Monday, February 18, 2013

Martin Luther, the Stasi, and Burritos

Welcome to our weekend :)

This past long weekend we decided to stay closer to home and visit within our own lovely host country. We're kind of running out of places to see in Germany, but I had always wanted to see Wittenberg and all the Martin Luther stuff so we settled on that.

Wittenberg is a cute, small town in Saxony-Anhalt that is pretty much all about Martin Luther. The town is even called Wittenberg-Lutherstadt, meaning "Luther City". As Protestants, we felt it was important for us to see where the whole Reformation started, and as history nerds it was also pretty cool to see site where Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in 1517.

The original doors were destroyed in a fire in 1760, but they erected these giant bronze doors with all 95 theses inscribed to replace them. The painting above the door depicts Luther with the German Bible on the right and Melanchthon with the Augsburg Confession on the left. The church is undergoing massive renovations for the upcoming 2017 anniversary, but we lucked out and were able to see the inside of the church and the state of renovations for a 2 day only "augenblick".

Luther's grave

I'm sure Wittenberg is a lovely, happening place when the weather is nice, but on this cold, rainy Saturday in February, it was dead dead dead. We were pretty much the only tourists around. It was kind of nice, actually. We stopped into the "House of History", which was a former kindergarten building set up to show everyday life post WWII and through the GDR days. Saxony-Anhalt was firmly in GDR territory, and you could still see some of the lingering effects around the city. Our tour guide didn't speak very much English, so I translated for Fionn. That was a good workout for my German, though it did produce such gems as, "this room has a lot of beds! That's all I got."

I really enjoyed the museum though. They had living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms, and even recreated GDR general stores (complete with canned pineapple from Cuba and pickles from Russia) and Soviet soldier barracks. I love little details like that, and since my senior project in college was on the GDR, I had a serious nerd moment. ;)

We continued through Wittenberg, seeing the giant statues of Luther by the Rathaus, visiting the church where he preached, visiting Cranach the Elder's house, and getting a glimpse of Luther's house from the outside.

Pretty soon we had exhausted the touristic opportunities Wittenberg had to offer. We thought about going to the nearby cities with Luther connections, like his birth or death house, or where he taught theology or lived as a monk or during his time in exile. But when we reached the train station we saw Berlin was only an hour away...

So, sorry Luther, but the lure of burritos and spending the day in the city where we fell in love was too strong :)

Berlin was awesome, as always. We hung out in Mitte, got amazing burritos at Dolores (please, please PLEASE open one in Bavaria!!), scoured some thrift stores, and finally headed to Prenzlauerberg to eat at our super cheap Asian favorite, Rice Queen. 20 euro for two fancy drinks, two entrees and an amazing pumpkin dessert?? YES PLEASE.

All my Berlin friends were out of town, so that was too bad. But we had fun walking hand in hand through our old haunts, temporarily suspending Fionn's diet in the name of awesome Berlin food, and picking up some cool bargains from Berlin's amazing secondhand stores. We were sad to leave.

The last day of our trip we headed to Leipzig. Leipzig is a very musical city whose famous former inhabitants include Mendelssohn and Bach, to name a few. While we were there we also learned about something we weren't expecting-Leipzig's key role in the peaceful revolution that led to the end of the GDR's regime.

We started with St Nicholas' church, where Bach performed many of his works and where the "Monday Demonstration" protests of 1989 began. It was a peaceful protest against communist rule. This encouraged other people in East Germany to stage their own peaceful protests. Eventually the protests at Nicholas Church got up to 70,000 people, then 120,000...even though there were military units called in, they did not break up the demonstration. The energy spread and a few weeks later the Berlin Wall came down.

The church was beautiful inside, and there were pamphlets saying that while the people held their demonstration they were able to witness to some of the police and soldiers of the regime who had never heard the Gospel. Pretty cool.

We stopped for a bite of cake before continuing on through the city...

and eventually we made our way to the "Runde Ecke", the former Stasi (secret police of the GDR) headquarters and now a museum. The museum was really cool-the demonstraters in Leipzig eventually moved their protest to the Runde Ecke, demanding change. When they realized the Stasi were destroying evidence, they stormed the building.

"Crooked Corner, House of Fear, When will there be a museum here?" A banner hung in the building after it was taken.

different disguises worn by Stasi operatives

The Stasi often recorded phone calls on Western tapes confiscated from the mail. we saw Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Christmas carols among the tapes!

The museum is free and an audio guide costs 3 euros, which is worth it if you don't speak German since all the exhibits are in german. It was a really cool museum and really gave you a feel for how twisted the Stasi were and how difficult it was for the people of the GDR during that time.

I bought a book about life during the GDR called "Stasiland" by Anna Funder. So far it's been an awesome read.

Leaving the Cold War behind us, we visited the church where Bach is buried, then we gave up on braving the cold and headed to our hotel, thus ending our weekend.

Good weekend, all in all. Lots of history, lots of tasty food, and lots of time well spent.

1 comment :

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.