Continuing on from churches in Israel, we also spent three weeks of the summer of 2018 driving around Germany and Austria. During this time, we encountered many beautiful churches and cathedrals.
In Germany, the Köln Cathedral was probably the most impressive, but the cities of Erfurt and Wittenberg had a lot of the interesting Reformation history. Vienna was considered the cultural capital of Europe during the Classical Period, so it is unsurprising that Austria also contains both amazing cathedrals and delightful small town churches.
The exterior of the Köln (Cologne) Cathedral is stunning. With the Gothic peaks jutting into the air, the first sight of the full building was quite awe-inspiring. From this outside view, you can definitely see why it might be the most-visited cathedral in Germany.
As you walk around the edge, you can admire the gargoyles and other carvings peering down at you.
In comparison with cathedrals in Italy, the interior of this one was fairly simple. The lines were stunning, but it was missing the ornate carvings, paintings, and other and decor that you might expect from the elaborate exterior. On the other hand, a big part of the Reformation was the realization of how much money was being spent on cathedrals closer to Rome, and the idea that people were worshiping the things inside the cathedrals more than they were worshiping God. So, with that in mind, maybe it is more appropriate that the interior be less distracting to the purpose of the visit.
There was some really nice stained glass, depicting various Biblical scenes.
And of course, maintaining the cathedrals is a never ending process. When traveling Europe, you can expect at least a few of them to have extensive scaffolding set up.
Continuing into Reformation-land, we went to Erfurt, which is where Martin Luther became a monk. The Cathedral of St. Mary is where he was ordained as a priest. John really liked the door knocker, which had a lion eating a human. Odd.
The Erfurt Monastery is where Martin Luther spent his early days as a priest. We were too late for a tour, but were able to look around a bit ourselves.
The interior was simple, but had some nice stained glass.
We also saw the guest house, the place we think Luther slept while he was a monk, from the outside. The flowers around the grounds were quite beautiful.
Luther’s statue is in front of the Kaufmannskirche, which is where he did some of his preaching later in his priestly career. It is also the church where Johann Sebastian Bach’s parents were married.
Continuing into Leipzig, we explored more Bach sights. St. Thomas Church is where Bach spent much of his adult life as the organist and director of the boys’ choir.
On his death, he was buried in a regular gravesite, but later, they decided to move his body into a tomb in the church. Unfortunately, they were uncertain of which of three bodies might be his, so after looking at various evidence, they picked the most likely candidate and moved the bones into a very beautiful room of the church.
It really was a quite beautiful church.
St. Nicholas Church is where there were prayer vigils/demonstrations in the late 80’s protesting the Cold War. There was an interesting exhibit inside the church that showed some photos of various events from WWII forward, although some of it was inappropriate for the boys, so we left before looking at it in a lot of detail.
Back into Martin Luther land, we decided to visit Wittenberg, which is where Martin Luther spent most of his adult life. The Wittenberg Castle Church was our first stop. The front of it was quite castle-like, but the back looked like it was partially rebuilt in the 70’s and was less impressive. We were also disappointed that the main entrance was not the door on which he nailed his Theses, but rather a visitor’s center.
We toured the church, which was quite beautiful. Both Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon (Luther’s right-hand man) have raised tombs inside the church. I always find it a bit odd to think about worshiping in a place that has dead bodies everywhere, and think I prefer the ones that are flush with the floor to the raised ones.
There was a small museum across from the church that we also ducked into for a few minutes. Reading through some of the Theses were interesting, some were very thought-provoking and gave insight into what was going on in the church during Luther’s days. It’s odd to think about the fact that most people did not own a Bible, and even if they did, it was unlikely that they would be able to read it. Things that are common sense for us, were a bit more difficult during that time period.
On our way out, we stopped by the door that Luther nailed his Theses to. How did he nail them to a metal door? As it turns out, at some point there was a fire and the door burned down, so they replaced it with a bronze door. I wonder where he would have placed his Theses if that had been the case in his day. Post-it notes probably wouldn’t have been an option.
We continued to the Town Church of St. Mary, where Luther did most of his preaching. This is also the church where he was married and you can see the baptismal font where Luther’s six children were baptized.
Konstanz (Constance) is a town we mostly visit for the lakeside atmosphere and fun playgrounds for the kids, but the city is much more than that, so we made a stop at the Konstanz Cathedral.
As we wandered through the town, we stopped a few more churches. The interiors were fairly simple, but beautiful. I loved the colors in the stained glass, but none of our pictures were able to show what I saw.
I found it fascinating that even tiny towns had amazing churches. At a population of a little over 5,000, the town of Oberammergau has a beautiful church. Of course, every 10 years a half million people will flock to this tiny town to see the Passion Play.
In 1633 the black plague was sweeping through Europe. The people of Oberammergau prayed that if no more people in their town died, they would put on a play every 10 years showing the final days Jesus life from the time he entered Jerusalem until crucifixion. Apparently, no one else died, so the play has continued until today.
Only townspeople can be in it, and many of the roles are hereditary. Out of a town of 5,000 people, it takes 2,000 of them to put on the play. In 2020, this tiny town will explode with tourists. They typically get 5,000 guests per day even though they only have beds for 1,500 of them.
The Berlin Cathedral was another interesting site to ponder. It was very pretty and relaxing from the outside, but as we got closer, we noticed the bullet holes in the walls and had the opportunity to both talk to the boys about the amount of damage Berlin received in WWII, and how the Russian troops famously shot up everything in sight, including buildings, when they finally arrived.
Later in the trip, Jeremy and the boys rented some bicycles and enjoyed exploring the city, meeting me at one point by the cathedral again. We had planned to visit the interior, but given the entrance fee and time constraints, we never went inside. This was our last European city and the boys were a lot more interested in cycling than seeing another church.
Also on their bike ride, they stopped by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Again, this was purposefully left semi-ruined after WWII to help symbolize the futility of war.
And, near the TV Tower, you can find St. Mary’s Church:
Leaving Germany, Austria has a lot of grandeur to its churches and cathedrals, particularly on the interior. Given its prior status as the cultural capital of the world in a time period where cathedrals were all the rage, it is appropriate that these would be some of the more elaborate that we saw on this trip.
At the city center, St. Stephen’s Cathedral was beautiful from the outside.
And equally beautiful from the inside. The only downside was that it was mobbed with noisy tourists and it felt a bit like a zoo, rather than a place to worship God. The inner portion looked very peaceful, but was roped off, so we stuck with the hordes.
Close-by is St. Peter’s Church. The Baroque style with beautiful paintings made me feel very peaceful, so we just sat a while and enjoyed our surroundings. The signs warning people not to treat this place as a sightseeing excursion seemed to work, and the result was a much more worshipful atmosphere.
There are often musical performances in this church. The acoustics aren’t awesome, but if your kids need a break from walking and you are interested in attending, it makes a nice stop.
Continuing into the mountains, Kitzbühel hosts a lovely church as well. The cemetery is well maintained and a delight to wander through after a day of hiking.