Half a millennium ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act sparked a worldwide movement that changed the world, and not only in terms of religion. 2017 is the anniversary year of the Reformation, and it’s drawing hundreds of thousands of faith-based groups and historical enthusiasts to Germany to celebrate. The country will be paying tribute to Luther all year long, but it’s not the only time to make a visit to this part of the world.
For religious groups making the journey to LutherCountry in 2017—or any other year—there are a few items to keep in mind. LutherCountry is spread across multiple regions of Germany: Hessen, Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. The closest major cities are Berlin and Frankfurt, both of which have daily flights arriving from all over the world. Germany’s sophisticated infrastructure makes it easy to get around. Groups can hop on a high-speed train, a bus or internal domestic flights to reach their final destinations.
In planning your faith-based adventure, it’s important to consider the best time of year to go. Summer is the most popular season for travelers to visit, due to the warm weather and many exciting festivals. However, the shoulder months tend to offer lower prices, fewer crowds and still decent weather. You can also visit in winter months when chilly weather can be enjoyed at the beautiful Christmas markets. If you’re concerned about missing any celebrations, fear not. Germany is buzzing with excitement all year long, especially in 2017, with dozens of exhibitions, concerts and festivals hosted across the country.
While many Germans speak English, it’s a good idea to learn a few key phrases to communicate with locals, especially in smaller towns. Prior to leaving home, pick up some guidebooks and Luther-related materials to familiarize yourself and your group with the places you’ll be visiting and the best routes to get there. These materials will also help you narrow down and prioritize the sites you want to see—and there are many.
More than 35 authentic sites related to Martin Luther are spread out across the region, each offering insight into his life and legacy. Groups can take one of eight designated Luther routes that highlight the various stages of his life. Or they can create their own course, moving from one influential city to the next.
The best place to start is Lutherstadt Eisleben, where Martin Luther’s life began and ended. Make a stop at the museum inside Luther’s original Birth House; stand inside the grand hall where Luther was baptized at City Church of St. Peter & St. Paul; visit the Church of St. Anne, the region’s first Protestant church; and discover Luther’s Death House, home to the exhibition Luther’s Past Path.
The life and times of Martin Luther as an adult are on display in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. This was the city where Luther took on the most significant roles of his life and where the Reformation began. Visit the most famous door in history at Castle Church, where almost 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door for everyone to see. Inside the church is Luther’s final resting place, where you can pay respects to this influential theological figure.
Another famous building is City Church, where Luther and Katharina were married in 1525 and where all six Luther children were baptized. If your group plans to visit, be sure to make time to attend one of the worship services held in English between May and October. Luther House was once an Augustinian monastery where Luther lived and worked for more than 35 years. Today, it is the largest Reformation museum in the world.
In the city of Eisenach sits Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther completed his translation of the New Testament from Greek to German. Groups can step inside the Lutherstube—the room where Luther wrote and lived—for a spiritual experience that will stay with them long after they depart.
Erfurt is known as Luther’s spiritual home, as it was where his journey to becoming the Great Reformer began. He studied theology at the University of Erfurt and became a monk, living at the Augustinian Monastery from 1505 to 1511. Guests can learn all about the history of the Reformation at the library, which is filled with books and the permanent exhibition called Bible – Monastery – Luther. Martin Luther was ordained at St. Mary’s Cathedral, admired for its medieval “Gloriosa” bell. Located next door is St. Severi Church, separated by a grand set of stairs, which serves as the open-air stage for the annual Cathedral Steps Festival.
As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, 2017 is clearly a prime time to visit Germany, as the country will be hosting many special events, however, if you and your group want to avoid the crowds, then perhaps consider visiting in 2018 or beyond. The magnificent shrines to Luther will still be there next year, along with the many other sites that Germany has to offer.
Many religious groups should consider visiting three years from now, in 2020, when the 42nd performance of the Oberammergau Passion Play will take place. The history of the play dates back to 1643, during the time of the Thirty Years War, when the plague took the lives of thousands. The locals vowed to perform the “Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ” every 10 years. They have kept that promise to this day. More than 2,000 actors, all from Oberammergau, participate in the performance that takes place in a spectacular open-air theater. The play premieres in May 2020, with the last performance in September or October. This allows groups plenty of time to visit the Luther sites and also catch the incredible Oberammergau Passion Play.
If your religious group is planning a visit to LutherCountry, 2017 is certainly a landmark year to visit. However, there is plenty of opportunity to take a group trip to Germany in the coming years, when crowd will die down and the Luther sites will be easier to access. Plus, there are a number of other exciting events taking place, giving your group plenty to enjoy in the years ahead.