Out and about in Luther’s Eisleben

Deutsche Welle
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Martin Luther was born in Eisleben and he also died here. What today appears to be a tranquil central German town was a significant location in the life of the reformer and therefore a UNESCO-World Heritage Site. Eisleben and Mansfeld – Luther’s Childhood Homes

They’re often only mentioned after Wittenberg, but Eisleben and Mansfeld are presenting themselves in 2017 as towns just as worthy to be linked with Martin Luther. They were connected with him from his birth in 1483 to his death in 1546.

In Eisleben in the southern Harz region, several sites and buildings from the Reformation era associated with Luther are clustered together: the marketplace with its memorial, the town hall, St. Andrew’s Church and Luther’s last residence. A few streets away are the house where Martin Luther was born and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, where he was baptized. Last September, the memorial statue, first created by sculptor Rudolf Siemering in 1883 to mark the 400th anniversary of the religious reformer’s birth, was unveiled again after restoration.

“For Luther, baptism was the most important event in his life tying him to Eisleben,” says Stefan Rhein, director of the Luther Memorial Foundation in Saxony-Anhalt. A replica of a medieval baptistry and a baptismal font from 1518 are important parts of the permanent exhibition in Luther’s birth house. The building originally dated from the second half of the 15th century, but was rebuilt after it was almost completely destroyed in a town fire in 1689.

Luther’s final journey

Like other sites associated with Luther in Eisleben and Mansfeld, it has been modernised. Since 2007, about 18 million euros have been invested in the museums in Eisleben and Mansfeld, various exhibitions, a Luther archive and restoration of St. Peter’s Church, now the “Baptism Centre.” The four museums belonging to the Luther Memorial Foundation in Wittenberg and Eisleben, as well as the Wittenberg town church and castle church are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

After his birth on November 10, 1483, little Martin spent a mere six months in Eisleben. Then the Luthers moved to Mansfeld, a good ten kilometers away as the crow flies, where he spent 14 years. Later Luther repeatedly stayed in Eisleben, and he died there on February 18, 1546. In the reconstructed ensemble which, since 1726, has been considered his last residence, an exhibition illustrates Luther’s final journey, which he undertook to mediate a dispute between the counts of Mansfeld.Testimonies to childhood

Rhein emphasizes that Mansfeld was much more of a home to Luther than Wittenberg. The links run through the reformer’s entire life. “The opening of the parental home museum with the exhibition ‘I am a Child of Mansfeld,’ put Mansfeld back on the Luther map,” Rhein says.

The Mansfeld museum is the only one in the world that is devoted to Luther’s childhood. Among the items on display are three clay marbles with which Martin is said to have played, school regulations and ceramic fragments from the Luther household. Half of the 230 exhibits were found in the building’s foundations by archaeologists between 2003 and 2011. The most surprising finds are the remains of bones from the refuse pit, which show that songbirds were on the wealthy family’s menu.

As sites associated with Luther, Eisleben and Mansfeld are in no way inferior to Wittenberg, where the Protestant reformation began when he posted his theses in 1517. Nonetheless both seem to be overshadowed by the town on the River Elbe. The decline in mining, which had shaped the region for about 800 years, has also played a role. With the collapse of communist East Germany and the mining industry, around 30,000 jobs were lost in the region. Before 1989, Eisleben had some 30,000 residents. At present it has 18,500.

Anniversary without mass events

Mayor Jutta Fischer (SPD) sees the anniversary of the Reformation as “a major opportunity to spread the good reputation” of this town associated with Luther “at home and abroad.” Eisleben and Mansfeld are expecting more visitors. The town’s information center explains that ndividual tourists in particular can avoid the mass events in Wittenberg and explore other authentic Luther sites.

Extensive events are planned for the 2017 anniversary year. They include a celebration of Martin Luther’s birthday in November in Eisleben, with a historical market and a meeting of people who share the name of Luther, and in June, Saxony-Anhalt Day will be celebrated, with the theme “The World Comes to Visit Luther’s Home Town.”

Karsten Wiedener, Wiebke Rannenberg (epd)

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