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Our Luther Country “Once in a Lifetime” was in October of 2016. The preparation for the visit began over 30 years early, in 1983. My parents, Lutheran grade school teachers in the US & hobby “Lutherists”, had a dream to visit Luther Country for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth. They scrimped and saved so that they could join a summer tour which would take them into East Germany, to all of the main Luther sites. My brother and I stayed with our grandparents in the US but had little understanding at the time of how much that trip meant to our parents. Later that year my parents planned a “Luther Fest”, held in the high school gym, bringing together the Lutheran churches in our part of Northern Wisconsin to share about the life of Luther and how God used him to change the world. I made my own trip to the Wartburg Castle & Eisenach in 1994 with my host family during a summer in Germany. Learning from them about the history and their first hand experiences helped me to start to understand my parent’s fascination with the area. Germany looked and felt a lot like home so I knew that someday I wanted to return to explore the area at my own pace. I wanted to be able to just “be” there. Over the years my parents shared their love of Luther and Germany with their students and community. They also collected various items which are now on display in the Luther Room (a conference room) at their home church. One of my parents’ dreams was to someday return to Luther Country, this time with their children and grandchildren. That chance came in 2016. The timing of our trip was perfect in many ways, one of which is that my father passed away the next year. The last church service he was able to attend in person was the Reformation Service in 2017 at the Lutheran church/school where he had been a teacher for nearly 40 years, and the Principal for over 20. One of the last projects he was able to work on was a Lutherfest to celebrate 500 years since the Reformation. After our trip I wrote (in Japanese) a guide based our adventures which was included in a special Reformation 500 publication here. It is such a joy to be able to continue my parent’s legacy of sharing an appreciation of Luther Country.
photo Heidi's Children: Heidi Emoto
We went to Luther Country in the fall, mid-October of 2016. My husband, a Lutheran Pastor in Tokyo, was representing the Japan Lutheran Church at a gathering of Lutheran Seminary leaders from around the world. When I learned he would be going my heart jumped with joy as I saw this as a chance for us to go as family of 4. At the time our kids were 6 & 9 years old. We had been hoping to go in 2017 but this was a chance to make the trip a bit more affordable and to go when it wasn’t one of the busy seasons. The initial plan was that the kids and I would go along with him so while he was in meetings we would enjoy Wittenberg. My biggest goal was to go and “be”. I really wanted the kids to absorb the city, not feel like tourists. When explaining this plan to my parents they asked if it would be ok for them to join us. Of course! God arranged it perfectly so we could make their dreams come true and the kids could have their first Luther Country experience with their grandparents who had so many stories of the area to share.
photo Sunset: Heidi Emoto
Look carefully at the location of hotels. Use Google Maps to help you get feel for how long of a walk it is to various places of interest. We stayed in the Old Town in Wittenberg (Best Western) which put us in the perfect location to wander the city any time of day or night - a huge plus when jet lagging! Our 2nd hotel was Romantik Hotel at the Wartburg. It was a splurge but by far the best hotel we ever stayed in. The view is incredible and the proximity to the castle can’t be beat. We were able to open the windows to experience Luther’s Kingdom of the Birds. We enjoyed the incredible sunrises and sunsets. The kids were the first people across the drawbridge each morning, much to the delight of the staff. Being able to “pop over to the castle” any time of day was simply incredible.
Eat local - the best meals we had were at the neighborhood places. The pizza place across from our hotel in Wittenberg was my favorite, the kids enjoyed putting together a meal at the market. The rotisserie chicken, brotchen, Luther tomatoes and cucumbers made an easy and delicious meal. My son is still searching for place in Tokyo which makes a rotisserie chicken that compares with the one we had in Wittenberg! '
Ask the locals for recommendations - whenever we travel we find the suggestions and tips from the people who live in the area to be the best. They know which places are not usually included in the travel books, what is the best time to visit a place and bits of enjoyable history.
Know your travel style - Do you like a jam-packed schedule? Or something more spontaneous? We made a general plan of places we wanted to visit with 1 main place for each day. As we were traveling with 6 people ranging in age from 6 - 70 years old we also needed to make sure each person’s interests and physical health were taken into consideration. The kids really enjoyed the simple things like taking the map and exploring Wittenberg freely. They also really enjoyed listening to the stories of each place we passed. Going at our own pace, and revisiting favorite locations, was both relaxing and fun.
Trains & Taxis - We traveled mostly by train and while we use trains to get around Japan, the German train system is a bit different. Once we figured it out though it was so easy to use and gave us the freedom to explore Luther Country without having to look for parking space. We also used busses and taxis. The taxi was easiest at some points since we were traveling with grandparents with limited mobility. The taxi drivers we met were generally both friendly and had helpful advice about local things to enjoy.
Learn some of the history in advance and take a good (detailed) guide book with you. One of my favorite memories is of sitting in the Castle Church in Wittenberg listening to my mom tell my children about the meaning of the various works of art throughout the sanctuary. She helped them to see that each decoration had a purpose and a meaning. They absorbed the information like sponges and later were super excited to share what they learned with their father and the other pastors he was meeting with. This set the tone for the rest of the trip. Every place we went they asked many questions and drew connections to what they had already seen/knew. We relied on the guide books to help answer their questions and deepen our understanding as well.
photo Luther House Now and Then: Heidi Emoto
This is like asking “ Which child is your favorite?”!!!
In Wittenberg the Melanchthonhaus was a pleasant surprise. It is a great place to take children. We spent so much time there! The approach of giving the kids a key and having hands on activities was very well thought out. It really helped the kids to visualize what life was like at Luther’s time. The experiences helped the kids to understand many of the other places we visited during the rest of the trip.
Another favorite activity was our morning walks - wherever we stayed we tried to get outside to take a walk at sunrise, just as the area was just waking up. It was both relaxing and revealing - seeing the non-touristy side of life helped us to remember that there are people who live in these neighborhoods and care for the places we are discovering/rediscovering. In Wittenberg another place to explore is where the wall used to be as well as the garden with the trees planted by various churches from around the world. We looked for “our” tree and took pictures with it so in the future when we go back we can compare how much the kids, and tree, have grown. There are also some fun playground spaces - great for a picnic lunch with the fresh food from the market!
At the Wartburg Castle the tour is a must - and if you have a chance, be the first person across the drawbridge in the morning. It is a rare chance to enjoy the peacefulness which fades with the business of the day.
In Eisenach, both Lutherhaus and Bachhaus are key stops for understanding the history of the city. My parents and I were super pleased to see how much care has been put in to creating meaningful exhibits since out initial visits in 1983 & 1994. At Lutherhaus, for some reason the antler chandelier of Frau Cotta caught my mom’s eye in 1983. It is one of her favorite pieces of art. We were happy to see that it is still on display.
Bachhaus’s presentation of Bach’s life and works was immersive in a way we have not experienced at a museum featuring a musician. Being able to hear music on the original instruments as well as the listening library was simply amazing. From my first visit I remember the garden being “cute” but this time I felt it was an inviting space to wander and relax. I hope to someday return and be able to spend more time there, and in Eisenach in general. In Erfurt we did a self guided walking from the station, through the town to Krämerbrücke and the Augustinian Monastery. Exploring the city on foot helped us to feel connected and notice things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The details of the stonework, the unique way in which the buildings on Krämerbrücke blended together, the small back streets were impressive in both creativity and construction techniques.
photo Wartburg Castle Now and Then: Heidi Emoto
I have a few - the ones where I was able to take a picture of the same places my parents too pictures of in 1983, - sunrise on a foggy morning at the Wartburg, - the kids in costume at Melanchthonhaus - A picture of the kids playing in the courtyard at Leucorea while waiting for their dad to get out of meetings - it seemed like such a normal thing for a PK (Pastor’s Kid) to do - I could imagine the Luther, Melanchthon and Bugenhagen kids doing the same!
photos Kids in the Courtyard: Heidi Emoto