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Martin Luther called Eisenach “meine Liebe Stadt” (my lovely city) and he spent some significant time here. First, he came as a young student to study Latin. His father — a self-made copper working man — was no man of letters, but he wanted his son to go on to study law. Hoping that young Martin might stay with relatives in the city Luther came at the tender age of 14 to study. Going around as a member of the “Kurrende” (schoolboys’ choir) he caught the attention of Ursula Cotta, the young wife of a local patrician, who invited Luther to stay on with them in exchange for his piety and his tutoring of her own wayward son.
While we are not sure whether Luther lived in the exact house now known as "das Lutherhaus" the museum is a must for any serious student of the Reformer’s story as you will get a deeper understanding of Luther’s historical context, his life as a student, and his time in Eisenach. Beyond the beautiful exhibits featuring timeless art from the medieval period, artifacts from the time of the Reformation, and discussions of Luther’s impact on culture (everything from Monty Python to National Socialism) I also enjoyed the museum’s approach to education and learning. Alexandra Husemeyer gave us a private tour of the museum today and not only shared how 25% of the visitors there are under the age of 26, but also how people of all ages enjoy coming to learn how to print with a traditional printing press and do art in the style of medieval workshops.
While many visitor’s love a good walk up into the mountains for the fresh air and full history of the Wartburg Castle situated formidably over Eisenach, Luther was forced to stay here for ten months (May 4th, 1521, until March 1st, 1522) under the protection of the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise. After defying the Pope at the Diet of Worms in 1521 Luther’s life was in danger after being declared an outlaw. Anyone could have killed him without threat of punishment. A fake kidnapping was staged and Luther was whisked away to the Wartburg where he went under the pseudonym “Junker Jörg” (Knight George).
Always a man who enjoyed the company of others Luther suffered from depression and insomnia while stuffed away in his tiny, safe, but solitary cell in the castle. However, forcibly removed from public rancor he became even more convinced of his calling and set out to translate the New Testament from Greek into everyday German. It took him only 11 weeks to complete the task. It would later take him nearly 12 years to translate the Hebrew Scriptures. Playing the part of the opulent knight and with a full-grown beard he would sneak into the city to talk with everyday Eisenach residents. It was from them that he gleaned words that would put the words of the Bible into the mouths of the common folk. As part of his grand task of translation Luther established the use of common German words still in use today (e.g. "Beruf" for "calling" or "work" or "Geheimnis" for "secret." Imagine… without Luther, the Germans would have no secrets!). In addition to depression, Luther also reported strange noises in the old walls, which he believed were from the devil. The legend grew that he threw an ink pot at the devil and so strong was the story that people would paint a suitable ink stain in the "Luther room" up until the 19th-century.
While the ink blot story may not be trustworthy, the Wartburg is definitely worth a visit. Not only is it chock-full of Reformation significance, but you can also learn about St. Elizabeth of Thuringia, the castle’s stories of minstrels and fraternities, and more about the beautiful forest that surrounds the architectural giant overlooking Eisenach.
Let’s talk about food and hospitality on this trip so far because it’s been over-the-top good. Not only are we "testing" LutherCountry, but this trip seems to be testing how much good food and warm reception we can handle! A few highlights so far:
1) "Tischreden" in Schmalkalden — our first night was filled with the tales of Luther’s time in Schmalkalden and the people he shared a table with at the home of Balthazar Wilhelm. Not only was the food plentiful and tasty, but the whole experience was augmented by its authentic recipes from Luther’s time and the history provided by our host;
2) I already mentioned staying at the Lutherhaus in Schmalkalden where the Reformer would rest his head, but after our full day in Eisenach we got to rest our heads on the fine pillows of the five-star Hotel auf der Wartburg;
and 3) finally, the Lutherstuben experience at Hotel Eisenacher Hof was over the top. Another "period themed" restaurant, this one featured a seven-course menu with mead and apple schnapps, beer in stone cups, hot soup, "Lutherbrot" with herbed butter and other tasty toppings, pounds of meat and vegetable sides, and a flaming desert to top it all off.
The last time I was in Eisenach I’d run the Rennsteig Lauf, a "super marathon" of 75kms in the Thuringian forest. When my dad and I left that meal we felt like we’d eaten a "super marathon" worth of full-on German food!