October 22, 2020



In Erfurt, Martin Luther was an up-and-coming academic and monk; at Wartburg Castle, he was a man on the run. Luther’s path from loyal monk to fugitive began, as legend has it, in a storm on the road to Erfurt, a booming city in his day, rich from trade in blue dyes and renowned for its university. Fear drove Luther to make a deal with St. Anne, “Let me live, and I’ll become a monk.” True to his word, he entered Erfurt’s Augustinian monastery and stayed until 1511. It’s still there on Augustinerstrasse, where it houses a Luther exhibition and a little white, oak-beamed room called the Lutherzelle, a reproduction of the cell where the monk slept and prayed.

Ten years later, after the 95 Theses, heresy trials, and ex-communication, Luther’s allies hid him in Wartburg Castle, a medieval fortress high on a hill over the city of Eisenach. Disguised as “Junker Jörg,” he rapidly translated the New Testament into his folksy German vernacular, while cooped up in a small wooden room that’s the highlight of a visit to castle today.

There isn’t much to the Lutherstube—a desk, a green tile oven for heat, a portrait on the wall of Luther in disguise. What isn’t there is an ink spot on the wall, evidence of a legend that Luther threw his ink pot at the devil. Until a few decades ago, the keepers of the castle added the spot with their own ink. Legend or not, they didn’t want to disappoint the tourists.

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