While most of the Luther student body trudged to class through the snow, our Münster group had unbelievably beautiful weather for our week in Berlin! Professor Steding said it was the best weather he has ever had while in Berlin with a group. During the first four days of our trip, we took a city tour, visited Wittenburg, saw the Berlin Wall Memorial, The Jüdisches Museum, Hohenschönhausen, the Reichstag, and visited the Berlin Opera! Clearly it was a packed trip. All of the sites were interesting, but my favorites were Wittenberg and the GDR prison Hohenschönhausen.
On Saturday we took the 90-minute train ride to the cozy town of Wittenberg. This place is so cute and little, you would never guess that some of the most notable advancements of the 16th century took place there. As Luther students, I think we expected to be experts on the topic of the Reformation. However, the three hour tour we took proved us wrong! Seeing the actual place where Martin Luther lived and started the Reformation gave us a totally new perspective on the environment that allowed it to grow.
We started by taking a group picture by the door where Luther originally would have nailed his 95 Theses. This door has been remade in metal with the text of the 95 Theses inscribed in Latin. The door is attached to a beautiful church that has become a shrine to the Reformation. Inside we saw crests of families and statues of scholars who supported the Reformation. The entire building is decorated to commemorate these people. Directly beneath the pulpit is the burial place of Martin Luther himself. We continued through the town and saw the home of one of the most influential people in Wittenberg during Luther’s time. He was an artist who brought the first printing press to the town. In collaboration with Luther’s efforts, he printed pictures that explained Luther’s reformative ideas to the illiterate people in the area. This artist also built the first clean water wells for the people within the city. This action really impacted the people of the city. It proved to them that the reformers really lived life based on their teachings.
On this tour we also saw a church where Luther preached over two thousand times and we saw Luther’s house. The dining room in the Luther house looks more like a banquet hall than a room in a normal house. Today the most notable thing about the room is its sheer size. Luther regularly had groups of fifty to sixty people there to discuss biblical and theological issues. Although the tour focused on Martin Luther, the most interesting part for me was learning about the other people that made the Reformation possible. The stories of these other reformers were told at every place we visited. It really gave a new perspective to an already familiar topic.
To look at a completely different part of Germany’s history, on Monday we visited Hohenschönhausen. This complex was used as an interrogation prison by the GDR. Just to give a brief history, post-WWII Germany was split into four sectors by the Allied forces. The east side of Germany was controlled by the communist Soviet Union and became known as the German Democratic Republic. Anyone that knows about the history of GDR knows it was the opposite of democratic. This prison is a great example of the injustices this “republic’ forced on its people. Within Berlin many people were trying to escape to the free West Berlin. Anyone who was caught trying to escape, or was suspected to know about planned escapes, was taken to Hohenschönhausen.
This place was used to interrogate the suspected prisoners. In order to work here, the government of the GDR had to be sure the workers were absolutely loyal to the regime. Therefore, there were no questions asked by the guards. As far as they were concerned, the prisoners were all guilty. Our tour guide made it very clear that the only way to escape this place was to confess; whether the prisoners were innocent or guilty was irrelevant. The prisoners would stay there as long as it took to get a confession from them. This tour was both fascinating and terrifying. It focused on a time and aspect of history that is only briefly taught in the American school system. Although the prisoners of this place were not physically tortured, they left with permanent psychological damage that they were forbidden to ever discuss. More than anything this place taught me to respect all that the German people have been through and to be grateful for the freedom we are promised in America.
On a lighter note, I could talk for a long time about the wonderful production of Don Giovanni we saw at the Berlin Opera. I also learned so much from the tour of the Reichstag building and the history that goes with it. I will not write about all of that because this blog post would be a mile long! Overall we learned and saw far more than a week's worth of sites on this trip! We are all riding the train back to Münster with full brains and tan faces from a great week in the German capital. Taylor will let you know what else we saw during our trip in the next blog post!