Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Recollections on a Recent Trip to Germany

While I have been critical of material on the DayStar site and of Dr. Matthew Becker's writing, in particular, I did enjoy a recent article regarding his recent October class trip to Germany. Dr. Becker, a professor of theology at Valparasio University, led a group of twenty students on a week-long study trip to sites in central and eastern Germany connected with Martin Luther.

The information he shares is very informative, especially concerning the contemporary condition of the German church. Although I was aware that Christianity in Europe has been declining for a long time and is at a very low point in the Reformer's homeland, I was still shocked by the statistics Becker presented:

According to a 2005 survey, the percentage of Christians in Thüringen is 34% (ca. 780,000 out of 2.3 million). In Sachsen the figure is 25% (1 million out of 4 million). The percentage is even lower in Sachsen-Anhalt, only 19% (ca. 456,000 out of 2.4 million). In cities such as Leipzig (place of Luther's 1519 debate with Eck and the home of J. S. Bach for 27 years), the figure may be as low as 5% (ca. 2500 in a city of half a million). According to its website (www.landeskirche-sachsen.de), the Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche Sachsen has 835,000 members in 882 congregations. The Lutheran Landeskirche of Thüringen has slightly fewer: 563,000 members."

Aside from this, Becker's article is a very informative tour de force of the significant sites of the Reformation era. It would be a good piece to review if one were able to visit this area in the near future, especially around the Reformation events he describes. Along with many sites and churches, Becker describes the newly renovated Lutherhaus and museum which the students visited and is now a state-of-the-art facility that would be well worth seeing:

the newly renovated "Lutherhaus," the former Augustinian monastery that became Luther's home and is now a very interesting museum. What used to be a rather simple exhibit (I last visited in 1996), with displays mostly in German, now is state-of-the-art and includes interpretive materials in both German and English. The VU students and I spent more than two hours there, and we still did not see everything. Presenting artifacts and detailed information about Luther, Katharina, their family and extended household, the museum also gives the visitor an interesting glimpse into late-medieval life and the early history of the Reformation. Highlights include the tiny pulpit in which Luther kneeled or sat to preach his more than 2,000 sermons in the Town Church, his habit, the cellars (these now contain very informative displays on Luther's domestic life, e.g., how Katarina made beer and wine and how meals were prepared—a large number of cookware and utensils have been unearthed since 2004), the Großer Hörsaal in which Luther lectured, portraits and "The Ten Commandments Panel" by Cranach Sr. and Jr. (and members of his artists school), a room full of first editions of Luther's writings, the completed German Bible (probably the most valuable and historically important object in the museum) and of course the dark, wood-paneled Lutherstube (with oven, table and decorated ceiling). In the summer of 2004 masonry bricks were discovered in what has come to be called "the Luthergarten." This news turned into a sensation when it became clear that these were not merely the remains of a foundation but a lofty basement storey standing in a trench. Other evidence has led scholars to conclude that these are the remains of Luther's study, used by him from 1522 onwards and located near the monastery's latrine. (Luther frequently mentioned the fact that his study was near to a "cloaca," a latrine—which functioned only until 1540.) This archeological discovery puts to an end the false notion that Luther's Reformation Discovery occurred while he was actually "in the latrine," ala psycho-biographical speculations about Luther's constipation and other intestinal problems. Luther's discovery occurred in his study "near a latrine."

I have to confess that part of me was envious as I read the article, having long wished to visit these same sites. The My dream is still alive, however. One day I will get to see this for myself!

The entire article, "Reformationsfest 2007 in the Lutherländer,"
can be found at the DayStar website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have visited Wittenberg in September and have also found the museum in the Lutherhaus very worth visiting.

As regards the percentage of Christians in these places, you should also keep in mind that the numbers you quoted are baptized members of the liberal state church. Of those only very few - maybe 10% - do regularly attend service.

In Wittenberg itself you will be able to buy all kind of touristical souvenirs - for instance schnapps called "Nonnenpfurz" = furt of a nun - but very few books by or about Luther. I found one bookshop where they would sell Luther's bible. Right next to a book called "Warum die Bibel nicht die ganze Wahrheit sagt" = Why the bible does not say all the truth.

It was very sad!