All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mission Accomplished, Installment Nr. 4

Lutherstadt Wittenburg

On a free day, we were treated to a trip to Wittenburg, which is actually called Lutherstadt Wittenburg (Luther's City, Wittenburg).  We took the train from the Gesundbrunnen, where my mom lived and went to school for a time around 1942.  That train was singularly the smoothest rail I have ever rode, and probably one of the fastest, too.  We headed a little south of west, near the Herz Mountain range, which looked like the Appalachians from a distance.  We went through a number of small burgs and dorfs along the way, and countless windmills!


From what I can see, windmills are a tradition here, owing to the number of the older "Holland" style remnants I also saw, in various stages of either repair, restoration or disassembly.

 There was a lot of overgrowth on some of these neat old buildings, something I was not used to seeing when I lived in Germany half a century ago.  But then it dawned upon me: this was the former East Germany.  This was the region where, when we took the "D" train from Helmstedt to Potsdam, we were required by the East German VOPOs (Volkspolizei, the People's Police) to pull the shades of our rail car down for the entire trip through the DDR, or East Germany.  I wonder what they didn't want us to see?  My suspicion: utter postwar neglect.  In the twenty eight years since Glasnost, the former East Germany has been largely brought back up to speed, but no doubt it is still a work in progress.
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 Here is another neat little Dorf we slowed down through.  We may have stopped here.  It reminds me a little of old Neubiberg in the southern suburbs of Munich back when I was about ten or twelve years old.  My family settled there after the War.
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We arrive at Lutherstadt Wittenburg.  We take a taxi from the train station (Hauptbahnhof), across a small river, and into a down still bedecked with its original Turm, or tower keep from the old fortress, and lots of 16th century architecture.  A lot went down here, five hundred years ago!
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 The bridge road going into town.

 Its really kinda hard to take a bad photo here.  The streets are fairly narrow, cobblestone and brick.  The "Dorf" is the German word for "Village".  There is a lot of legacy and history in these Dorfs.  This particular one happens to have Martin Luther living, pastoring, and teaching in it.  Luther, the wayward monk that married a nun, Katharina von Bora.  The scandal of the decade.
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 I had to get a shot of this house by the bridge.  It's only one-room deep.  But it was built to conform to the structural continuity codes that were common at this time, such as London's building code, put into place after the great Fire of the 1660s at the time of Samuel Pepys, banning any wood construction on the first floor.  All exposed timbers had to mount on the roof girts and summers of the first floor.  In Quebec at this same time, two foot firewalls had to be in place between buildings that adjoined one another, giving rise to the famous step-gables roof also common in Holland and Belgium.  I noted in Wittenburg, everything was masonry.  The only exposed posts and beams I noted were at the top of the ancient Turm, the tower keep.

Here at the University of Wittenburg was where Dr. Martin Luther began teaching in 1512, as a Professor and Augustinian Friar.  His home here, which can be toured, houses a huge collection of original printed works of Luther, who was one of the most prolific authors of his day, taking advantage of the new medium of the printed word.  It helped that one of his buddies was Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of the finest artists of the period, on par with Hans Holbein and Bruegel.  In fact, the Ninety-five Thesis points, or demonstrances, were not written for public consumption, they were printed!  The original manuscript was given to the printer, who set the type from it.  Over one hundred copies were printed in a couple days, and were distributed.  One was hung from the wall door of the Wittenburg Castle.  Some of these copies made it to the Pope.

Without going into details that can easily be Googled, Luther's big import to the German People was his Bible.  It was the very first ground-up translation from the best available MSS and codices available in his day.  This bible was the first to be translated into a vulgar tongue that an average literate person could read and understand.  It's effect upon the Culture was vast.  It helped to trigger a Reformation.  It also codified for the first time a Uniform German Language.  This, in turn, greatly enhanced the academic exchange of thoughts and ideas throughout the German speaking world.
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 Not bad for a 1520's piece of printing, eh?  The pages are, of course, linen rag, so there is literally no lignin or tannin, so the pages are about as supple and white as when new.  Wood induced acids are a post-18th century thing. This particular Bible probably bears a leather case binding that dates to the 1700s, just my guess.  Usually the leather rots off every 200 years or so.  Sometimes it wears off after 100 years if used a lot.  The pages way, way outlive the bindings, so it was very normal to have your old books rebound every couple generations.  Some of these old books were available in text block form only, with no covers.  The idea was that you had your fav binder do that for you, using the leathers and stylings that you select.  Often, families of means would have all their books bound to match.  This is why I, as a bookbinder, do not look so much at the book's cover, but rather, at the condition of the text block.  
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Dr Martinus Luther was a gifted songwriter and  musician, and from what we read from his contemporaries, had a pretty good voice, too!  So did his wife, the former nun Katharina von Bora.  Dr Luther would incorporate Gasthaus Liedern (uh... bar songs, really...) into his melody lines.  One example is "Ein' Feste Burg", or, "A Mighty Fortress".  The tune comes from the local drinking songs of the day.  That was by design: Luther witnessed the intimate  fellowship of friends as they came into the Kneipe, or Pub after a long 15 hour day of work, grabbing their Bierkrugs, and sharing their small victories, tragedies, joys and sorrows one with another over not a few hearty brewskies, and how they would bear each others burdens as a fellow and friend and neighbor.  Dr Luther longed for that sort of fellowship and community to exist within the walls of the Body of Christ.  He thought that bringing in popular tunes such as these might encourage the same intimate fellowship and community within the Body.  Ergo, the first true "Christian Contemporary Music" took form.  This paradigm was followed over the years by Bach and Watts, the Wesleys and others in the  following centuries.  These "Psalters" became the Church's first true Hymnals.  This is why when you hold a hymnal in your hand, dear Saint, you hold many centuries of the Legacy of the Body!  Treasure, and never neglect your Hymnals.
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No tour of the Lutherhaus (actually, it's more a Hoff, a self sustaining plantation of sorts) would be complete without a good look at the good Doktor's Bierkrug.  

Here it is.  Luther's Beer Mug. Probably about a litre.  

Yup, and he was a home-brewer, too!  Made his own, and also did draught.  A clear, spring fed river flowed through Wittenburg, don't think they drank beer 'because it was safer than the water'.  In fact, clean water is required to make beer, and they had some pretty good ingredients, dare I say! They drank beer because it was beer, don't kid yourself.  The Bible was translated over the foaming brew.  Tyndale wrote out his Englyshe Translaycion MSS over the brew.  The printers that printed the Bible (these were Church Printers.  Private Presses were unheard of.  In fact, at this time in England the Print shop was called a "Chappel") - formed their Guilds, brew in hand, and ended their printing day with it!  It permeated both German and English society, both within and without the walls of the Body of Christ.  Lewis, Tolkien, Philips and Herriot would meet at a Pub to talk, review manuscripts and simply be with each other over the Brew.  Incidentally, Spurgeon did so too, and with his fav cigars!  MUCH, much to the chagrin of Dwight L. Moody, who could have stood a few less ounces of pork himself.  
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Ok!  So... lets visit der Herr Doktor Martinus Luther!  (His name was pronounced "Loot-hair", more or less.)  His is the first Hoff on the left on good ol' Collegienstrasse!  
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 There are actually a couple wings behind the front building, which in itself is approached through a gate.  Here we are walking into a sort of court yard with out-buildings.  It really did remind me of a 16th century version of a plantation.
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 I love the windows in the tower, or "Turm".  They are angled to match the pitch of the stairway inside.  Can you imagine having those windows made?  Now, a lot of this house is rebuilt.  Inside they show you some of the original masonry walls.  Of the original structure, I doubt even 30 percent is actually there.  The rest is built over the original structure, incorporating it's walls and some of it's rooms.  Now when I say "rebuilt", don't think any time recently.  It may have been in the 1600s and 1700s.  As well, some newer and expanded renovations can be seen. 
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 The Lady of the House, die Dame des Hauses, Katharina von Bora, lately die Ehefrau Doktor.  (The wife of the Doktor.  In German culture, the wife carries the husband rank, and is traditionally addressed on the street as "Frau Doktor")
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 Karen, part of our group, checking out Miz Luther!  It may be a life size statue.  Contemporary description of her indicates she was a babe and a half!  Way to go, Martin!
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 At any given time at der Hof des Herrn Luthers, the home of Mr. Luther, there were about thirty guests, mostly students.  Luther was known to have "Table Talks" with these friends and students.  This was the table used for these "Table Talks".
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What I found to be most interesting was that guests sometimes carved their names in this table!  Man könnte sagen, dass dieser Tisch das Wort "Schreibtisch" hervorgebracht.  (One could say this desk gave us the word "writing desk")  Literally!
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A plaque commemorating the good Doktor. 
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Finally, the last shot from the Lutherhof.  This is a double-pull "Common Press", a second generation version of Gutenberg's single-pull model which we think is illustrated in the well known 1480's print "Dance Macabre", or "the Dance of Death".  This press is capable of printing two octavo sheets, or 16 face pages in one impression, provided the page print area were about 4 x 7" or less, about the size of an average Octavo publication. "Octavo" means eight face pages per impression.  "Quatro" means four, and "Folio" means two face pages per impression.  Most books are Octavo, duodecimo (12 face pages) or sexidecimo (16 face pages, making a rather smallish book).

Ok, this is, after all, a Letterpress blog.  Did you actually think I wasn't going to geek out over a 17th century letterpress?
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 I fell in love with the architecture all over this region of Germany, and here in Wittenburg was no exception.  These are some of the structures that surrounds the Marktplatz. That monument, or "Denkmal" is more than likely a statue is the man himself.  Why don't I know for sure?  Well.... actually, I didn't have time to go over and find out.  We had just found out the last Zug back to Berlin was in about 45 minutes, and we didn't even have lunch yet!  It was 3:45 already!  We had to hoof it! 
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 I shot this photo for the architecture, but if this town is laid out true to form with other smallish towns and cities I remember as a kid in the western and southern regions of Germany, I'd be willing to bet this was the Rathaus, the city hall.  It could be a guild hall, but usually the emblems and symbols of the guilds would be somewhere on the building, so I'm holding out for Rathaus.  "Rat", or "Ratten", to give advice or counsel, and "Haus" for... well...'house'!
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Nearby to Marktplatz is the Stadtskirche, the City Church.  This might be considered the first Reformation Church, because guess who was pastor (Pfarrer) here while teaching at the University?  Give up?   Dr. Martinus Luther.  Betcha didn't have a clue.
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Ok, time out for a window shot.  I love windows, especially the diamond pane types that are leadened.  This is from inside Luther's church.  This is not the Wittenburg Schlosskirche, the Castle Church, which is closer to the keep.  I have a few shots from that one as well.  It's a bit more bedecked.  This church, however, was a bit more interesting to me.
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This was Luther's pulpit.  Could you even imagine sitting here under the ministry of the man who started the Reformation?  The man who translated the Bible into the language you understand and speak every day?  The man who wrote many of the hymns you sang?  And yet he was in many ways an ordinary man with ordinary failings, and not the most popular guy with the other reformers.  He was not a man without error.  He was a man in many ways overwhelmed by his own shortcomings, and horrified by his own sin.  That's the kind of guy I want to share a lager or two with.
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 This is the foot of the Chancery Balcony where the pipes are, and possibly where some of the choir may have sung.  I can see the organ pipes just barely.  But what is most interesting to me is what is written - in plain German - on the balcony.  "Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele.  Ps 92 u. 103"   Praise the Lord, O my soul, Ps 92 & 103.  The Psalm inscribed at the rail reads, in English, "...all that has breath praise the LORD, Halleluja!"  

The pulpit is diagonally across from this balcony.  It was in plain view of the preacher.  I wonder how often Dr. Luther may have pondered these words in his native German and recalled what he endured so that these words might appear here - in the German of the common Bürger, or "Citizen".

To me, Dr. Luther is a hero of the Faith, who never sought  the fame and attention he got.  Neither did he wish to leave his mother Church.  Neither did he wish to inflame and insult the leaders of his mother Church, save for those who used scripture to make money for obviously ostentatious things from which his parishioners derived no benefit.  What he wanted and attempted to achieve, was a correcting of the course of the Mother Church back to a sound and honest Biblical interpretation and adherence, and to make that Bible available to everyone.   He wanted the Universal Catholic Church to be put back on the proper rails, for it had derailed into error and even apostasy.  He considered himself an Augustinian, and even continued to hold to much Catholic Theology through his life, such as the transubstantiation of the Eucharist.  He had many a falling out with the Swiss Reformers.

After this, I tried to talk a small restaurant, "Zum Schwarzen Bär" to feed fifteen of us.... in thirty minutes.  I must have had two heads!   At least, that's how they looked at me.  

So....

We ate at the Hauptbahnhof, the main Wittenburg Train Station, and made it onto the 4:30pm  Zug nach Berlin Gesundbrunnen.  We were on our way back home.

Tschüss, Herr Doktor!!   
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Tschüss, Bubsche!




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