It will soon be 500 years since Martin Luther published his 95 theses. The beat of his hammer was not only heard in Wittenberg, but echoed all over the world – up to the present day. Even if he did not actually nail them to the church door, there is no denying the historical impact of his theses and the Reformation.
If like me you live in Wittenberg, you cannot escape the reformer Martin Luther, even if you are Catholic. In the town that gave birth to one of the great intellectual, religious, but also political upheavals in Occidental history, the spirit of the Reformation can be felt in the streets and alleys to this day. Every schoolchild here knows the famous personalities of the Reformation: not just Martin Luther, but Frederick the Wise, Philipp Melanchthon or Lucas Cranach. Hence I am all the more delighted that their impact has taken on a new significance via the Luther Decade and the anniversary of the Reformation.
Several monuments restored in the Luther Decade
As the Reformation’s state of origin, Saxony-Anhalt has a special responsibility for the preservation of Luther’s historical legacy – in both the material and intellectual sense. During the Luther Decade, the restoration of several monuments was completed, such as the house of Luther’s birth in Eisleben or his parents’ house in Mansfeld. Lutherstadt Wittenberg is also resplendent once again. A particular highlight was the reopening of the restored Castle Church, the place of memory of the Reformation. Today, people from all over the world come to the town on the River Elbe to visit these and other authentic sites of the Reformation, including the royal families of Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. All of them head for the town’s most famous place – the church door.
This international openness has not always been a matter of course. The Reformation celebrations of 1917 were marked by national glorification and demarcation , falling as they did during the First World War. Luther’s 500th birthday in 1983 was marked by divided celebrations in East and West. The GDR initially struggled with the figure of the reformer. For a long time, Thomas Müntzer was the model political revolutionary. That did not change until Luther’s round birthday. Now he was the representative of the early bourgeois revolution and his doctrine of two realms received positive interpretation.
Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 marked by openness, freedom and ecumenism
By contrast, the anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 will be marked by openness, freedom and ecumenism. The world is coming to Saxony-Anhalt and of course to Wittenberg, the central site of the celebrations, to commemorate this international event together with us. The anniversary of the Reformation thus provides us with the opportunity to present our federal state and its unique cultural landscape to an international audience. An initial taster was recently given in the USA by the exhibition series “Here I Stand”, which has just ended. The overwhelming interest showed that Martin Luther and the Reformation continue to move people even after 500 years – worldwide.
Luther’s town has spruced itself up for the jubilee year. There is much to experience, for example the “World Reformation Exhibition”, the Asisi Panorama or the concluding service of the German Evangelical Kirchentag on the banks of the Elbe. The big event of course is the National Special Exhibition “Luther! 95 Treasures – 95 People”, hosted by the Augusteum from May 2017. Those who would like to walk in Luther’s footsteps should take a look at the cultural tourism project “Luther Was Here”, presenting less well-known sites connected or said to be connected to Luther. And what better or more authentic time to experience that than in the Reformation year of 2017?
Dr. Reiner Haseloff has been Minister-President of the state of Saxony-Anhalt since 2011.