Wittenberg is a town full of surprises, the first being that the smallness and tranquility of the place belies the town’s global significance. This is, after all, the town that birthed the Reformation, the spiritual home of the world’s 850 million Protestants. The second is that, in a place that feels as if it has collectively taken a horse tranquilliser, there’s an active street art scene. In fact, the town has even hosted a street art festival. I’ve yet to work out whether that’s something of which Martin Luther would approve.
I hadn’t quite realised how small Wittenberg was in real life, the town’s place in history being many times larger than its physical size. The old town only has two streets, they run in parallel with each other, converging only where two important Luther-related sights are found: the Luther House and All Saints’ Church. In between, the town has a number of beautiful squares, ancient churches and town houses that survived the ravages of the Second World War largely in tact.
Walking a loop around the old town took less than an hour. Luckily there were plenty of distractions to keep me occupied until my train departed. These included churches that had paintings by a contemporary of Luther, and one of the most famous German artists of the era, Lucas Cranach the Elder. Based in Wittenberg he is considered the principle artist of Luther’s Reformation, even providing the woodcuts that illustrated the Luther Bible.
His house and studios where he worked for over four decades are located in the centre of town, with displays of his life, times and work. Maybe it’s the influence of his non-conformism that makes street art popular in Wittenberg. The old town has a number of striking pieces, some by artists, like Herakut, that are familiar from Berlin. It was the illuminating Media Magdalena, ironically subtitled “our daily bread” by Innerfields, that first caught my attention though. It seemed fitting for the epicentre of Lutherism.
Innerfields, a trio of German artists, seem fascinated by the impact of smart phones on our lives. They are responsible for a large piece in Berlin along the same lines. Other artists I found included a colourful piece by Contra , called The Future is Now, and a piece called Segregation by German muralist, Case, showing a person’s hand holding a book – a reference to the Luther Bible perhaps? There was more art in the new town, but it was in the mid-30ºC, way too hot to be roaming the streets.
Instead, I attempted to visit All Saints’ Church, where Luther is said to have nailed his theses. Surprisingly, there was a wedding taking place and I was told to come back in a couple of hours. By the time I returned the wedding had been replaced by a group of hand bell-ringers. This was more than I’d bargained for and, after enduring one ‘song’, I headed into the park behind the town castle and headed to Brauhaus Wittenberg for a refreshing local beer.
There was a final surprise for me on my way back to the train station. Earlier in the day, I’d noticed two dragons on one of the pieces of street art and thought nothing of it. Close to the station though I came across another dragon, this time a sculpture. At first I thought this was a reference to St. George and the Dragon, which has an association with Wittenberg. Later, I discovered this was a flying serpent holding a golden ring in its mouth – the emblem of the artist, Cranach the Elder.