There were two powerful men in history who had made tremendous impacts on the world, Germany in particular.
One is the most hated, the other is still being admired even after 500 years has passed.
Escaping from the city filled with painful history caused by the most hated, with the hope of lightening my heavy heart, I stepped on a train heading south to a small town where the better part of history was made.
The train was travelling swiftly like a northerly wind blowing from the north to the south. Sitting by the window, I watched the scenery passing backwards in such haste that made me think that perhaps the concept of time was being reversed.
Maybe the train was taking its passengers on a journey to the past. I wondered.
Maybe time was running backwards…
After a roughly 40-minute ride which felt like 500 years had passed, the train arrived at its destination.
I stepped out onto the platform, there in front of me stood a sign that read “Lutherstadt Wittenberg”, meaning the “Luther City” of Wittenberg.
Didn’t Luther ask people not to call themselves Lutheran? I pondered. What would he think if he knew that a town had changed its official name because of him?
“I ask that my name be left silent and people not call themselves Lutheran, but rather Christians. Who is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. I have been crucified for no one…
How should I, a poor stinking bag of worms, become so that the children of Christ are named with my unholy name?” – Martin Luther
Anyhow, let’s keep it simple and just call it Wittenberg for now.
Wittenberg is a quiet small town. Under a cloudless sky, the feeling of tranquility in this town seemed even more conspicuous.
After I walked out from the train station, without searching for walking directions, I ambled down the street.
Following the main road down to the roundabout, I arrived at “Lutherstraße”. Given that this town has renamed itself “Luther City”, this must be “Luther Street”. I guessed.
While standing in the shade of a big tree, I turned around, and there in front of me stood a memorial stone marking “Luther-eiche”. Looks like everything in this town is named after Luther.
I looked up from under the Luther Oak* and caught a glimpse of the clear blue sky through a canopy of branches and spring leaves as if I were looking into the future from a distant past. So this is the spot where nearly 500 years ago the angry rebel Martin Luther burned the papal bull of excommunication? And this is the rebel whom they said had rediscovered God and changed the world?
Overwhelmed by a stream of questions flowing through my mind all at once, the feeling of confusion and uncertainty began to build up. I started thinking about the history. I started doubting about space and time.
How long ago was it that I stepped on a train departing from the city filled with history of the most hated rebel? And now I’m here discovering the history made by another rebel, the one that the country has dedicated an entire decade to his legacy and achievements?
My mind was clouded with thoughts over the contrast between these two rebels, between the good and the evil. I looked up again at the tree in front of me. It somehow made me think of The Tree of Knowledge.
A bird emerged from behind a leaf, caught me, held my gaze, and began to chirp as if it were trying to tell me something before it hopped off the branch and flew away like a symbol of peace.
To be continued…
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree today.”
– Martin Luther
*Luther-eiche (Luther Oak) : On 10th December 1520, Martin Luther burned the papal excommunication warning in front of the Elster Gate. It is told that a day later an oak was planted on that place. The oak that is there now was planted in 1830, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.