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The world is looking towards Wittenberg

Martin Luther provided the impetus for the Reformation in the city on the Elbe 500 years ago. 

Farsighted: Martin Luther’s message went out into the world from Wittenberg. ­
Martin Luther’s message went out into the world from Wittenberg. ­ © dpa

Of course, it is pointless to ask how Martin Luther would see “his” city of Wittenberg today. We can only assume he would be rather impressed by a stroll around town. As a reformer he appreciated change, progress and new ideas. And in Wittenberg, this medium-sized city in the eastern part of Saxony-Anhalt, things are certainly moving in 2017.

The historic city on the Elbe is the port of call for all those who would like to follow Martin Luther’s footsteps on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This is where the Reformer studied and taught. This is where he lived with his wife, Katharina von Bora, and their six children. And this is where, on 31 October 1517, he made public his Ninety-Five Theses and condemned the sale of indulgences by the Church. Today, believers from all over the world come to Lutherstadt Wittenberg to honour him, to learn more about him and to celebrate the Reformation.

One of the greatest changes in world history began here in Wittenberg.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Learning and celebrating – these are two things that Luther enjoyed and that define the tone of this special year in Wittenberg. At the entrance to the city you are already met by floating “thought-provokers”: boats made of woven wood drift on waters of the Schwanenteich. They were constructed by students from Salzburg University of Applied Sciences and refugees. They represent a memorial to the dead of the Mediterranean and a symbol of hope and failure. Some of the flimsy boats have already sunk; others are receiving a second life – as masks, designed by an artist. “These art installations also bring the problems of the world into our idyll,” says Wittenberg’s Mayor Torsten Zugehör.

The installation is part of the World Reformation Exhibition. There are six more of these Gates of Freedom in the ramparts around Wittenberg’s old town. They are dedicated to subjects such as spirituality, youth, justice and globalisation. Columns with reflective surfaces tower upwards at the Gate for Culture. They mark the location as a meeting place – a space for exchange and debate, very much in character with the gregarious and argumentative ­Luther.

The German Protestant Church Assembly (DEKT) in May also demonstrated that Wittenberg remains a centre of encounter 500 years after ­Luther’s actions. Tens of thousands came to the final ceremony at Elbwiese. Many, mainly young, people, equipped with picnic blankets and sunshades, ­assembled around the metres-high white cross and the circular stage hours before the event. The gathering was more like a large summer festival than a religious service. The participants also included Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “One of the greatest changes in world history began here in ­Wittenberg half a millennium ago,” said Steinmeier. “Its impact continues until today.” Many people will again be drawn to ­Wittenberg on 31 October 2017, when they will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with an official ceremony and a church service. This time the meeting place is All Saints’ Church (Schlosskirche) in the old town, on whose door ­Luther is said to have fastened his theses. After his death in 1546 he was buried here under the pulpit. Those who take part in the official festivities will therefore be able to feel very close to him. And this would probably have pleased Luther too: there will be a live transmission, a so-called public viewing, for those who cannot find a place in the church.