A 40-minute train ride Thursday morning took us from Berlin to Wittenberg, the home of Martin Luther, whose “95 Theses” sparked the Protestant Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The town is undergoing preparations for a large anniversary of the event in 2017; one unfortunate casualty of the renovations was that students were unable to see the precise spot where Luther, it is said, nailed the controversial document to the church door. Learning that the actual door is long gone, replaced by a 19th-century version, softened the blow a bit.
The minor setback was more than offset by being able to tour the museum that now resides in the home where Luther lived for more than 30 years. Last year’s class did not make this tour, which in retrospect is unfortunate. Thursday, students were able to see the pulpit where Luther delivered more than 2,000 sermons and a copy of the Bible that Luther translated into German.
While the focus was understandably on Luther, it was also clear that he would not have been able to spread his message of change without significant help from powerful people. Most important was Frederick III, known reverently in Wittenberg as “Frederick the Wise,” who was able to protect Luther from persecution from the Catholic Church. Lucas Cranach was instrumental in spreading Luther’s word by printing his German-language bible and by painting illustrations of biblical principles so the large mass of illiterate could understand them. And his wife, the escaped nun Katharina von Bora, not only proved an astute business partner for Luther, but pushed her husband to help educate women as well as men.
After a leisurely lunch, we made our way back to the train station, walking through a winter shower. While waiting for our train, three groups led debriefings on what they had seen on visits related to their fall research. Cameron Saucier and Dave Stone reflected on the role education had on being able to access information during Luther’s time. Rachel Fishman and Brooke Faison, reflecting back on Wednesday’s walking tour of Berlin, noted how commercialism had overtaken Checkpoint Charlie and the irony of remnants of the Berlin Wall being walled in within glass enclosures. Going back to London, Matt Dowdle, Jason Puckett and Jeff Stern recalled how the BBC continues to be revered despite its recent spate of embarrassing headlines.
Just before leaving the station, we gave a couple of “Bloggy” awards for particularly interesting and notable student writing so far. Alex Hay received the “Hit the Ground Rolling” award for writing three substantive posts in our first three days in London, and will bring home a replica double-decker bus. Becky Wickel scored sunglasses with Union Jack lenses for winning the “Seeing the World Through New Eyes” award, given for her creative linking of course themes through observations of art, technology and culture. We recommend you read the all student blog entries, linked at the right side of this blog, for their takes on the course so far.