Luther with serrated edges: postage stamps tell about the Reformation

Hellfried TrögerPhoto: Rieke C. HarmsenHellfried Tröger shows one of his valuable stamps under a magnifying glass.He is fascinated by serrated edges: for more than thirty years, Hellfried Tröger from Bad Bayersoien in Upper Bavaria has been collecting postage stamps. When he pulls the thick, green or brown albums out of the living room cabinet, his eyes begin to light up. One album is especially dear to him: “I collect all postage stamps on Martin Luther and the Reformation”, Tröger explains.

The pensioner's collection is very likely quite unique in Germany. At the philately exhibitions, which Tröger attends regularly, he has not met any other collectors who share his interest in Protestantism depicted on postage stamps.

Everything began with a ten-pfennig stamp of the German Bundespost. The green stamp with Luther's portrait had been issued in 1952, on the occasion of the plenary session of the Lutheran World Foundation. Luther liked the image of the Reformer so much that he began to look for stamps with the same theme. “There are not very many Luther stamps”, Tröger found out. Therefore he began to look for stamps that not only depicted the Reformer himself, but the stages of his life and the Reformation in general. In the meantime, his collection contains more than 100 specimen.

Learned a lot about history

Tröger pasted the colourful postage stamps into an album and labelled them. “This is how I learned a lot about the history of the Reformation”, he says, laughing. The collection is indeed a small Luther exhibition: It begins with a stamp from the German Democratic Republic, showing Luther's mother Margarete and continues with Luther's life stages as a monk, a scholar and a Reformer – Luther on the Wartburg near Eisenach, Luther at the Imperial Diet in Worms in 1521, Luther with his catechism.

Many stamps come from the time before the great changes between 1989 and 1991, when Tröger still lived in his home town, Kamenz in the district of Bautzen, a few kilometres from Dresden. “I was confirmed and married in 1964 in a Protestant church”, he emphasised, “this has shaped my life.” The feeling of belonging to a minority has never left him, because “in Upper Bavaria, too, we live in diaspora.” In Bad Bayersoien in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the pensioner now resides, live around 70 members of the Evangelical church.

Driving a hard bargain

Tröger knows about the value of rarities: “Sometimes I looked for a special stamp for more than a year”, he says. Often he had to drive a hard bargain; sometimes he paid several hundred Euro before the desired stamp could be sorted into the album. For some special issue stamps or first-day postmarks he even travelled through the republic: in 1996, in Wittenberg, he acquired the memorial stamp for the 450th anniversary of Luther's death, and in 2009, the Luther memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg were appointed as parts of the UNESCO world heritage

The collection expanded gradually and was complemented by coins. Now, postage stamps as well as coins document important events in the church, for example the Confessio Augustana in Augsburg, the Evangelical Church Conferences in Germany and Austria, or ecumenical events like the first Ecumenical Church Conference in Berlin in 2003. Music also plays an important role, since “music was the heartbeat of the Reformation”, as Tröger states.

Life is about becoming religious

Tröger's collection will probably never become as famous as the postage stamp collection of the Reichspostmuseum in Berlin, which nowadays is on display in the Museum of Communication. But the pensioner does not mind this at all: “I agree with Luther: For me, life is not merely about being religious but about becoming religious. And this requires patience. Same as collecting stamps”.