Walking along the unpretentious streets, alleyways and courtyards of Lutherstadt-Wittenberg's Old Town and inspecting the preserved medieval houses and churches is like attending a series of lessons about 16th-century German history. While history lessons may be tedious, stale and old-fashioned, the experience gained by looking closely into Lutherstadt-Wittenberg's medieval buildings is alive, fresh and unforgettable. For its medieval historic buildings, which are undoubtedly a great source of cultural and artistic enrichment, Lutherstadt-Wittenberg's Old Town was added to the list of UNESCO World Culture Sites in 1996.
The Tourist Office and Wittenberg Information Bureau at Schlossplatz 2 west of the Old Town center provides all sorts of guided tours for groups and individuals but for obvious reasons, there's nothing better than touring around independently taking preferred attractions at your own pace without being pushed from one attraction to the next. Any tours by independent travelers along Lutherstadt-Wittenberg's medieval town streets must necessarily start from the easternmost end of Collegienstrasse, the pedestrianised mall that runs across the Old Town. But before proceeding along Collegienstrasse, make a back detour towards the small park at the southernmost end of Lutherstrasse. At this place, referred to as Luthereiche, a tree stands to commemorate the burning by Luther of the Pope's edict in which Luther was threatened with excommunication.
Back to Collegienstrasse. On the left side, a short distance west from the end of the street is Lutherhaus at Collegienstrasse 54. Within the walls of this former Augustinian monastery, Luther lived from 1511 up to the end of his life and it was from here in 1517 that he initiated the Reformation. Except perhaps for the medieval tower, the white painted building is not architecturally impressive but historically, it has great cultural importance considering that Luther's Reformation made great impact on the political and religious scene that prevailed in Europe in the early 16th-century. The building houses a small but otherwise excellent history museum related to the Reformation. Not to be missed are the room furnished by Luther himself and the copy of the Pope's edict threatening his excommunication.
Further west at Collegienstrasse 60 is Melanchton's house, which has also been restored to house a history museum. Melanchton, a classical scholar, a close friend of Luther and a lecturer at Wittenberg's university was the mind behind the reform of the German system of education. Not to be missed are the huge artistic stove and Melanchton's preserved writing desk that are both displayed in his former study.
A few metres westwards on the same side, Collegienstrasse is adorned with the medieval University Gate. Though small and far from stately, the preserved University Gate covered with fine intricate sculptures is attractive and pleasing. Enter through the gate to see the big building of the university that was considered the top university of Saxony in the Middle Ages. As Collegienstrasse runs westwards, it becomes a shopping mall with more souvenir shops, boutiques and restaurants. Although perhaps too commercial, the atmosphere is still charming considering the tasteful display of handicrafts and artistic works in the shop windows and the sunshaded tables standing outside opposite numerous restaurants, ice-cream parlors, coffeehouses and pubs.
The most impressive and atmospheric section of Collegienstrasse is definitely when it opens into the Markt, the Old Town square lined with numerous medieval buildings that have been meticulously restored. The huge white building that occupies the north side of the square is the Altes Rathaus, an untouched monumental specimen of the simple yet beautiful German Renaissance architecture predominant in Germany in the 15th- and 16th-centuries. The canopied portico that leads to the door is as graceful as the orderly arrangement of the windows that characterize the main facade. Don't fail to examine the magnificent architecture of the buildings along the east side of the square backdropped by the lofty twin towers of the church of St. Marien. In front of the Rathaus, two similar colonnaded bronze canopies shelter the big statues of Luther and Melanchton. Identical in size and composition, the statues cannot but emphasize the fact that both reformers contributed equally towards the religious and educational Reformation.
A tiny passageway along the east side of the square soon leads to Kirchplatz, an unsymmetrical medieval square dominated by the city church of St. Marien. Although this church was enlarged and modified throughout the centuries, its external architecture dates back from the 15th-century. There's much to see inside but don't expect gaudy works of art or gilded sculptures. From the table that adjoins the shop near the main door, take a free information sheet (available in many languages but returnable), that will direct you towards all the attractions. The highlight is the huge altarpiece, an artistic work by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son completed in 1547 when Lutheranism was establishing itself and spreading all over Germany. Note Luther himself, Melanchton and Cranach on the right side of the picture. The pulpit from where Luther preached to the congregation and the original baptismal font are still there. More fine paintings are permanently exhibited behind the high altar. The sacristy on the left side houses temporary exhibits of ecclesiastical paintings and other fine works of sacred art.
West of the Markt, Collegienstrasse becomes Schlossstrasse and curves slightly towards the Castle and the Castle Church. At Schlossstrasse 1, visitors can see the Cranach-Hofe, the house where the Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked for 43 years. Not to be missed is the charming courtyard with numerous photos of the house before restoration. Further west at Schlossstrasse 6, the Pflug History Museum has exhibits about the development of the German Democratic Republic from its birth in 1949 to its collapse in 1990. From here, don't fail to look at the majestic tower of Schlosskirche that dominates the city's skyline.
Walk towards the church in the direction of Schlossplatz. Passageways on your left lead towards the castle, a medium-sized structure that is neither stately nor interesting but nonetheless authentic and untouched. The Julius Riemer Museum of Nature and Folklore housed inside however has an interesting display worth viewing. The adjacent Schlosskirche, that has been rebuilt, contains numerous historic artifacts that ask for careful inspection. Available on entry is a free information sheet that guides you around the attractions. Not to be missed for their historical significance are Luther's and Melanchton's tombstones. Organ recitals giving visitors the opportunity to listen to the wonderful tune of the classical church organ are held every Tuesday from 2:30pm to 3pm.
Before leaving Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, make sure to stroll along other Old Town streets, which may be less prominent but nonetheless picturesque. Narrow Mittelstrasse, which runs from Kirchplatz towards the east end of the town, is lined with more medieval houses, some of which are still under restoration. Judenstrasse behind the Old Town Hall and its continuation Coswigerstrasse are ideal for a stroll in an atmosphere that is undisturbed, calm and serene.