Day 3: Buchenwald and Erfurt
On that Friday, after a hearty breakfast at our Wittenberg Best Western, we hopped in the vans and drove to Buchenwald Concentration Camp and then traveled to Erfurt, Germany.
Visiting Buchenwald was an experience I will certainly never forget. If you ever find yourself in Germany, I would recommend visiting one of these camps. It is not necessarily a comfortable experience, but it is extremely moving. All that remains of the original camp is the front gate, the crematorium building, and rows upon rows of barracks foundations. However, some of the buildings used by the guards and SS Officers are still intact and used as a museum, a cafeteria, and a theatre. Upon arriving at the camp, you first are brought into the theatre to watch a film on the history of the camp. While Buchenwald was not one of the “death camps,” there were certainly many innocent people killed or worked to death at the camp. The initial prisoners at the camp were male, some were political prisoners, and others were “social undesirables” such as Jews or homosexuals. All were made to work at the camp, bearing heavy labor and meager rations until they collapsed or were set free. In all, people died at Buchenwald.
After the film, we walked through the camp. Even though there is not much left of the actual camp, many memorial stones and plaques have been placed on the foundations, and it was very interesting to see them all. We also went into the crematorium building, where thousands of bodies were dealt with. I think we all got a rather sick feeling walking through the oven room. I felt even worse when I went down the stairs to the “corpse cellar,” where prisoners were strangled on hooks and stored. This was most certainly the most stirring location in Buchenwald. After that, we walked through some of the museum. While it was very interesting, much of it was in German, so it was hard to understand. I found the end of the exhibit to be the most interesting. The museum worked chronologically, so at the end of the museum the displays were chronicling the end of World War 2 and the end of the camp. Here there were many quotes from American soldiers about the prisoners they encountered upon entering the camp. It was absolutely devastating to read about these poor emaciated men, more dead than alive, that the allied troops found waiting for them. It is completely impossible for me to imagine having to deal with something like that, and then go back to a “normal” life. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.
Erfurt is the location of Martin Luther’s monastery, an Augustinian cloister. The monastery now serves as a museum and lodging for visitors. Unfortunately, we did not get to stay there, but we got to go through the museum and see Luther’s supposed room. And I have to say, those rooms are pretty small. The life of a monk was not very exciting. According to one of the things I read at the monastery, they were not ever allowed to laugh! I would have a really hard time with that. Adjacent to the monastery, there was also the church where Luther preached his first service. It was not as grand as the churches in Wittenberg, but very pretty.
We got the rest of the evening in Erfurt to ourselves. It is a beautiful old town, although larger and faster paced than Wittenberg. We walked around and enjoyed the scenery, and then found an “Is Café,” (Ice Cream Café) for supper. These cafes are everywhere in Germany, and this one happened to be Italian. We had a tasty Italian meal and then afterwards we enjoyed our huge ice cream sundaes. Kjerstin ordered a fruity strawberry one and mine was Hazelnut and Chocolate. Yum!
Day 4: Eisenach and Wartburg Castle
On our last day in Germany we traveled to Eisenach, Germany, home of Bach and Luther. A few days earlier, I had organized to meet up with a German friend of mine in Eisenach, so this was a very exciting day for me. Her name is Jana, and she was an exchange student at my high school. She and I were both in theatre, and I hadn’t seen her for at least a year, so it was wonderful to catch up.
We started our visit to Eisenach at the Bach House and Museum. The museum portion is fairly new and had a lot of interesting material on Bach. My favorite part was this hanging chair you could sit in and listen to a Bach composition. The one I chose was perfect for this “apparatus,” because I could close my eyes and “float” along with the music. It was also interesting to walk through the actual house of Bach, and see what his rooms might have looked like while he was living there.
Eisenach was yet another beautiful city with similar architecture, shops, and cafes. There is also a Luther house in Eisenach, but I only saw the outside of it. I believe Luther lived in Eisenach when he was a young man in schooling. Jana and I walked around the town centre, and of course, got some ice cream as well.
This was definitely one of my favorite things that we did in Germany. Apparently it is not the fanciest or most beautiful castle, but I found it fascinating and full of history. The reason for our visit there was that this was the castle where Martin Luther was in hiding after the Diet of Worms. It is actually a very good story:
After Luther refused to recant his writings, he was excommunicated from the church and deemed an enemy of the Holy Roman Empire. By law, anyone could see him on the street and kill him with no penalty! On his way back to Wittenberg, Luther was kidnapped. He was brought blindfolded to Wartburg Castle to find out that his friend Spalatin had faked his kidnapping to put him into hiding. Spalatin was secretary to Prince Frederick, so history cannot tell how much the elector knew about this. Regardless, Luther was stuck in hiding for a long time at the castle, and while he was there he translated the bible from Latin and Greek into German. He made Christianity accessible to the common man. Pretty cool huh?
It was a really long walk up a very steep hill to get to the castle, but once we were there it was definitely worth it! From our perch we could view Eisenach and many other towns below and take some beautiful pictures. We wandered around the castle grounds for a while, and then took the guided tour of the castle. It has a long history, even preceding Martin Luther. Most of the history had to do with St. Elizabeth, who was a tragic young princess that resided in the castle way back in the middle ages. She was married young, widowed young, and died young, but within her lifetime she did many good works for the poor. Many of the rooms in the castle were decorated with her story, whether through a painting or a mosaic. It was very beautiful. At the end of the tour we got to see Luther’s room at Wartburg castle, and it definitely was not much. I am sure he went a bit stir-crazy being stuck there for so many months.
After leaving the castle, I said goodbye to Jana and we drove back to Wittenberg. We attended the St. John’s Passion at the City Church, packed up, and went to bed. The next morning we went back to Berlin to catch our flight to London!
But you will have to wait for another blog to talk about that J
Ha det bra vennene mine!
Shelby (and Kjerstin)