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Visit to East Germany, Sept–Oct 2009

by Clay Kruger

In planning this journey, Klaus Hattwich and I (Clay Kruger) aimed to follow the trail of Martin Luther (1483-1546) in Germany, also to focus on visiting cathedrals, palaces, churches and other historic venues.

Our first port of call was London. The highlight for us was the Royal Observatory, Greenwich which calculates and measures world time. In this immediate area are universities, museums and other historic buildings, all worthy of a visit.

We began our Martin Luther tour in Dresden, situated on the river Elbe in Upper Lusatia in Saxony. Its Slavic origins date back to the late 12th century. The city gave us a warm welcome. We noted that the “Kreuzkirche” (Church of the Cross), built in 1388, had connections with Luther. This church building has unfortunately been overshadowed by a multi-storey complex. The “Frauenkirche” (Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady), built in 1738, was destroyed in the fire-bombing of Dresden in World War II. It is now a pleasure to visit following painstaking reconstruction which was completed in 2005. The “Hofkirche”( the Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony), built in 1751, was also very impressive, as were other notable buildings such as the Zwinger Palace, the “Semperoper” (Opera House), and various castles and museums. The 102 metres long Procession of Princes porcelain mural is a masterpiece. I believe it was built by Slavic people. It covers the outer wall of the old royal stables. Luisenhof is a fascinating village. We returned from Luisenhof to Dresden by steam cruise boat on the river Elbe and viewed the 9 metre high water mark of the 2002 floods. Our visit to the modern Volkswagen factory was also much appreciated.

The next stage of our journey took us to the largest railway station in Europe, at Leipzig (or Lipsk in Slavic). St Thomas Church (1212) not only has a connection with Luther but is also the final resting place of J. S. Bach, who formed a Boys’ Choir there. The Boys’ Choir is a tradition that continues to this day. Near the church is a museum honouring J. S. Bach. Famous composers Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wagner also worked in Leipzig at various times, as did Goethe, one of the key figures of German literature. The “Nikolaikirche” (Church of St. Nicholas), built in 1165, is an excellent place to visit. The 91 metre tall Battle of Nations Monument, built in 1913 to commemorate the 1813 defeat of Napoleon’s armies by the Prussians, Austrians and Russians, stands on the outskirts of this city.

St Thomas Church (1212) not only has a connection with Luther but is also the final resting place of J. S. Bach, who formed a Boys’ Choir there.

We journeyed to Weimar, a city mostly known for its cultural heritage and an essential destination on the Martin Luther trail. There are numerous churches, museums and public venues, many of them named after famous figures including Bach, Goethe, Kandinsky, Lizst, Schiller, Wagner, L.Cranach the Elder, Gropius, Herder, Hummel, Klee and Nietzsche. The “Jakobskirche” (Church of St. Jacob) dates back to 1168. German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) rests in the cemetery of this church. The “Herderkirche” (1245) is named after famous theologian J.G. Herder and is his final resting place. Luther had strong connections with these two churches. One museum holds a Luther Bible (1534). Much time can be spent here researching the various venues. Buchenwald concentration camp is situated on the outskirts of this village.

After a twenty minutes journey from Weimar, we arrived in Erfurt, one of the most important landmarks on the Martin Luther trail. It was wonderful to visit the “Augustinerkloster” (Augustinian Monastery), built in 1276, where Luther spent six years as a monk. Today, this building is an extensive complex, with a large library currently under construction. Overlooking Erfurt is “Dom St Marien” (Cathedral of St. Mary), which dates back to the 14th century, and “Severikirche” (Church of St. Severus) which dates back to 1270. J. S. Bach spent time in Erfurt in 1716.

As we journeyed south from Erfurt, we visited the beautiful town of Eisenach, where Luther went to school and where J.S. Bach was born in 1685. Luther attended George School in the years 1498-1501. Today, this school is Luther House Museum. During his years at school, Luther was a choir boy at the Church of St George (1180). Bach was baptized in this church. Today, the house where Bach was born is also a Museum.

In 1521-1522, while Luther was in hiding at Wartburg castle, he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. Wartburg is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Germany.

On the last leg of Luther’s trail, we arrived in Wittenberg, where we visited the 13th century City Church, also known as “the Mother Church of Reformation”. We also visited the Castle Church where Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Church on 31 October 1517. Luther’s tomb rests below the pulpit of this Church. Exotic portraits and altar pictures painted by artists of the Cranach family are on display in both churches. Today, Luther House, Cranach House and Melanchthon House are treasured Museums. Next to Castle Church is a very modern Hostel.

After completing Luther’s journey, we travelled northwards towards Potsdam and Berlin. Frederick II, King of Prussia (1740-1786), had famous buildings constructed in his capital, Berlin, most of which still exist today, such as the Berlin State Opera, the Royal Library, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral and Prince Henry’s Palace. However the King preferred spending time in his summer residence, Potsdam, where he built the palace of Sans Souci.

We timed our visit to Berlin to coincide with the celebrations of the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Re-unification appears to have been successful, though there is still some resentment in the community. Walking along where the wall once stood is a very moving experience. A former watch tower has been converted into the excellent Tower-Museum, where visitors can explore this era of German history. The “Festival of Freedom” events were centred around the Brandenburg Gate. In the re-enactment of the Fall of the Wall, 1000 coloured foam domino tiles over 2.4 metres tall were lined up along the former Wall through the city centre. This “Wall” toppled in stages from “Potsdamer Platz” (Potsdam Square) to “Reichstag” (the German Parliament Building). The Reichstag (1894) is an excellent focal point.

The “Festival of Freedom” events were centred around the Brandenburg Gate.

There are plans to re-create the “People’s Palace”, the 18th century Prussian Palace in East Berlin. The Palace was destroyed in World War II. We were uplifted by our visits to “Berliner Dom” (Berlin Cathedral, 1454) and Charlottenburg Palace (1699) which is the largest palace in Berlin. Our visit to Berlin’s famous Museum Island was an excellent finale to our journey.

The close of the summer season welcomed Klaus Hattwich and yours truly (Clay Kruger) to the country of origin of our forebears.

Harvest Thanksgiving was being celebrated in all churches and shops also had displays. On the first leg of our visit, we engaged in a bicycle ride of 30kms from Luebben to Luebbenau in the Spreewald. As we cycled along, viewing the excellent farmland of our Wends, it came to mind how versatile this farmland really is. Arriving at Luebbenau, we boarded a barge on the Spree River, this river cruise opening up a new world of indescribable natural beauty. The Gothic Hallenkirche built in 1607 stands on the market square in Luebben. Well renowned pastor and Baroque poet Paul Gerhardt served here from 1669 till his death in 1676.

Moving on to Cottbus, viewing the Wendish Museum was an inspiration to us. It was a pleasure to meet the courteous staff, especially Christina Kliem, who made us very welcome. Since our last visit to Cottbus, the market square has all been taken up with stalls for tourists. I feel that it has lost much of its Wendish flavour. Our hosts Alfons and Ursula Frencl greeted us at Bautzen. Their generous hospitality was warmly appreciated. We focused our research on the south-south eastern area of Bautzen, the place of origin of many of our forbears. The well known areas of interest included Baschutz, Dolan, Hochkirch, Meschwitz and Rachlau, just to name a few. We thoroughly explored these areas, thanks to Alfons and Ursula.

While driving along enjoying the scenery, we were also entertained with Wend music and talkback from the Wend radio station in Bautzen. We made some recordings. As we meandered along, we crossed the Upper Lusatian border between Prussia and Saxony, which is marked with special posts. We learnt that the current President of Saxony is a Sorb. A Dutch-type windmill came into view, designed by a Sorb. This gentleman migrated to Australia and possibly promoted windmills in Australia.

Further on, we entered Loebauer Berg, where energetic people climbed the 28m. cast iron tower built in 1854. As we entered the village of Cunewalde, a Lutheran Church came into view. This present church was built in 1793 with a seating capacity of 2,632. The earliest documents date back to the year 1222. Some of the original homes remain standing, with renovations today focussing on restoring older style buildings. We very much appreciated our visits to the Marien, Ralbitz and Rosenthal areas.

At the close of our tour, we were uplifted by a church service at the Dom, St Petri.