“Keep your coats on. There's no heating in the rooms upstairs.” The receptionist of Luther's House Museum in Wittenberg murmurs something about "technicians in the boiler room", but as we walk through the freezing exhibition rooms we suspect they are just saving money as there are basically no tourists, and the heating in the reception area DOES work after all. But maybe we are wrong: When we finish our visit, two guys in blue work overalls carrying a ladder are walking through the hallway. Could be they came straight out of the boiler room? We also consider the possibility that they are cheap actors hired to back up the maintenance story.
Except for one room, the so-called Luther room, where the famous table talks took place and which has been preserved as a kind of museum since the 17th century, the house has been restructured and refurbished extensively since Luther's times. The exhibition leads us through Luther's biography spread over several floors. Taking the elevator after reading about the Pope's Bull of Excommunication, we step out on the next floor not quite to see Luther's coffin nail, but a handle from his coffin. From there the story goes back again to the Imperial Diet in Worms, where Luther had to defend himself, and to the birth of Protestantism. It was the elevator, we realize at one point (too late), that easily results in backward biographies, so taking the stairs is recommended…
At the end of the tour we are shown to a steep staircase leading into the basement to an exhibition about household economics, beer brewing and paying lodgers in professors' households at the time. Luther's wife Katharina, whom Luther addressed as "my boss Käthe", was famous as an efficient business woman, which rather vexed Mrs. Melanchthon, the wife of the other brilliant reformer in Wittenberg. Melanchthon apparently described her as "not a good cook" – but then he was probably demanding (not only concerning food).
His house can also be visited, and there we learn that Melanchthon preferred good vegetables to meat, and that he also liked a few glasses of good wine or even stronger drinks, which would help him sleep. No wonder, then, that Melanchthon's bronze statue on the market place looks rather gaunt compared to feisty Luther a few meters away.
How would Luther and Melanchthon fare these days, with all the restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlours catering to the summer tourists?? We check out the "Wittenburger", which seems to be a popular and nice enough fast food haunt. Might have been ok for Luther, who would have chosen beef or chicken for his burger patty, but going for the vegetarian version (as would have Melanchthon), we were not impressed. We also checked out several home-brewed beers at the local brewery. We suspect they are in a way sticking with the tradition of "thin beer", which everyone drank several litres of each day because in the 16th century the water wasn't safe to drink. The beer is not bad, but, well, thin.
Altogether we enjoyed our stay in Wittenberg, despite the culinary flaws. Winter is more quiet and relaxed without the tourist crowds – we passed the city in summer on our Elbe bicycle tour. We stayed one night at the Hotel “Schwarzer Bär”, but one day would actually be enough to visit the Luther sites. As the city is busily preparing for the Luther year 2017 both churches connected with the reformer are under restoration, but it is possible to have a look at the famous castle church where Luther pinned his 95 theses. Today they are conveniently engraved into the door.....
More photos from our trip to Wittenberg will follow soon.