A Lutheran heritage tour gives believers an opportunity to enrich their spiritual lives in unexpected ways. Walk in Luther’s humble footsteps across Germany. You can see the house in Eisleben where he was born to the cell in the Fortress of Wartburg where he translated the New Testament into German. Or, visit the Castle Church in Wittenberg where he nailed his 95 Theses. Experience the rich heritage of your Lutheran faith as you visit the world’s largest Reformation memorial in Worms, or stand in St. Thomas Church where Luther first introduced the Reformation in Leipzig in 1539. Travelers return from Lutheran heritage tour refreshed in mind, body, and spirit; ready to share how the tour deepened their faith and enriched their lives.
In 2017, Germany celebrated the Reformation Jubilee, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. More than 500 years later you can still go and celebrate Martin Luther’s remarkable legacy in the places where it all began!
Where to go:
Eisleben | Where Martin Luther was born, baptized and died.
Eisenach | In 1522, Luther hid from persecution in Wartburg Castle. During his time here he translated the New Testament from Latin to German.
Erfurt | in July 1505, Martin Luther dedicated his life to God, joining the Augustinian Monastery.
Lutherstadt Wittenberg | Where Martin Luther, lived and worked for 35 years. It was on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church doors that he posted his 95 theses.
I recently returned from a quick tour of LutherCountry to visit the places in Germany where Martin Luther lived and worked. Though I’ve been to Germany a half a dozen times, all of my previous trips were to the west (Rhine River valley) or to the south (Bavaria). Here in the Lutherlands, primarily located in the former East Germany, things were a little different. Mostly in that Soviet brutalist architecture…but certainly in the culture as well.
But no matter their particular inclination toward speediness of service, there is no denying the German people’s general appreciation for Mr. Luther. In case you haven’t heard (which would be quite unlikely if you live anywhere near LutherCountry), 2017 marks the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The actions of Luther and the other Reformers certainly changed the church, but they also had a tremendous impact on the German language, music, art, architecture, politics and social life. Today, it seems like every town has a statue of Martin Luther (which, by the way, are great for selfies!)
The Germans have been preparing for this important year for some time now — nearly a decade, in fact. Playmobil even released a Martin Luther figurine last year to commemorate the upcoming anniversary, and the first run of 34,000 sold out in less than 72 hours.
All of this Anniversary hoopla seems to have encouraged the local tourist boards to get creative as they link their communities with the Great Reformer. There is a long list of cities with official connection to Luther, and many more with lesser claims. For example, even Nuremburg made the cut on our Luther tour. While the sausages of Nuremburg alone are worth the visit, the closest connection I could determine is that their printing houses encouraged the spread of Luther’s ideas, while his Protestant thought influenced their sacred architecture. A stretch, I think, but the sausages were great!
So if you’re interested in being a part of the historic celebration in Germany next year– let me know, as I’ll be leading a group. (And if you’re one of the few that doesn’t have a “Little Luther” Playmobil in your house – well, I can hook you up.)
Dan Hermen is the Director of Sales for Witte Travel & Tours. This blog post is the first part of a series that will focus on Martin Luther and the Reformation Anniversary.
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My time in Munich wasn’t long enough, but it did give me a glimpse of this beautiful and fun city. To begin my exploration, I felt an independent city tour would be best. I decided to begin with a Rick Steve’s recorded tour of Munich; however, found out very quickly that this wouldn’t work for me. I have a very poor sense of direction, so decided to abandon this and go with navigating by map. If you aren’t comfortable navigating on your own for a city tour, I highly recommend hop on, hop off tours. I have used tour companies before, but wanted to get around using the map, landmarks, and if I got horribly lost, go below to the U-bahn to get back on track. The public transportation system in Munich was excellent, as well as the German people.
I began the tour by exiting the U-bahn at Karlsplatz, walked through the Karlstor Gate and strolled down Neuhauser Street, which is a pedestrian area full of shopping opportunities. Seeing the gate, shops, and various statues was truly fascinating.
The street led me right to the Marienplatz, the central square in the city centre and one of my favorite spots. The Marienplatz has the Glockenspiel, and Old and New Town Hall. You can actually go into the New City Hall and pay a nominal fee to ride the elevator to the top to get a great panoramic view of Munich. I decided to do this and even though I went when it was cold and very windy, it was well worth it to get a birds-eye view of the area. Unfortunately both days I was at the Marienplatz, I missed the Glockenspiel’s show, though viewing the clock even without the moving parts is still quite interesting.
Next, I walked through the Old Town Hall gate and visited St. Peter’s Church. Afterwards, I continued to the Viktualienmarkt, an open air market and pedestrian only area. I enjoyed looking at the different vendors here and even laughed when it started to snow. It added to the beauty of the area. I ended my tour and meandered back toward the U-bahn by way of the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady). I didn’t go inside since it was beginning to get dark and I am most comfortable navigating on my own during the day.
We managed to sleep in until 8am today. We got up and found the breakfast location that was part of the hotel. It was off site. I am not enjoying the German breakfasts. Tim does though. I am not big fan of meat and cheese for breakfast. I am making do though; when in Rome. We did not know how to check out of the hotel, so we just left the key in the room. The place is very small. There might be 17 rooms in the whole place. It was cute though, and unique.
We got to the train station in plenty of time and boarded our train. Today we were to travel by train from Rothenburg ob der Tabuer to Steinach, then on to Wurzburg, to Fulda and finally to Leipzig. The train from Steinach to Wurzburg was late. (Which was the only train our whole trip that was late.) This moved the rest of our schedule back. Instead of getting into Leipzig at 14:46 we didn’t get here until 16:20.
Our hotel, the Best Western Leipzig, is just across the road from the train station. This hotel is very nice, and our room is quite large. We have a sitting area, sleeping area, a hallway and a bathroom. We checked in and then quickly went out to see the Bach Museum before it closed at 18:00. We got there just about 45 minutes before they closed. We went through it anyway. It was small but very enjoyable. The old instruments were very cool, as were the actual Bach manuscripts. It was too dark to really see the Thomaskirke, so we may go out in the morning before we head to Berlin. The city has a younger vibrate vibe, much like Dublin. There are streets closed off to traffic with lots of pedestrian usage.
The train to Berlin will be about an hour and ten minutes. It is a direct train as well, which will be nice after all the changing we did toady. Again, big thanks to Tracy for the schedules. It made me much more comfortable navigating around.
I wish I had thought to bring a pedometer. It would be interesting to see how much walking we have really been doing. Our feet sure tell us that we’ve walked a lot. Though today not so much, since we had five hours on the train.
All in all I am very glad we got the rail pass and took the rain system. It has been a learning experience for sure.
Next stop – Berlin!
Today we managed to get up early. After having our last breakfast at the Hotel Dolomit, we left for the train station. The information that Tracy provided was great. We got to the station and found our train. We didn’t have reservations, so we had to surrender our seats, but that was okay as there were others we could sit in. We didn’t see the need for reservations for such short rides. The hour flew by and we got to the station for our change of trains. The whole thing could not have been move smooth.
The first train stopped in Nurnberg. We choose to put out luggage in a locker. The cost was 5 euro. We then walked around Nurnberg. It was a very nice city. Tim really enjoyed it. We were both glad that we decided to make the side trip. The city walls and the medieval building were a treat. We managed to work our way around to the Albrect Drurer house. After about two hours of walking around town we went back to retrieve our luggage and find the train.
We arrived at Rothenburg ob der Tauber about 1pm. We walked from the train station to the old city. Our hotel, Das Gastehaus am weissen Turm, is in the old town. They let us check in at 2pm, which was very nice. This guesthouse is 800 years old. We are on the third floor, with no lift. I managed to fall on our walk to the hotel. The cobblestone streets, the luggage, and being tired all combined to me losing my balance. The only damage was a tear in my pants. No big deal. After checking in and unloading our stuff we went out exploring. This is a very cool place. The building are so cool. You are definitely not in Grand Rapids.
We walked all around the city today. I climbed to the top of the tower. The 241 stair climb was rewarded by great views of the city. Tim passed on the climb. The platform was very small at the top. Only five people were allowed out there at a time. I took lots of photos of this spot, but they just didn’t do justice to the great view.
We toured the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum that I had learned about in the Lunch and Learn DVD series at Witte. It was very cool. There was lots to see related to the middle ages other than torture. The emphasis is on the justice system and how it evolved in Medieval times. It is well worth a visit. (5 euro per person to get in)
We found the shop that held the German Christmas museum. We chose not to go into the museum part, but we did some shopping in the store. We skipped lunch entirely today, so by dinner time we were quite hungry. We stopped at a hotel/restaurant that had a menu that looked good. We have done fairly well on our spending on meals. We are opting for bratwurst, sauerkraut and potatoes and beer of course. No being sure, we are including a cash tip to the server of about 10%. They seem happy with that. It is necessary to check to make sure that a service charge hasn’t been added to your bill though.
After dinner it was almost dark. I had hopped to take the Night Watchman Tour at 20:00, but as we were walking back we heard him out doing the tour in German. We did not know if he would go again in English and we are both very tired. We called it a night about 8:15 (20:15 local time) and have another full day of train travel and sights to see.
Off to Leipzig tomorrow to catch up with J.S. Bach.
Happy Guy Fawks Day.
Yesterday afternoon, after arriving in Munich at our hotel, we took the S2 up to Dachau and the local bus to the Concentration Camp Memorial. It was quite moving. We didn’t realize the size of the place. The weather was very nice and we walked quite a bit around the grounds and then through the museum portion. It was very depressing to read the supplied information stations and know what mankind is capable of doing to itself. We walked all the way back to the central station, skipping the bus. Taking the S2 train back into Munich we went to eat at a nearby restaurant. It was very good, filling, and affordable.
We had planned to take the train to Fussen today, Nov. 3, to go to the castles. We boarded and waited. It was past time for the train to leave, when a German voice came on with a long speech. There was no English translation provided. We asked a small girl what the message said. She told us the train had been cancelled.
We decided to make today our walking tour of Munich. We followed the routing outlined in Rick Steves book. We managed to see quite a lot today. The 11:00 am performance of the clock tower carillon was a big hit. Many tourist in the area taking photos and videos as well. The Frauenkirke and Ratskeller were on the schedule too. We walked quite a lot, but did not have the benefit of a tour manager to tell us what we were seeing, having to rely instead on our guide book.
A late lunch, early dinner was had at the Hofbrauhaus. It, too, was very good. The outdoor market was enjoyable as well. We purchased some souvenirs to take home to friends. Just walking through the market was a treat to all the senses. The smells were incredible.
We managed to fit in a visit to the art museum that features the Old Masters. Unfortunately the building is undergoing repairs. Large sections were closed of. We did see quite a few very nice painting. Reubens was prominently represented. We saw a Rembrandt and a partial Bos painting as well. It was 4 euros per person well spend. The other museum that featured Klimt, and the other artist of his time, was closed on Tuesdays. We would have liked to see that as well. If we get back from our day trip Wednesday we may try to go.
Back at the Hotel Dolomit now. The WiFi is not free. It is 3.90 per 24-hours. I thought that was reasonable so that I could post to the blog.
We are going to try to get up early and catch the 7:53 a.m. train to Fussen tomorrow. I hope it goes.
Today is the day my husband and I leave for Germany. We need to drive to Chicago O’Hare and be there by 12:30 for our 15:35 flight on Air Berlin. The adventure begins.
We chose to park in the Economy Lot at O’Hare. This was a little hard to find due to construction in the area. The bus came quickly to pick us up and the transport from the main train terminal to the airport was quick and efficient.
Departure from Chicago O’Hare was on schedule. The AirBerlin flight was full. The leg room was tight, but we managed okay. The plane was very clean when we boarded. There was a pillow, blanket and comfort pack on each seat. It contained earplugs, an eye mask and a toothbrush with paste. The cabin crew were professional but not overly friendly. I was disappointed that there was not music streaming from the entertainment unit. This was one of the options I enjoyed on the flight to the Netherlands. I put on my headphones with classical music and it drowns out the engine noises.
The meal was not great. I choose the pasta. It was hot though, and filling. After the dinner was served the lights were dimmed and I managed to get a few hours of sleep, how much I am not completely sure.
Arrived on schedule in Berlin. No jetway to exit. We went down the stairs that were brought over. Transfer to the main terminal was by bus. Passport control was very efficient. If you had connecting flights they were helping you get in line so you didn’t miss your connection.
We had to walk a ways outside to get to Terminal A for our connecting flight to Munich. We were told in ORD that we did not need to check-in again. It was unclear to us where/how we were to get to the departure gate. I ask an agent at a different desk from our flight and she was very helpful. We went through security again and are now waiting for the departure to Munich. AirBerlin has free WiFi in there gate area. But we couldn’t get it to work prop[erly.
It is now 2:22 am by our body clocks, 8:22 am here in Berlin on November 2nd.
In early March, I had the pleasure of joining the University of South Dakota Chamber Singers during their concert tour of Germany and Austria. This was my first time traveling with a choir, and since I was primarily there to watch and learn, I compiled a list of a few things to keep in mind when preparing for a European performance tour.
DO: Appoint a “Luggage Crew” to load/unload luggage, music stands, instruments, etc.
The Singers had pre-assigned a crew of about six people who were in charge of loading and unloading luggage. This really expedited the process – rather than everyone standing around and waiting for their chance to grab only their suitcase from the bus, we waited in our seats while the crew unloaded everything. Two people were also pre-appointed to retrieve and distribute hotel room numbers and keys. Once all of the suitcases were lined up on the sidewalk, we could just grab our bags and go. This efficient system allowed all 60 of us to get checked into a hotel within ten minutes!
DO: Expect to do a lot of walking. (But DON’T wear brand new shoes, unless you want blisters.)
In the United States, we get accustomed to driving everywhere and pulling into a parking lot right in front of our destination. But Europe was built long before tour buses and motorcoaches came into existence, and many old city centers and small towns are still only accessible by walking along narrow, cobblestone streets. Considering the distances that we covered during walking tours, while independently exploring cities, and en route to concert venues, we easily averaged at least 3-5 miles each day.
To avoid blisters, aching arches, and swollen ankles, be sure to bring along good shoes. Not necessarily new shoes– but comfortable shoes that are already “broken in”.
DON’T: Forget to pack warm clothes that can be worn for performances, if you are traveling during any time of the year other than summer.
The churches and cathedrals that had been selected as concert venues for our tour were breathtaking, and unlike anything I have ever seen in the United States. They had been chosen for their symbiotic relationship to the music that the Singers had come to perform. Their soaring ceilings and vast stone interiors had been purposefully designed centuries ago specifically to showcase the works of Mozart, Haydn, Bach, and other Baroque and Classical composers of the day. Likewise, these same compositions were often inspired by and written for these venues.
However, although these elements are aesthetically and acoustically ideal for a venue, they also predate modern central heating systems and, in early March, they make for perpetually cold concert environments. The Singers always looked very sharp in their concert dress, but they must have been freezing. They were troopers though, and never once complained, but I was trying not to shiver despite wearing long pants, a sweater, and a jacket. During their final concert at the Kollegienkirche in Salzburg, the women were encouraged to wear black pants underneath their skirts and a scarf around their shoulders, which seemed to help a little.
So unless you plan to travel during the warm summer months, you may consider packing some long underwear or fleece leggings to wear underneath your concert attire, and perhaps ask the women to invest in a simple black cardigan or shawl that can be worn during particularly chilly performances.
DO: Give impromptu performances whenever it’s appropriate (and after obtaining permission).
After Dinner or Tours: Monique, our tour manager, would frequently invite the Singers to sing a song or two after finishing dinner at the hotel or upon completing a walking tour or museum visit, as a way of thanking the servers and guides. These songs were always very appreciated and well-received.
Outside of Performance Venues: We had a little extra time before rehearsal began at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, so the Singers assembled in front of the church and sang for the audience of passers-by that quickly gathered to listen. It was a great way to promote their concert later that evening, and the onlookers really enjoyed the spontaneous performance.
At Meaningful Sites: The Singers were able to pay tribute to Bruckner in the chapel above his grave at the Abbey of St. Florian, and let their voices ring throughout the ornate Haydn Hall. Such once-in-a-lifetime opportunities were some of the tour highlights for these music students.
For me, the most powerful moment on the tour was when we were leaving the Buchenwald concentration camp. We had stopped for a visit to Buchenwald on our way to Leipzig, and spent a couple of hours quietly roaming among the foundations where overcrowded dormitories and ominous crematoriums once stood, and viewing the black-and-white photo exhibit on display in the museum there. The Singers were denied permission to sing a memorial song on the grounds, so instead they sang on the bus as we drove away. Their hauntingly beautiful rendition of Biebl’s Ave Maria gave me chills as we rode down the winding roads lined with beech trees that, only decades before, had been the site of such sadness and despair. My mind recalled the images that I had just seen of liberated prisoners—hardly more than wide-eyed skeletons—walking past these very trees on their way towards freedom, and the Singers’ soaring vocals carrying that hopeful melody made it a reverent, moving experience.
DON’T: Leave your umbrella at home!
This may seem like a no-brainer, but even though I consider myself an experienced traveler, it somehow never occurs to me to pack an umbrella. After yet another long Michigan winter, I think I was too optimistic about the weather we’d encounter while in Europe. Sure enough, our first few days were beautiful– sunny and spring-like– but then on Wednesday morning, we woke up to a light but persistent drizzle that lasted throughout the day. Most of the group members had remembered to bring their umbrellas, and our bus driver Rein had a few tucked away to lend to people, but I was reminded to add “Umbrella” to my mental checklist the next time I pack my suitcase.
DO: Ask someone to be the tour photographer.
If you have any non-performers traveling with you, ask them to be in charge of taking pictures during your trip! Taking photos is a great way to remember all of the amazing things that happened, and sharing them on social media allows your friends and family back home to follow your tour from afar.
With all of the excitement and activities that go on during a tour, there’s not always time to pause and pull out your camera—especially during a performance. On the other hand, if you spend the entire trip peering through a lens because you’re worried about missing a photo op, you’ll miss out on actually experiencing everything first-hand. By appointing a couple of people to take pictures, you can relax and enjoy each moment as it happens, reassured by the knowledge that all of the memorable ones are being properly captured and preserved.
Furthermore, if you have a very large group, you may find that assigning a couple of tour photographers will save you time during museum visits or walking tours. Instead of holding up a guided tour through Haydn’s house just so that 20 people can take the exact same picture of his wig, your one or two designated photographers can be entrusted to thoroughly document the experience for everyone. Plus, it reduces the risk of anyone getting lost or missing out on interesting information from the tour guide, simply because they were still in the previous room Instagramming a marble bust of J.S. Bach.
Lastly, be sure to encourage your photographers to post their work on your group’s social media pages for everyone to enjoy!
We would really love to see your tour photos too! Tag @WittePerformanceTours on Facebook or @WitteTravel on Instagram to share your experiences with us.
Germany promises to be a top performance destination for Witte’s 2015 season and also looking ahead to 2016 and 2017. When music educators think of destinations that include opportunities to “Follow the Footsteps” of great composers, perhaps the first places that come to mind are Salzburg, Vienna and Prague. When visiting those marvelous cities, there are reminders of Mozart, Haydn, Dvořák and many other great composers in virtually every church.
Knowing of our shared interest in music history, my colleague Keith Cole recently gave me the book, In Mozart’s Footsteps: A Travel Guide for Music Lovers by Harrison James Wignall. I knew that the young Mozart had performed all over Europe, but until I read this book, I didn’t quite realize that from the age of five until the last year of his life at age 35, Mozart toured nine European countries and performed or passed through over 200 European cities— more than 22 cities just in Germany! Wow!—and this was in the days when travel was far less comfortable than it is today in our Witte motorcoaches.
While I am not suggesting that anyone tries to plan an itinerary around Mozart’s exhaustive performing tours, many of the cities Mozart performed in are wonderful places to include in a performance tour itinerary. Adding a music history component to a concert tour enriches the experience.
Performing in Germany? Consider a visit to some of these cities with a rich music history
Bonn—In the first leg of Mozart’s “Great Western” tour of 1763-66, the Mozart family stopped briefly here en route to Paris. However, Bonn is of far greater interest to music lovers because of Beethoven. While in Bonn, a visit to the Beethoven-Haus Museum is a must. In addition to being Beethoven’s birthplace, the museum also contains the largest Beethoven collection in the world.
Heidelberg—On July 25, 1763, Mozart played the organ at the Heilig-Geist Church. This church and the beautiful city of Heidelberg are still well worth a visit.
Leipzig—In May 1789, Mozart improvised “without compensation” to a large audience at the Thomaskirche (often referred to as the Bach Church). Leipzig (with reason) is very proud of its musical heritage. Johann Sebastian Bach worked here for decades as the director of the famous St. Thomas Boychoir, still world renowned as one of the best boy choirs in Germany (and all of Europe). Other composers who lived and worked in Leipzig included Felix Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann and Richard Wagner. The three music-themed museums in Leipzig feature Bach, Mendelssohn and the Schumanns.
Other cities in this area of Germany were also home to famous composers including—
Halle—George Friedrich Handel was born here in 1685. Because of this, the city is often referred to as “The Handel City”. The Handel House Museum celebrates the composer’s life and works through its exhibits and musical events.
Weimer—In addition to its importance as an early 20th century center of design and architecture, the composer Franz Liszt spent part of his life here, documented in the Liszt House.
While visiting the towns and cities where great composers lived, worked and performed, we will also create wonderful experiences for your groups. A performance tour can include a variety of experiences including—
Singing as a guest choir for a morning worship service or Mass.
Short, informal daytime performances in the historic churches.
Full concerts—often in smaller towns where there is more opportunity to interact with local audiences.
Depending on school schedules, many German schools and communities are very interested in having exchange concerts with American performing groups. In the late spring and summer, town squares often have outdoor stages. This makes Germany a wonderful destination for band performances. And—if all of this hasn’t convinced you—there are beautiful castles, villages along the great rivers, spectacular scenery in the Bavarian Alps and much more. All of our Group Tour Specialists have had extensive travel in Germany and two of them are fluent in German (Kristina Choura and Whitney Korstange). Any of us would love to talk to you about planning your next tour!