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Luther's Wheelwright

The “Kobelwagen” on the Wartburg. (Photo: epd-bild/Maik Schuck)

Only a historical copperplate engraving served as a template: The wheelwright of Braunschweig Theo Malchus has recreated the carriage, on which Martin Luther travelled Germany 500 years ago. The vehicle can be seen at the national special exhibition on the Wartburg.

Once the Reformer Martin Luther travelled around the country on a wooden carriage with a leather tarpaulin. “Without suspension, it was certainly very hard to travel”, says, smilingly Theo Malchus, a wheelwright from Braunschweig. He has recreated in handcrafted work the carriage with huge iron-worked wheels a personally brought to the Wartburg in Eisenach in Thuringia. The carriage is one of the highlights of the coming National special exhibition “Luther and the Germans” on the Wartburg, taking place from the May 4th to November 5th.

Visitors of the exhibition can test the comfort

The model will be open to the public in the courtyard of the Wartburg, explains the project director of the exhibition, Marc Höchner. The visitors of the exhibition will have the possibility to sit in the carriage and to feel how comfortably or uncomfortably the Reformer travelled Hundreds of miles around the country pulled by horses. Luther stopped, among others, in Magdeburg, Weimar, Torgau, Eisleben, Augsburg or Heidelberg.

The research for the project was difficult at first for Malchus. A copperplate engraving from the 16th century was the only template for the vehicle. The picture shows the feigned kidnapping of Luther to the Wartburg on May 4th 1521. Supporters brought the Reformer to safety from the persecution by the Emperor. “We can see in the background how the carriage might have more or less looked like, but we cannot recognise many details”, explains Malchus.

Chassis of a pontifical carriage

It was only with the help of historian Rudolf Wackernagel from Munich that the 56 year old created one year ago a sketch for the so-called “Kobelwagen”. The term derives from the Middle German word “Kobel” which meant a shed. The craftsman found a sketch for the chassis on another historical illustration: It shows a turned over carriage of a Catholic pope, the wheelwright tells with a wink.

Hub of the carriage. (Photo: epd-bild/Maik Schuck)

In order to recreate the carriage as true to the original as possible, Malchus searched for material throughout Germany. He discovered the air-dried oak and ash wood, stored for up to 70 years in the Ammerland near Oldenburg and in Schöppenstedt close to Wolfenbüttel. And he found more than 100 year old hub rings for the wheels at a locksmith in the Spreewald.

Originally a trained plastics engineer

Malchus, who is a trained plastics engineer, learned by himself the moribund craft of wheelwright in the 1990s. By now he fabricates chassis for historic automobiles, horse-drawn carriages or railway cars for clients from all over Germany. The craftsman built the Luther carriage mainly with historic tools.  “The way of working in the Middle Ages was completely different”, he explains. The wheels, up to 1.60 meters large, were steamed up with pieces of iron and not, as in later centuries, with a ring around the wooden frame.

The iron mountings had been specially manufactured by a metal designer, emphasizes Malchus, while pointing to the black, rough surface. Oil had been burned into the metal in order to give it a “medieval corrosion protection”. Finally, a saddler sewed manually a tarpaulin out of cowhide and also a coverlet for the entrance with two steps. Often, additional passengers could be carried this way, explains Malchus. “They were sitting on the car floor with their feet on the steps and the leather over their knees and were this way protected from wind and weather.

A lot of manual work has been put into this Luther carriage, says Malchus with a certain amount of pride. The craftsmen have invested far more than 1.000 work hours in the 4.20 meter long and 2.60 meter high vehicle. In conclusion, Malchus makes jokingly an assumption: “Maybe the passengers at the time also had cushions on the wooden benches for more comfort.”


Source:epd Date:21-04-17
Carriage, Luther, Recreation, Reformation, national special exhibition, Wartburg