As soon as Stefan Rhein leaves his office he enters a different world. Suddenly, he finds himself in the study of 16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther. For now, however, that room is completely empty - even Luther's famous desk is missing.
Rhein is the director of Luther House in Wittenberg, the town where Luther once lived and taught theology. Rhein is rather relaxed about the fact that Luther's desk, as well as 88 additional items, are notably absent. After all, the building is still closed to visitors. Some renovation work still needs to be done before Luther House reopens on March 4, resplendent with fresh paint and a new lighting system for the 500th anniversary celebration of the Protestant Reformation.
Luther in the US
In the meantime, the missing items - including writings, letters, paintings and personal effects - have been on display in three major Luther exhibitions in the US, a traveling exhibit entitled "Here I Stand."
Roughly 195,000 visitors flocked to shows in Atlanta, Minneapolis and New York - a success that's probably due to the fact that prior to these exhibitions, the items had never left Wittenberg. That's where, in 1517, Luther published his famous 95 theses speaking out against the Catholic Church's practice of making sinners pay for their indulgences.
The US exhibition "Here I Stand" didn't limit itself to 16th century Martin Luther and the far-reaching events he set in motion, but also connected him with his 20th century namesake, Martin Luther King Jr. The exhibit showed that the attitude of the civil rights icon, based on the assumption that all men were created by God and therefore have the same value, would not have been possible without the Reformation of 1517.
In return for the loan of the items, US exhibition organizers have set up a huge online library containing texts and graphics, as well as 20 digital plans to reproduce valuable items from the Reformation era. The material allows interested individuals to organize their own exhibition on the Reformation, whether they be private citizens, cultural clubs, church communities, youth groups or schools.
With just a click and a download, organizers can reproduce items with the help of a 3D printer - a replica of a 16th century indulgence chest, for example, or a bust of Martin Luther. If you don't own a 3D printer, public printers in many cities can do the job - for a fee. In Germany, the printing of just one item costs roughly 100 euros ($106). Such an expense is likely to turn off some potential exhibition organizers.
Not surprisingly, the Andreas-Gymnasium, a high school in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain, has limited its Reformation exhibition to 20 large placards. Ingo Niederschuh, the teacher responsible for the exhibition, told DW that unfortunately, the show will not be accompanied by extra lessons in history and religion.
The Protestant community in Berlin-Schlachtensee has also set up an exhibition. Interested visitors can study information on the background, religious beliefs and cultural influences of Martin Luther after church services and during the opening hours of the communal office.
Visitors hoping to find 3D reproductions will be disappointed, however. Exhibition organizers felt that the cost was simply too high. The placards on show do detail how Luther became a revolutionary against his will, but adding some eye-catching artifacts - or at least reproductions - to the exhibition would have made it more interesting.
The most surprising Luther exhibition is located right in the center of Berlin, where the Catholic community has gathered information about the reformer at the St. Hedwig Cathedral near the famed Unter den Linden boulevard. Bettina Birkner developed the concept behind the exhibition, "because Luther motivated us to study the Bible ourselves," she explained.
The concept of "Here I Stand" and its 3D exhibits has obviously been successful. Shows have been set up across the German-speaking world, with 370 exhibitions taking place all the way from Haderslev in Denmark to Meran in South Tyrol, Italy.
Right now, the original exhibits on which the project "Here I Stand" was based are being prepared for Germany's special exhibition for the Reformation anniversary year entitled "Luther! 95 Menschen - 95 Schätze" ('Luther! 95 people - 95 treasures') in the Augusteum in Wittenberg.
Stefan Rhein, director of the Luther House, hopes the "Here I Stand" project will inspire people to travel and see the original exhibits in Wittenberg. The exhibition there will run from May 13 until November 5.Oliver Jeske (ad)