Market place memorial
Holding a bible in his left hand and the papal bull of excommunication in his right is how this statue of Martin Luther greets visitors from around the world on the market place of Eisleben. His home town erected the impressive statue of him in 1883, to mark the 400th birthday of the town's famous son.
Eisleben was once a mining center
Eisleben, one of the oldest towns located between the Harz mountain range and the Elbe river, due to the mining of copper slate in the 15th and 16th century became the most important town of the once powerful county of Mansfeld. Luther's father also came here to earn a living from mining.
Luther's place of birth
Martin Luther was born in this house on November 10th, 1483. The family lived here for half a year before moving to nearby Mansfeld. Today the house is a museum. The permanent exhibition focuses on the reformer's childhood as well as the mining in the region and everyday life in the Middle Ages.
Luther family living room
Nothing remains of the original furnishings. After a fire in the town in 1689 severely damaged the building the town bought the land and reconstructed the house into a school for the poor as well as serving as a Luther memorial. This marked the beginning of Luther tourism in Eisleben.
The St. Peter and Paul church is located only a few steps from the birth place. Martin Luther was baptized here a day after he was born. According to tradition at the time he was named after the Saint of that day - in this case Martin.
In the past 500 years the church of St. Peter and Paul has undergone many changes – including the baptismal font. An inscription now states that "this is the remains of the baptismal font, in which blessed Martin Luther was baptized in the year 1483". In the foreground you can see the new baptismal font dating from the year 2012.
Portrait of the reformer, painted after 1528 by Lucas Cranach, the Elder
Even after Martin Luther was famous and living in Wittenberg, he still regularly returned to the town of his birth to consecrate churches and abbeys, inaugurate priests and take a keen interest in the establishment of schools, often involving having to negotiate with Counts of Mansfeld. The last time he came to Eisleben was in 1546, an arduous trip for someone clearly marked by age and ill health.
The Andreaskirche church next to the market place is also closely associated with Martin Luther: on February 19th, 1546, the deceased reformer lay in state here before his body was transferred to the castle church in Wittenberg.
One of the Andreaskirche church's most important inventory is the pulpit from which Martin Luther in 1546 held his last four sermons. With the help of donations from the USA the pulpit was refurbished and also displayed in Minneapolis. In time to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation the pulpit will return to its home in the Andreaskiche church in Eisleben.
Place of death
At Andreaskirchplatz number 7 stands the house where most people in the world believe Martin Luther died on February 18th, 1546. But there was some confusion and the house where he actually died is today the Hotel "Graf von Mansfeld" on the market square. A bizarre story that dates way back:
Reconstruction of his deathbed
Following Luther's death the original place quickly became a place of pilgrimage. But the admirers of Luther kept breaking little bits of wood off the deathbed. To put an end to this kind of relic cult the protestant church had burned Luther's deathbed in 1707 and closed the house where he died. Later those chronicling the reformer's life mixed up the actual place of death.
The rear of the supposed place of death
The mix-up was only discovered in the 1960s, at a time when the original place of death was part of former communist East Germany. East German functionaries decided to continue to claim that the wrong building was his actual place of death. Even today the wrong building is still listed as Luther's place of death.
Be that as it may, Luther's "place of death" underwent an extensive refurbishment and extension program from 2010 until 2013. The highlight here is the death chamber - a reconstruction dating from the 19th century. The stylized coffin does contain the original pall which covered Luther's coffin in 1546.
In the name of the (Luther) rose
A rose with a heart and a cross - for Martin Luther this was a symbol of his beliefs. He used the Luther-Rose as a seal for his letters and his home town today uses this symbol to mark the route to the important sites connected to Luther in Eisleben. Not that there is any great danger of getting lost in the picturesque town, but these beautiful markers along the way are always nice to look at.
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.
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)
Kerstin Schmidt (sbc)