I probably have spent more time traveling around Germany than any other international destination and yet I’ve almost never had to retrace my steps. The width and breadth of experiences to enjoy in the country astounds me, which is why I was so happy to return a few months ago and to retrace the life and times of Martin Luther. While the history of this important man in this, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, was at the heart of my journey, there were countless other ways for me to enjoy my time in Germany. Each city and town I visited may have been important to Luther, but they’re also dynamic destinations with lots to offer in addition to the man behind the Reformation. Since so many of these places were completely new to me, I thought I’d share just a few from my most recent trip and, in the process, hopefully encourage your own travels around Germany.
Knowing that I wouldn’t have a lot of time in Halle, I made sure that one of the first experiences I enjoyed was a scenic view. And in Halle, there’s no better place than at the top of the mammoth Market Church. Of course it’s always worth the extra effort and even though storm clouds threatened, I was rewarded with stunning views of the city. I’m sorry to say that I knew nothing about Halle before my visit, which kind of surprises me given how important it’s been throughout history. Much of Martin Luther’s story touches Halle but so do the lives of notables names such as Händel, Dürer and more. It’s also just a really nice place to be, even on a somewhat blustery day. Martin Luther isn’t the only reason to visit Halle though, it’s also home to a number of other fun places to visit and explore including the bustling downtown and the amazing 3,600-year-old Nebra Sky Disk.
Eisleben & Mansfeld
The focus for my last trip to Germany was Martin Luther, visiting the towns and cities important to him and his work. That’s how I found myself spending the day exploring the towns of Eisleben and nearby Mansfeld. Eisleben is home to both the Luther Birth House as well as his Death House, an interesting quirk of fate that the town served as the setting for the beginning and end of his life. Naturally it’s also just a beautiful town to walk around, adding a special element to what was an engaging and definitely educational day. A quietly important town in the life of Martin Luther is the peaceful and relaxed Mansfeld Lutherstadt. Mansfeld was one of the smallest towns I visited, but its importance is substantial. Martin Luther spent his childhood in this bucolic place set in the hills and today you can visit the house where his family lived. A few years ago new items from Luther’s family were found and a brand new museum created; a state of the art institution where you can learn all about Luther’s early life. Add to that amazing views like this one from Mansfeld Castle, and it’s a destination worth discovering.
Erfurt surprised me in every way, but mostly because I had somehow never heard of it before. That’s fine with small towns, but Erfurt is no small town. This city of more than 200,000 people also has an impressive history, the details of which can be found on a fun and easy exploration around town. From the cathedral to churches and those gingerbread houses we all love, Erfurt doesn’t lack in urban beauty, but there’s one spot in the city that for me was just a little bit more special than the rest – the Merchant’s Bridge. In Medieval times many bridges also had thriving businesses on them, although only a few around Europe still exist. This is actually one of the more notable ones because it includes the longest series of inhabited buildings on any bridge in Europe. The city owns most of the shops on the bridge and only allows merchants selling traditional items or arts to take up residence, reflecting the heritage of the city and region. On top of the shops are apartments and, yes, people really still do live there. The bridge was built in the 1300s and today just 32 buildings are left, flanked on the end by the Church of St. Aegidius, the tower of which I also climbed. I had a great time exploring all of Erfurt, but I think my time on and around this colorful bridge was the highlight of my day.
While I enjoyed nearly every stop during my week in Germany, I was especially looking forward to the final city on the Luther Trail – Eisenach. The city has certainly played an important role throughout history, whether as Bach’s birthplace or where a Saint got her start. But at the heart of the story is Martin Luther, not only because he studied here, but because later in life it was here, in Wartburg Castle where he hid away from danger and translated the Bible into German. Today the castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a variety of reasons, including Luther, but it’s just an inherently fun place to visit in its own right. I was very impressed by the quality of museums in Eisenach and the castle is no exception. With expertly curated exhibits about both Luther’s influence and the history of the castle, I spent hours here, learning, exploring and just having a great time.