in Worms, Heidelberg, Speyer and Augsburg
I’ve been following in Luther’s footsteps once again. He really did get around, that Martin.
A couple of years ago, I had a look at what is probably the most famous of Luther spots: Wittenberg, where he nailed his 95 theses on the church door on 31 October 1517, thus shaking the Holy Roman Empire to its core. Christianity split in two forever more.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of that bold, defiant act, the German tourist office have set up 6 different Luther routes.
In 2016, I followed a good part of Route 4 – Politics and rebellion through the cities of Dresden, Leipzig and Torgau. This year, I traced much of Route 5 – Sermons and Imperial Diets: Luther’s Travels through Worms, Heidelberg, Speyer and Augsburg. Practically stalking the man, I’ve been.
Religious history not your thing? Not really mine either. But as always, religion is as much about politics as it is about the hereafter. If it hadn’t been for Luther, our lives (in the Western world at least), might have been very different. His main objection was the Catholic church’s habit of buying and selling pardons. Nothing irked Martin more than the idea that you could pay your way out of sin. That way, only the rich could afford to go to heaven. To a certain extent, Luther was an early advocate of “the many, not the few”.
I’ve written more on the man and his theses in this post, and won’t repeat it here. Instead, we’ll have a look at the cities on this route: Worms, Heidelberg, Speyer and Augsburg. We’ll find Luther, and also have a look at what else is on offer:
Without further ado, here are 11 things to do on the Luther trail in these four German cities:
Luther in Worms
Luther arrived in Worms in April 1521 and appeared before the Diet (and no, this diet has nothing to do with what you eat. In politics, a diet is a formal assembly). The Diet of Worms asked Luther to recant the theses, but Luther could not, would not. In fact, he said:
If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny
Brave man! But of course the Catholic Church couldn’t let that go unpunished. The diet declared Luther a heretic and issued the following decree:
…we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.
While it was being decided what to do with this heretic, Luther managed to flee to Wittenberg and disappear off the map for a bit. Probably a smart move.
In Worms, you’ll find him at the Luther Memorial, an enormous group of statues –
Here I stand, I can do no other.
– and along the pavement, where you’ll see Luther’s sayings – particularly the famous words he (supposedly) uttered after his sentence here in Worms
Other things to do in town? Worms might seem a sleepy town at first glance, but discoveries can be had around the corner.
- As you drive into town, you’ll cross Nibelungen bridge across the Rhine; entering the town, you’ll pass underneath the impressive Nibelungen Tor (City Gate, photo above). If you minored in German literature (like I did), you will know Nibelungenlied, that epic poem about Siegfried slaying dragons at the Burgundian court. Worms was capital of the Burgundian kingdom, hence the name.
- Have a look at Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery, with 1000-year-old gravestones.
- Take a walk along the Rhine
- Stop by the cool Strandbar – a beach and a beach bar, quite unexpected!
- If you like semi-dry whites, try Liebfraumilch, which originated here. In Germany, it must be a class 2 (second best of 4) quality wine and there are heaps of other requirements as well. The wine you remember from that time when you were too young to drink wine? Not the same.
If you’re from St Albans just north-west of London, or Mobile, Alabama, you’ll be interested to know Worms is your twin city.
Heidelberg seen from the castle
From the infamous Diet of Worms of 1521, we’ll travel a few years back in time to 1518. In the ancient university town of Heidelberg, Luther spoke to theology students, including Martin Bucer, known as the Reformer of Strasbourg, Theobald Billican (Nördlingen), and Johannes Brenz (Stuttgart), and others. They went on to spread the Protestant message all over south-west Germany, making it old school viral.
In Heidelberg, you’ll find traces of Luther at the old University, in the auditorium and on a plaque on University Place.
Gate on Alte Brücke
What else can you do in Heidelberg? This is such a cool city, it’s worth numerous posts in its own right (which I might just get to). Here’s but a few things to do in Heidelberg:
- Visit the large, rambling Schloss Heidelberg with a seemingly random collection of buildings. Heidelberg Castle offers fantastic views of Heidelberg, and Heidelberg offers equally fantastic views of the castle.
- Wander in Altstadt, the old city along the River Neckar. (If possible, try to time it not to coincide with the many river cruisers), and walk across Alte Brücke, the old stone bridge.
- Learn German the Mark Twain way. More about Mark in this post.
- Visit the fascinating student prison. I wouldn’t mind spending a night or two here myself.
- On Plöck 52 street in the old town, Heidelberger Zuckerladen is possibly the weirdest and most charming sweet shop anywhere. You’ll recognise it by the dentist’s chair in the window. Inside, (where taking photos is forbidden – too many came in to gawk, I imagine), you’ll find liquorice laces, caramels, marzipan, all kinds of sweets, really, some in rather adult shapes. No self-service here, no siree. This is an old-fashioned full-service shop run by an elderly couple who take their time with every customer, including playing a game of dice. An experience as well as a shop. Expect a crowd.
- Follow in the footsteps of philosophers and professors, walking and talking along Philospophenweg, with stunning views of Heidelberg Castle. If you’re up for it, there’s all kinds of interesting sights further up Heiligenberg (Holy mountain), including an 11th century monastery and a Nazi era amphitheatre.
Twin cities include the old university city of Cambridge in England, and as of this year (2017), the not-quite-so-old university city of Palo Alto, California.
Remember how the Diet of Worms banned Martin in 1521? Eight years later, six princes and the representatives of 14 free cities protested against the ban. This is known as the Protestation at Speyer, and is the first time the supporters of this new religion were called ‘Protestants’. And thus Christianity was divided. From then on, and ever since, it’s Catholics and Protestants.
You’ll find a tall Luther statue in the Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church), in memory of this historic event.
- I’ve talked about Speyer before in this post, particularly about the beautiful UNESCO-listed cathedral, and again, won’t repeat myself.
- As you enter through the Altpörtel, the old city gate, you’ll arrive at a large pedestrian square with lots of cosy cafes. We had breakfast at Cafe Am Altpörtel, and can recommend it heartily: particularly delicious is the all-natural sourdough bread.
- Just walk around town, and stumble upon little oddities like this random front garden (middle photo below):
Twin cities include Spalding in the UK and the fascinating city of Chartres outside Paris.
We’re hopping back and forth in time here – and in Augsburg we’re returning to the year 1518, when Martin Luther refused to recant his theses during a hearing at the Fuggerhäuser in Augsburg. 12 years later, in 1530, the Augsburg Confession was read out before the powers that be. This is the primary confession of faith of the Lutheran church. 25 years later, the religious peace of Augsburg gave followers of the Augsburg Confession religious freedom.
In Augsburg, you’ll find traces of Luther in St Anne’s Church, in the Lutherstiege (the Luther Staircase Museum), including a room he stayed in.
St Anne’s Church
- Augsburg is on the Romantic Road – a tourist magnet but oh so lovely – with ancient cities, medieval walled towns and villages, mountains, castles… a romantic road trip!
- Fuggerei: from 1516, this is the world’s first social housing project, and it’s still in operation. About 200 people live here today and pay €0.88 yearly rent. I spoke with two lovely ladies, both Fuggerei residents. Fascinating!
- Nothing like finding traces of Mozart around the world, and he was here! In fact, his father, Leopold Mozart was born in Augsburg, in a now pink house in the city centre. And in Saint Ulrich’s Church, Wolfgang climbed a spiral staircase to play the organ.
- Famous poet Bertholt Brecht was born in Augsburg as well. You can visit his birth house surrounded by canals, which brings us to the fact that…
- … Augsburg is a city of water. On UNESCO’s tentative list is Hydraulic Engineering and Hydropower, Drinking Water and Decorative Fountains in Augsburg, scheduled for evaluation at the World Heritage session in 2019.
- Saving a cool little place for last, the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, a fascinating hotel/asylum seeker refuge/artists’ colony all in one; it may well be a story in and of itself here on Sophie’s World. You can have a communal lunch here, or coffee and homemade sweets (all on the pay as much as you want-principle) – or you can stay (same principle, but minimum €40). My accommodations of choice next time in Augsburg!
Grand hotel Cosmopolis
Augsburg’s partner cities in the English-speaking world are Inverness in Scotland and Dayton, Ohio.
There! I think you’ve got enough reasons to visit these four cities, either in search of Martin Luther, or just to experience it all, or both! And yes, I know, we’re way past 11 things to do. Think of it as a bonus. Have fun!
Disclosure: I’ve followed the Luther trail, sometimes on my own accord and sometimes at the invitation of someone else. This roadtrip through Worms, Heidelberg and Augsburg was part of the campaign #Luthercountry, created by iambassador in cooperation with the German tourist office. Any opinion is mine, all mine. As always, as ever.