Monday, January 19, 2009

A Stop Over to the Past

Aside from the historical and cultural trips to Lutherstadt Wittenberg and Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, we also traversed several cities aboard a train to see the Rhine River, Germany’s biggest river. Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Wartburg Castle, and a portion of the Rhine River called the Rhine Gorge, are all listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning they are sites of outstanding historical, cultural, and geological importance to humanity. I feel greatly blessed that I was given the chance to see these wonderful places.

Tito Friedrich and Tita Glen brought me to other equally impressive parts of Germany, but I’d like to think that God favored me to visit this country to somehow connect me to a portion of the past in the area of writing, translating, and publishing. After visi
ting the church in Lutherstadt where Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, I stepped into Luther’s room in Wartburg Castle where he translated the New Testament into German. I also passed by Mainz (birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the modern printing press with movable type) and the busy city of Frankfurt where the biggest book fair in the world is held every October. I find this stop over in Germany truly a fitting prelude to my journey to Brazil to attend Littworld, an international Christian publishing conference.

Gutenberg's monument in Mainz

The Old Opera House in Frankfurt

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Translating with Martin Luther

After our memorable tour of Wittenburg, Tito Friedrich, Tita Glen and I traveled again by ICE to Eisenach on the east side of Germany. Eisenach is well known for Schloss Wartburg or Wartburg Castle which was named in 1991 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is an important site because it is here where Martin Luther translated the New Testament in German while on exile.

As soon as we reached Eisenach, Tita Glen decided I should not miss the chance to savor Germany’s favorite, Thuringian bratwurst. After all, the famous bratwurst originated in this region, Thuringia, of which Eisenach is a part of.

A view of Eisenach from the Wartburg Castle

We took a taxi to reach Wartburg Castle which is nestled on top of the hill. A tall German and English-speaking lady led us to a tour of the castle into the knights’ hall, the dining hall, chapel, the women’s quarter called Elizabeth’s bower (after St. Elizabeth of Hungary who married the landgrave of Thuringia Ludwig IV), and the banquet hall.

Outside Wartburg Castle

Elizabeth's bower

After our stroll in the palace, we roamed freely in the museum of the castle which showcases artifacts from the Reformation, including weapons, furniture, and writings of Luther. From there we went to the Lutherstube, the room where Martin Luther stayed while translating the New Testament. While laboring over the translation, Luther remarked, “I battle against the devil with the ink.” As a Christian writer and translator on my way to Littworld, an international publishing conference, I find that remark significant. Every attempt to write and translate the message of truth and grace (and have it published) is a warfare against the dark, evil forces.

Museum of Reformation artifacts

Luther's room

I may be going ahead of my story, but days later, at the Littworld conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I made sure I attended the workshop on the topic of translating. Also, as I walked from our villa to the auditorium and conference rooms where plenary sessions and workshops are conducted, I realized that the organizers have named the alleys where the villas of the participants are located. They named the alleys after famous Christian personalities who were somehow involved in publishing. I noticed the alley names about two days into the conference already. The name of my alley? Martin Luther.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In Wittenberg, Germany

I arrived in Gross Gerau, Germany at around 10:00 P.M. on Nov. 2, 2006. Because I would be staying with them for only a week, my Tito Friedrich and Tita Glen planned ahead of time our itinerary. On top of the list was a trip to Wittenberg.

Even before coming to Germany, Tito Friedrich telephoned overseas to ask me what places in Germany I would like to visit. Wittenberg quickly came to my mind. I learned from church history class that it was in a church in Wittenberg that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses against the granting of indulgences. I had no idea that Wittenberg was in central East Germany, but my dear German uncle, who live on the west side, was too willing to accommodate me. He also happens to have a niece who lives right in Lutherstadt, the city of Luther in Wittenberg.

Inside the high speed train ICE with a stewardess

From the south west side of Germany where my aunt and uncle are based, we took the Inter- City Express (ICE), Germany's network of trains that travels at a speed of 200 miles per hour. We went to Leipzig Main Station first and from there we took another train to get to Lutherstadt. On the way, I saw spotted cows grazing on rolling hills, barns, and giant wind mills in wind parks. The pastoral landscape changed into quiet towns with old brick buildings, some obviously abandoned, perhaps waiting demolition. The sight before me caused an eerie feeling and I remembered scenes from Hollywood movies and TV series set in the period of the Holocaust. Add to this, we also passed by what used to be the border of East Germany and West Germany from Second World War until September 1989.

The cobbled streets of Lutherstadt

It was windy, showering, and about 12C when we reached Lutherstadt, Wittenberg. Tito Friedrich's niece, Beata and her husband Roland, took us to town. I thought it strange that the streets were empty and that the stores were closed. At one time, it was only my aunt, uncle, my uncle’s niece and her husband, and myself, who were on the street. The next people we saw came far and few in between. When I asked why it was so, they told me it was a Sunday and so shops are closed and people are usually at home. It was a completely different sight from the land where I came from where people come in throngs to the malls on weekends!

The Rathaus (Cityhall); Right in front is Luther's monument

Martin Luther's monument

In front of the city hall (Rathaus) was a monument of Luther. Nearby is the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) on the door of which Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses against the granting of the indulgences. I quickly took a picture of the theses now etched in metal, one at the door, and another inside the church. It was here also that Luther and another German religious reformer Philip Melanchton was laid to rest. Then we went to another church dating from 14th century where Luther preached.

Luther's 95 theses

I am at a loss for words to describe how I felt as I walked through these great historical places. It was a rare opportunity to be in the very place where God moved at a critical time in the development of the church. It was here in Wittenburg, Germany in the 16th century where God stirred up Martin Luther with the revelation that salvation is by grace through faith alone. I was grateful and privileged, but beyond this, I know I have to keep in mind of the danger of building monuments while refusing to flow with the movement of the Spirit of God.

When I saw the pulpit from where Martin Luther preached his sermons on Sundays, I asked our local tour guides Beata and Roland to pose with me under the pulpit. I wanted to be reminded by this picture of the call of God—of the Great Commission Jesus gave to His disciples: to go to all nations, baptize them, and teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded.