconstructed in the 1970s and 1980s and the synagogue, which was originally built on site in 1175s, was rebuilt to look as it had before Kristallnacht. All that remains of the original is a crumbling wall. We walked around in the courtyard and came across the ritual bath . . .it had a full flight of steps leading down into it, much deeper than I expected, and sign said it was used by both men and women. My later Internet search says it is a “12th century subterranean mikveh complex”. Wish that we’d had time for museum and just more time to explore this area but did stop to read some of the “stumbling stones of remembrance” on the street, tragic the community and people lost.
We were able to get fast and tasty sandwiches at a busy cafeteria style bakery chain that guide had recommended as we walked back through the main shopping street; made it back to bus on time.
Boarded our boat for Rhine cruise about 2:00. The day was warm and very sunny . . . the river very nice. We stayed up on the top of boat so we could see more & it was very interesting: grape arbors up very steep hillsides on one side of river, castles, churches and little towns on the other. The Rhine is a “microclimate” so warm enough for vineyards.
Cruise lasted about 2 hours and it was nice but not the highlight of the trip for me. I couldn’t hear the commentary on places we were seeing (it was repeated in 3 languages) but I did understand when we went by the famous Lorelei rocks.
The bus met us at a stop around 4:00 and we were back in Mainz by 5:00 so set out immediately to get inside the cathedral. The square was much busier on Monday! We had time for just a quick look in cathedral, then walk in the cloister before we were shooed out for closing time. Picked up supper at a food stand on the square and then walked back to the hotel to eat, back out on the river for a walk and then to bed early.
Tuesday, July 15th A pleasant morning . . . we walked up to the main square, admired the large vendor market stalls that had appeared, and went in St. Mary’s Cathedral quickly again as our tour guide purchased group’s tickets to Gutenberg Museum. This was another museum that I could have easily spent longer in – we had perhaps 40 minutes total. Some people were disappointed that the Gutenberg docents hustled us through the “Bible room”, where they had the earliest printed copies (docents expecting big local groups later in the morning) but those things didn’t fascinate me as much as some of the other exhibits. Really liked the wax tablet that could be “erased” for next messages.
Then . . . off in the bus again, stopped at Rothenberg, with its marvelous medieval wall. Tour guide walked us to the big marketplatz and then to a souvenir shop close to St. Jacob’s Church where Kerry and I later bought a couple of Christmas ornaments. The church was obviously the largest in town, with towers that we could use as landmarks in walking around town. Church had beautiful, elaborate wood carved altar and stone tabernacle – I liked how there were 4 angels, 2 representing Faith and Prayer, 2 representing Doubt and Unbelief. Nothing was cordoned off; you could walk around the altar and get up close.
There was another altar in the church, beautiful stained glass and then the Altar of the Holy Blood in upstairs gallery (sculpture that holds the one drop of Holy Blood in a reliquary). Even the pews were beautifully carved. Medieval Rothenberg was a prosperous city. The half-timbered houses here were interesting, especially with their doors on top floors (serving as warehouses for wealthy merchants).
We ate a quick lunch (sandwiches from bakery type shop) and then set off for the city wall. This was great fun . . . we walked along the wall for a good distance, imagining what it was like to be the nightwatchman of the city, and then walked around to a garden/park like area that was very nice and back through a large city gate.
Daughter went to a huge Christmas store while I walked down to see the “ducking cage” in front of the Criminal Museum and spent a few minutes looking at a Birkenstock shoe store. They had great selection of sensible shoes for what seemed like decent prices.
And then, back in the bus, for drive on to Nurenberg. This was my least favorite hotel in terms of location – all others were outstanding locations. Here traffic seemed heavy to get to the main part of town but I wish we had walked further in the evening. We had dinner (salmon, good) with our group in the hotel.
Wednesday, July 16th . . . no time to walk before breakfast (which was one of the more unusual bfs we had – I enjoyed the addition of vegetables and dates to the buffet as something different).
Headed off then with our guide for walking tour of Nurenberg, which immediately seemed much interesting when we were in its square, with someone to explain what we were seeing. We saw school groups going in the big (Lutheran) Lorenz Church (we also went in – fascinating to see the pictures of how the church had looked right after the war, with all the walls still standing but heaps of rubble in the building). It was full of decorative fading frescoes, statutes, and stained glass. Nurenberg was the first imperial city to convert to Protestantism although later it became mostly Catholic. Also in the busy square was one of the more comprehensible modern peace sculptures (death, represented as a skeleton, delighting in war) I noticed on our trip.
We walked over a lovely old stone bridge and river . . . Nuremberg was originally 2 towns, divided by the river, but were combined by the building of a market square in the swampy land between the two. Swampy land once the Jewish Quarter but Jews were massacred or expelled. A church, Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady, Roman Catholic), was built over the burned synagogue site.
It was a favorite town of the Holy Roman Emperor and of Adolf Hitler, church was very Gothic with a little nave with pieta and beautiful elaborate entry.
We bought some gingerbread in the market after visiting church but that was all time permitted. Sadly. I think we needed another day to visit the Druer museum/house and Nazi sites.
Leaving Nuremberg, everything was green with trees, hills and low mountains in the distance. Main crop we saw was hops (I had to ask what it was – at first, I thought it was green beans).
Arrived in Munich and checked into very nice Hilton Munich City. There were lots of shops across the busy street, also lots of bike traffic in the bike lane on the sidewalk. I spotted a large public library only a block from our hotel, in a “culture complex” but it was never open at a time when we were around. German museums, libraries, etc. have more limited hours than I’m used to – their opening time seems to be 10:00 instead of 9:00. I was able to peer in windows though and see books in Dewey Decimal order.
We walked as far as the Isar River, saw the Deutsche Museum (which emphasized technology) but bought a simple wrap and salad and returned to our hotel for supper about 7 p.m. It was very warm and sunny; sometimes one is just overwhelmed & need to make plans and rest for the next day.
Thursday, July 17th . . . our last day, not ready for trip to be over although am actually getting a bit tired of big hotel buffet breakfasts. We headed out for tour of Munich, which was a bit boring, maybe because of the Munich guide (who seemed to emphasize the shopping and not the history). City guides are different than our regular tour guide. Best part was the 30 minute stop at Nymphenburg Palace. Not enough time for an inside tour of any kind but enjoyed seeing the swans and walking a bit in the garden. It reminded me of a smaller version of Versailles. I appreciated seeing the 1972 Munich Olympic stadium complex; do remember, sadly, what happened there. Also drove by the beautiful English gardens and our guide told us their history. City guide mentioned nothing about Munich’s Nazi connections. We arrived back at the Marienplatz (St.Mary’s Square) with its big Rathus (town hall). Our tour guide was there to meet us, direct us to lunch spots and help make afternoon plans. Daughter and several of other tour group folks decided to take afternoon tour, with guide from Munich Walks, to Dachau. We scattered for lunch (one last bratwurst on hard roll) and to tour another church or two before meeting guide at 1:00. Last church was very old, St. Peter’s, but it seemed to be in a Baroque gold and white stage, with many side altars and “things”, including a bejeweled skeleton. Perhaps because it was around the noon hour, there were people, mostly old women, worshipping in the church when we were in there. Very much a sense that it was an active Catholic church.
Our Dachau group was 14 – 7 from our Globus tour and then 7 others, including 2 high school teachers on an independent tour of Europe who had been on the guide’s morning “Munich’s Nazi Past” walk. We headed on to the subway for a 20 minute ride out of the city and immediately I saw one difference between U.S. and Germany – I had to side-step an open grate where workmen had pulled up a grate. No signs or cones.
We transferred to a very crowded bus and city turned into pleasant countryside. Eric, the Dachau guide, told us he had been in Germany for 40 years, ever since graduating from a small Mid-western college where he had been highly influenced by a wonderful history professor, a Jewish refugee who had left Germany in 1938. It was a very bright sunny day – the sun is more intense than I’m used to but the humidity is less (heat, too – shade makes more difference in Germany than it makes in Georgia.)
We walked into Dachau along the same route that Eric said the prisoners would have used, through the gatehouse and read the words “Work Will Make You Free” in the cast iron.
Dachau was the first of the Nazi concentration camps and as such it had more political prisoners and more Germans, especially during its early years, than the other camps. I think it had more priests and ministers than the other camps also. It wasn’t one of the “killing camps” although of course many of the men died, from overwork, disease, abuse and torture.
There are no barracks from the camp’s time (although there are a couple of “reconstructed” ones. But there are the administrative buildings, the towers, etc. Poplars line the area, they were replanted to replicate what was there during early years of camp.
There were two crematoriums. All I could think about when seeing these things was what Eric had said that we should remember: that Hitler set out to kill all the European Jews and he failed, he set out to conquer Europe and he failed and that the prisoners generally kept their humanity while the guards and officers lost theirs. And I thought of my father and was proud of him, for those 3 ½ years in the army in Europe, for carrying through to Munich, for being a part of the liberation (in the broad sense, not part of the regiments that actually freed the camp).
There are church memorials – Eric described them as Catholic church that the Bishop of Munich, once a prisoner in Dachau himself, had built, a Protestant church that is partially underground with library (built in an ultramodern style that Hitler hated), a Jewish memorial with all its stone and building materials imported from Israel, and a Russian Orthodox church built in the 1990s by former Russian prisoners or their families. The Russian POWs were a sizeable part of the Dachau population later in the war and many were executed by the SS as soon as they arrived, others survived. Slightly off-site is a small Carmelite convent, sponsored by same Bishop of Munich.
The art memorials seemed fitting . . . easy, unfortunately, to understand – the sculpture of prisoners tangled in barbed wire by a Polish sculptor who was once at Dachau (we saw why there were no escapees: canal, high barbed wire, guard towers, etc.), the sculpture with the colors that Nazis required for different groups (yellow for Jews, pink for gays, red for political, brown for gypsies, etc.), and the words in several languages, “Never Again”.
It was a hot day but one felt embarrassed to complain about such a minor thing. Eric gave us about 5 minutes to look around the bookstore before we walked back to catch bus and subway; then our tour group folks set out for the 20 minute walk back to the hotel. Was glad to have had a guide for the tour – glad we went, felt it was very meaningful, felt that at least I was a witness to what is history.
We had our final dinner with tour group and sadly said good-bye to everyone. Daughter and I packed up as best we could the night before and then after breakfast, headed out to enjoy the 1 ½ hour we had before our trip to Munich airport. We took a trail alongside the river (running into yet more school groups who were visiting the Volksbad, an art nouveau white and yellow building. Walked across a pedestrian bridge and saw, on a tiny bit of beach, a nude sunbather at 9:30 on a Friday morning. Then on to the Munich airport which was certainly efficient – the pilot announced at 2:00 that all passengers had boarded for the 2:10 flight so we would begin pulling away from the gate. At 2:10 we were taxiing down the runway. We made our connecting flight connection in Amsterdam in time (it was slightly late leaving) and settled down for long flight home, after a very nice trip. I felt like we had seen a lot in a short amount of time, which is important when one is dealing with short vacation times.

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