Oh Berlin… sometimes I just don’t get you. This city has a way with people—often capturing them for far longer than expected (it happened to me), but every now and then I manage a quick escape. Recently I took a day trip to Wittenberg—a small city only 35 minutes away by train. Officially, the city is called Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, named after its most famous former citizen: Martin Luther. You might remember from him history…he pretty much single-handedly spilt the Catholic church and started the Protestant Reformation.
If you don’t remember your history, the Protestant Reformation began in Germany when Martin Luther—then just a small town priest—got fed up with the increasing amount of indulgences in the Catholic church. Luther penned 95 Theses and nailed it up on the Castle Church on October 31, 1517. That rebellious act led to a whole lot of trouble for the church, and for Luther, but it started a spiral reaction eventually changing the course of religion in European history. Luther got into a lot of trouble, briefly having to go into hiding, but in the end he had a pretty decent life.
And Wittenberg is where it all began.
The city now gets an influx of tourists from various European river cruises and packaged group tours. It certainly attracts an older demographic — religious Protestant tourists and the like. Considering the proximity to Berlin, though, it’s a great place to escape the big city and enjoy a traditional German town. Wittenberg’s city center is that picturesque image of Germany so many foreign tourists expect to see when traveling Germany, but rarely get when visiting cities like Frankfurt, Hamburg, Düsseldorf or, of course, Berlin.
TRAVEL TIP: Traveling by train in Germany can get expensive rather quick. But it’s also the prettiest way to travel Germany. If you’re planning a few trips around Germany in a short period of time, it’s 100% worth it to buy a Bahn card. I’ve been using a Bahn25 card since the winter to get discounts on all my train bookings.
Things To Do & See in Wittenberg
You won’t need much time in the city, though there are hotels for those interested in overnight stays. The top attractions, though, won’t require much of your time unless you’re a serious history or religious nut (meant in the nicest way possible, I promise!). To make things even easier, Wittenberg’s most important monuments and attractions have received UNESCO World Heritage status – so if you’re counting UNESCO sites, Wittenberg’s got four of them!
1. Castle Church
This is where Martin Luther famously put up his 95 Theses on the door. Today the church is under heavy renovation, but it’s still possible to visit inside during select times. Personally I was just after seeing the famous door which was thankfully uncovered from all the surrounding scaffolding.
2. St. Marien City Church
This city church (Stadtkirche) is the oldest building in Wittenberg and it’s where Luther gave many of his sermons. Besides the interior (some of which was designed by Cranach the Elder if you remember him from art history), there’s a small Holocaust memorial located in the southeast corner on the outside.
3. Martin Luther’s house
Martin Luther’s former home in Wittenberg, it was provided to him by the local university while he taught and studied in the city. Today it’s the world’s largest museum of Protestant history. Somewhat ambitiously, the entrance ticket is a 2-day pass. I only needed a few hours in the museum but I can only handle so much religious history…maybe you can tolerate more.
4. Melanchthon’s house
Just down the street from Luther’s house, you’ll find the former home to Philipp Melanchthon. Also a reformer and professor, Melanchthon was a humanist and philosopher during the same time as Luther. Entrance to the museum can be combined with your visit to Luther’s house.
Wittenberg’s Old City (or Altstadt) is picturesque and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself taking photos of the colorful buildings and cobblestoned streets.
6. Where to eat in Wittenberg
(Because I’m a hungry guy and food is always on my mind…) If you’re looking for a cheap lunch, there’s a cool burger restaurant right at the Old Town Square. Otherwise you can check out the nearby shopping mall which has your basic food court options (and aircon if the summer heat gets to you). The one döner food stand I found in Wittenberg looked pretty sad. I think the best option, though, is to just grab some sandwich materials and snacks from a grocery store and go for a picnic in the surrounding parks or along the shore of the nearby Elbe River.
TRAVEL TIP: If you’re not as boned up on your European history as you should be, you can rent a self-guided audio guide (available in multiple languages) from the Wittenberg official tourism office. For just 6€, the audio guide has hours and hours of information about the city and its most important tourist sites. I used it briefly but felt pretty dorky walking the city streets with an audio guide up to my ear. Instead I just used the Welterbe App from Germany Tourism (get it here) which had information about the UNESCO sites in Wittenberg.
Getting to Lutherstadt-Wittenberg
It’s easy. Take a train (use bahn.com) from Berlin Hauptbahnhof . Regional trains leave every frequently and it’s only a 35-minute ride. If you’re traveling as a group, you can buy a 5-person ticket which might save on the cost. Note, though, that when you arrive in Wittenberg, the train station is about a 15-20 minute walk from the city center. Don’t worry, though, because it’s an incredibly easy and well-marked walk. Bring an umbrella if you think it might rain. Or even better: bring a bicycle!
Alternatively, considering its proximity to Berlin and the general ease of Germany’s countryside, cycling to Wittenberg should be a piece of cake. In fact that’s something I’ve determined to be a mini-goal of mine for this summer.
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I was a guest of Germany Tourism and Wittenberg Tourism during this visit. You can read more about my partnership during the #welterbeGermany campaign here.