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Three perspectives on Luther

The three National Special Exhibitions on the 2017 anniversary of the Reformation represent the main contribution by the government and the federal states in the jubilee year. The central themes of the exhibitions were recently presented for the first time.

Martin Luther memorial
Martin Luther Memorial (Foto: Thomas Lohnes / epd-bild)

Language, music, human beings as individuals responsible for themselves – just some of the themes on which the Reformation had a long-term impact. 500 years on from the day Martin Luther is said to have nailed his theses to the church door, the effects of the Reformation on our present-day society are to return to the spotlight. To this end, three National Special Exhibitions will examine the reformer Martin Luther and the history of his works, commencing in spring 2017.

The Reformation – more than just a sixteenth-century event

With the common title “The Full Power of the Reformation”, the Special Exhibitions invite visitors to immerse themselves in the history of the Reformation’s impact. The three large presentations in Berlin, Wittenberg and Eisenach complement each other and paint “in their entirety a picture of Luther and the Reformation on many levels,” according to Barbara Wolf of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, who presented the plans in Berlin on Tuesday (16.8). All three exhibitions can also be visited separately however.

A journey through four continents

The National Special Exhibition hosted by the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin will be the first to open. From 12 April the museum housed by the Martin Gropius building will be showing “The Luther Effect. Protestantism – 500 Years in the World”. As the title suggests, the focus will not be on the reformer himself. “Luther gives rise to the exhibition, but he is not what it is all about,” says project manager Anne-Katrin Ziesak on the museum’s conception. The Reformation in the sixteenth century will thus constitute just one small part of the presentation.

The exhibition concentrates much more on the Reformation’s global historical impact, from its beginnings to the present day, tracing the various and diverse marks it has left around the world – in Sweden, the USA, South Korea and Tanzania. Exceptional exhibits assembled from national and international loans take the visitor on a journey across four continents. In so doing, the exhibition does not skirt around the issue of the potential for conflict inherent to Protestantism: the forced conversion of the Sámi by the Swedish state Church or the challenge to the Lutheran Church by the Pentacostal churches are just two aspects of the conflict-laden history of Protestantism. 

Wartburg Castle
Wartburg Castle, a place of memory of German history (Foto: Jens-Ulrich Koch / epd)

The changing face of Martin Luther

While in Berlin eyes are on the international significance of the Reformation, in Eisenach the focus is internal – on the history of national Martin Luther reception. With 350,000 visitors a year, the Wartburg in Eisenach is the most-visited Luther site in the world, making it the ideal place to host one of the National Special Exhibitions. From 4 May 2017, the historical date on which Luther was brought to the fortress, the exhibition “Luther and the Germans” will open.

Covering more than 1,000 square metres, the exhibition sheds light on the turbulent relationship between the reformer Martin Luther and “his” Germans. Over 300 exhibits, including paintings, printed materials and everyday items, show how every epoch has formed its own image of Luther. Visitors can discover the age of the Reformation through historical replicas in the castle courtyards, sitting in a reconstruction of Luther’s coach for example.

The largest exhibit is of course Wartburg Castle itself. Under the assumed name Junker Jörg, Martin Luther spent almost a year protected by the walls of the fortress, translating the New Testament into German and laying the foundation for a uniform written German language. Part of the exhibition is thus dedicated to the Wartburg as a central German place of memory. Two further themes highlight the cultural and spiritual impact of Luther’s teachings and the way the Reformation has been instrumentalised.

Stefan Rhein
Stefan Rhein presents the key points of “Luther! 95 Treasures – 95 People” (KNO: Michael Achhammer / KNO)

Getting to know Luther 

The third National Special Exhibition will also take place at an authentic Luther site: the Augusteum in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. From 13 May 2017 the exhibition “Luther! 95 Treasures – 95 People” provides an opportunity to get to know Martin Luther the man. Stefan Rhein, director of the Luther Memorials Foundation in Saxony-Anhalt, wants visitors to “get closer to Luther’s existence”.

The exhibition focuses on the jubilee’s main event, the moment when Luther nailed his theses to the church door. It is divided into two parts: the first, “95 Treasures”, with select exhibits from the life of the young Luther, illustrates his path to becoming the reformer. The second part presents “95 People” who became personally involved with Luther and his works – people such as Martin Luther King, Axel Springer or a demonstrator from the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong. Even Astrid Lindgren is represented: the character from her children’s books Karlsson-on-the-Roof constantly quotes Luther with his line “This is a worldly thing”.

The National Special Exhibitions marking the anniversary of the Reformation are held under the patronage of Federal President Joachim Gauch and are the state’s main contribution to the jubilee year. The First National Special Exhibition “Luther and the Princes” was held in Torgau in 2015.


Source:DHM/Wartburg Stiftung/Luthergedenkstätten Date:19-08-16
National Special Exhibitions, anniversary of the Reformation,

National Special Exhibitions marking the anniversary of the Reformation in 2017

A significant highlight of the reformation anniversary 2017 will be three National Special Exhibitions hosted by Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, and Berlin.