500 Years of the 95 Theses Celebrated in Germany

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Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011

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BERLIN/ERFURT/ LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG- You see me, and we see you. The slogan for the 36th annual Day of Christianity (Kirchentag), which ended yesterday with an open-air church service on the field along the Elbe River in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.  Located between Leipzig and Berlin, Wittenberg was the central stage for Martin Luther, who was a professor of theology 500 years ago- a revolutionary who posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the church in the city with its present-day population of over 30,000 inhabitants. It is this city, where the two-day event commemorated the historic event, which reshaped Christianity and created the church that still bears its name.  Over 400,000 visitors participated in the four-day event, which started in Berlin, but also featured regional events in cities where Luther had its strongest influence: Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Eisleben, Halle and even Magdeburg had festivities from Thursday to Saturday for Christians, tourists, families and people wanting to know more about Luther and his interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Wittenberg alone, roughly 120,000 visitors converged onto the field along the Elbe River and at the city center, to take part in the evening light show and open air reflections on Saturday, followed by an open-air church service on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, people had an opportunity to listen to the sermons as well as the discussion forum, one of which involved newly-elected German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took over for Joachim Gauck in February this year.

In Berlin, where over 245,000 visitors took part in the festivities, especially at Brandenburg Gate, the events marked the welcoming back of former US President Barack Obama, who, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Donald Trump’s policy of isolation with his plan for building the Wall to Mexico and isolating the country from its international obligations.

And as for the regional places, according to reports by MDR, the numbers were much lower than expected. In Erfurt, Jena and Weimar alone, only 42,000 visitors attended the events from Thursday to Saturday. However, the events were overshadowed by warm, summer weather, the Handel festival that began in Halle, the relegation soccer game between Jena and Cologne, where the former won the first of two games, and lastly, the Luther events at the aforementioned places in Berlin and Wittenberg.

This was noticeable during my visit in Erfurt on Friday with my wife and daughter. There, despite having over a dozen booths, podium discussions in several churches, tours of the churchs’ chapels and steeples as well as several plays and concerts and a pilgrimage from Stotternheim to the city center, the majority of the visitors took advantage of the beautiful weather for other activities.  It had nothing to do with attempts to recruit and convert people to become Lutheran on the spot. One should not interpret Luther and his teachings like this. In fact at a few sites that feature plays and musicals for children, such as Luther and Katharina as well as the Luther Express where children learned about Jesus during each of the four seasons, the layout and preparations were simple but well thought out with no glorifying features and some informative facts presented, which attracted a sizable number of people in the audience (between 50 and 60).

The lack of numbers might have to do with the fact that despite Christianity dominating Germany at 59%, only 28% consists of Lutherans in general. In the US, over 46% consists of Protestants, of which 26% are Evangelicals. 71% of the population are Christians. Given the low number of people belonging to the church, the United Lutheran Church Association of Germany (EKD) and other organizations worked together to make the Luther festival informative, attracting people from different denominations so that they know about Luther’s legacy both in Germany as well as above. It doesn’t necessarily mean that membership is obligatory. Much of the population are sceptical about the beliefs in Jesus, which is one of the reasons of why a quarter of the 41% are aethesists or agnostics. This leads to the question of why Christ is not important to them while at the same time why people in Germany elect to join the church. This question I had touched on in a conversation with one of the pastors of a local church, which will be brought up in a later article.

Nevertheless, when summarizing the events of this weekend, it was deemed a success in many ways. It provided visitors with a glimpse of Luther’s legacy, especially in Wittenberg, where his 95 Thesis was the spark that started the fire and spread to many cities in the region. It also brought together friends and strangers alike, Christian and non-Christian to remember the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church we know today, branches included. Exhibits on Luther can be found in Wittenberg but also at the places where Luther played a key role. For more, please click here to see where you can visit the sites.

You can also read up on the pilgrimage of six people, who marched on Lutherstadt-Wittenberg for the events by foot, bike or even boat, camping along the way. Each pair started their tour from Erfurt, Eisleben and Dessau-Rosslau, respectively. Here you can find their stories.

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Genre of the Week: Sojourns and Sayings of Martin Luther by Heinz Stade

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The art of music is the best food for one who is troubled, for through it the heart is contented, inspired and refreshed.

 

Sometimes even the best writers, teachers, priests, and people working in the field of law need music to produce ideas and ease their souls, to reflect on the situations that went wrong and look ahead to the future with a plan. Even as I write this, I listen to classical rock music and think about the ways to address Luther and the problems we face today, not to mention how we look at Luther from our own eyes. Literature is one of the aspects to look at, as it shows us how Luther lived and conveyed his message to his followers, let alone how his teachings have affected the Church to this day.  Sometimes even having a collection of quotes gives a person an insight into his experiences and how he can share them with others. After all, quotes and sayings produced from one’s mouth can speak more volumes than any lecture, speech or talk because it is based on one’s own achievements. This is why I usually write and keep a set of my own quotes for my own use because of my experiences that can help others having similar experiences like I did.

 

Several books have a collection of quotes written or told by Martin Luther, pending on the sources. I will present two of them I found during my recent visit to Wartburg in Eisenach. The first one is a collection of sojourns and sayings of Martin Luther, a collection of quotes put together by Heinz Stade but based on a German work by Susan Kubitz, released in 2015 by Rhino Press.

 

Available in English, French and Spanish, Sojourns and Sayings is divided up into cities where Martin Luther’s influences were at his best and where most of his written works are found and recorded into history, from the parents’ home in Möhra (Thuringia) and Mansfield (Saxony-Anhalt) to his place of birth and death in Eisleben, to his days as a student in Erfurt and as a reformer there and in Wittenberg. There was even quotes from the city of Torgau, where protestant history was written, and Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora died in 1552. His quotes are not only categorized based on his stay but also in categories, such as family, pursuit of knowledge, Christian people, work and idleness and on God and the world for each of the respective aforementioned towns. The quotes book is so small, one can carry it with in his backpack and read the quotes while travelling, let alone use it for insurance coverage (that topic will come later).

 

But how useful are the quotes from the book? I took a few excerpts out and categorized them myself to show how Luther interpreted them, connecting them with the current scenery, which from Luther’s perspective would be justified to remind society of how our gifts should be handled with care, the fruits of this world should not be abused, and lastly, how we should respect and love our own neighbors regardless of their social, cultural and other backgrounds, unconditionally and wholly.

 

So without further ado:

 Love, Marriage and Relationships:

 

This one needs no explanation because of a lengthy column I wrote about on this topic (click here to read). But to sum up, Luther was against impure relationships for it would otherwise hurt the natural settings, which to a certain degree is justified, but in today’s standards, the choice of who to love lies solely on the person.  But here are a few worth mulling. The third one is so true, which led to my wife and daughter, the latter we are teaching the fruits of life so she can carry it on for future generations.

 

If anyone is about to marry, let him not ask after the woman’s father but let him ask in what odor the mother is held. Why is this? Because the ale is as good as the barrel smells.

 

Bedding and being bedded- that comes easy, even out of wedlock. But the best of all ways to plight your troth is by children, for they are the finest wool from the sheep.

 

The world cannot do without its women, even if men were to bear the children alone.

 

 

Growing up:

 

For parents who try to force their children to doing things they don’t want to do just because they made mistakes in their lives: Don’t do that. Let them grow to become who they themselves want to be. This is Luther’s reason why:

 

Youth is like the juice of freshly pressed fruit. It will not keep. It has to ferment and brim over.

 

 Judging other people:

 

In this category, I have a nice quote for those who claim to love their neighbors but act differently, which questions otherwise: How can you love your neighbor but judge them too prematurely and not even be there when help is needed? There are a few people on my list who I hope will read this.  Luther has some ways of handling people who are different in some aspects but in the end, they are like us- humans who have just as much right to live here as the people during Luther’s time. Here are his quotes:

 

No man or woman is so evil that in them there is nothing praiseworthy at all.

 

Man is a creature made up of life and death, pleasure and grief, desire and satiety, love and hatred, understanding and folly.

 

Take this as your guide- not to defame your neighbor elsewhere by talking about him, but to warn him in secret, so that he may change for the better.

 

 Education:

 

Education is one commodity which is becoming underappreciated by the year, as institutions are charging more for access, hiring teachers who are not open to different cultures and learning styles, and lastly, becoming so chaotic that even the bottom line slogan for it is clouded. Furthermore, when looking at Betsy DeVos, minister for education in the US, having someone who undermines the basic foundations of the country’s education system in favor of education for the privileged contradicts what Martin Luther had preached for in his 95 Theses: religion, education and the Bible for all and not for the elite. Here are some quotes that support educating the general public, which includes the importance of learning the language:

 

The task and duty of the teacher is this, not only to teach what he knows but also to disprove the teaching of opponents.

 

Without the language we shall never keep the gospel. Languages are the sheath: the gospel, the sword of the spirit, is held in them (….)  If we fail (which God forbid!) in this, paying no heed to the common speech, we shall not only lose the gospel but we shall end by being able to speak and read neither Latin nor German.

 

 Hard Work:

 

Hard Work seems to be another commodity of today’s society that is clouded. Hard work does not constitute 10 days in a sweat shop or manufacturing facility just to earn money and gain physical strength. The psychological aspect has to be included, which means jobs in the administrative section, such as teaching, journalism, etc. can also be included. Man is born to work but also to be proud of his work, as Luther quoted:

 

Hard work makes you healthy and strong

 

There shall be no toleration for feasting day in day out, for dressing in luxury or for lecherous excesses.

 

God wants no lazy idlers, but each should work hard and faithfully, following his calling and fulfilling his office, that God give him blessing and cause him to thrive. Man is born to labor as the birds are born to fly.

 

 

Being Yourself and Succeeding:

 

And lastly, one cannot be onesself with loving onesself for his own work, bringing up matters of concern to the forefront and initiating change to satisfy onesself and others surrounding him. This was the slogan for Martin Luther as he fought to preserve and foster the personal identity of others instead of following the beliefs blindly like a herd of sheep:

 

It is always customary to make out of a little spark a big fire.

 

What is at the end of all laws is love.

 

Be refreshing! Be clear! Be brief!

 

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Genre of the Week: Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp

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This genre of the week looks at a customary that celebrates the initiation of children becoming adults. In Germany, we have what is called Jugendweihe. First established in 1852 by Eduard Balzen, Jugendweihe is mainly a non-Christian event where a child is officially initiated into adulthood come the age of 14 years. Prior to that, the youth can participate in events that focus on history, culture, politics, work, sexuality and independent living, just to name a few. By the time a child reaches the age of 14, celebrations take place, marking the initiation into adulthood; some organized by the Humanist Association of Germany and the Association of Worker Welfare, others by the schools and families. The youth has a first-hand experience at what adult life is like. The only exception is of course, driving. That happens 5-8 years later- much later than the youth in the United States. There, having a driving license and a car at the age of 16 marks the beginning of the stage to adulthood, which ends by drinking legally, five years later.

I kid you not on this one, especially as I’m an American expat! 😉

Jugendweihe runs parallel to its Christian form, known as confirmation. For church-goers in the United States and in some pockets of Germany, confirmation also marks a stage going into adulthood. Yet with confirmation, regardless of which religion, it is the third and final stage in being united with Jesus Christ as well as being part of the religious denomination, after baptism and the first holy communion. It is the first of two graduation ceremonies in America’s schools, where the names are announced and the blessings and sacraments are given. The second is of course, high school graduation, where the diplomas are received and the graduates proceed to move into a new chapter in their lives.

While confirmation usually occurs at a fixed date by the churches of different denominations, Jugendweihe usually occurs at different times between March and June. The dates vary based on the projects and schedules issued by the schools, the aforementioned associations and lastly, the families of the child who is going through the initiation. Still, as a general rule, the age of 14 is the magic number signaling the departure of childhood into adulthood. It is the third most important phase in a child’s life after Zuckertüten Fest and the Graduation from Elementary School going into one of the three forms of high school in Germany.

A while back, I was asked by my students if there is an English equivalent to Jugendweihe. We do but in Christian terms but really, without a name. That is unless you listen to John Mellencamp. 😉

Jack and Diane was produced by the rock singer in 1982, and it focuses on the two main characters growing up in a rural community in America. While they develop differently going from boy and girl to a man and woman, they fight to stay young as long as they can, yet they soon realize that they are becoming adults and pursue their dreams together. The scenes in this video are typical of American culture during that time, yet you can find similar ones in Germany as well, with the discotheks, soccer, hanging out in shopping centers and even biking down trails and bikeways. In either case, this Genre of the Week looks at Jugendweihe from a musician’s point of view. One could go as far as proclaiming Jugendweihe as Jack and Diane Day in English! 😀

Still, I don’t think it would go down that well because of its age and the cultural differences. 😉

Or would it?

You decide as we dedicate this song to the 14-year olds that have celebrated or are about to celebrate Jack and Diane Day.  Enjoy! 😀

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Born in Seymour, Indiana in 1951, John Mellencamp has been coined as one of the 10 best singers/ musicians of all time in the US by many critics and colleagues. Jack and Diane made it to the top and stayed nr. 1 for four weeks in 1982. That and Hurt So Good came from the American Fool soundtrack, which is considered the best of his 23 albums he’s released since 1976. He still resides in Indiana but in Bloomington. You can find him online by clicking here as well as through World Cafe. An interview on how he’s opened up on music and arts with Forbes Magazine can be found here.

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2016 Christmas Market Tour: Glauchau (Saxony)

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While traveling around in Germany at Christmas time, there are two key rules to keep in mind:

  1. Take the best train offer that will get you around in a German state for a full day and
  2. If you miss a connection or the trains are not going, put some time aside in a town you’re stranded in and take a look around.

Especially for Christmas markets in a small town like Glauchau (Saxony), by taking the second option, most times you will be in for a pleasant surprise. 🙂

Located just outside the Erzgebirge Region in western Saxony, Glauchau belongs to the Aue Region, where not only are there towns with the suffix ending of “-au” but their origin means island surrounded by river or wetlands. Other nearby towns belonging to this region include Werdau, Crimmitschau, Aue and neighboring Zwickau, but also other towns, like Meerane, Gössnitz, Mosel and Neukirchen, all of which are situated along rivers and in wetlands surrounding bodies of water. In Glauchau’s case, the city of 24,000 residents is located on the Zwickauer Mulde River, which is divided into one going through the city and a diversion bypassing the city to the west. In addition, the river feeds off a Lake (Gründelsee) near the castle, and the Glauchau Reservoir which is in the outskirts on the south end.

Glauchau’s topography is unique for even though much of the predominantly agricultural community straddles the Mulde River and is located in the valley, much of its commerce and key historic places are on the hill in the highest elevation on the east side of the valley. Much of that has to do with the founding of the city in the Middle Ages, where two sets of castles were built on the hill overlooking the river and regions to the south, and the only ways into the city was through the walled gates and several key bridges spanning deep valleys from the north end as well as one bridge on the south end. A guide on the city’s bridges can be found here.  The north entrance from the train station still exists today as Leipziger Strasse and after crossing three valley crossings, one will enter the shopping scene, as shown in the picture above.  With a half hour of free time before my next train, I decided to have a look at the city’s Christmas market to see what it has to offer.

To start off with the market, Glauchau has its market during the first or second Advent only. The reason behind it is not because of the town’s population but also competing schedules involving markets in other neighboring communities, like Waldenburg, Hohenstein-Ernstthal, Werdau and Crimmitschau. It is also sandwiched between two bigger cities, whose Christmas markets attract a larger crowd and are held during the holiday season: Chemnitz and Zwickau.  Also behind the reason is the shopping one will find in the “Shopping Mile”, a pedestrian plaza along Leipziger Strasse, which used to be a thoroughfare for cars until a couple years ago. Many small shops selling clothing, food and other supplies can be found there as one walks toward the first part of the Christmas market, which is…..

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The Market Square:

Unlike other Christmas markets seen so far on tour, Glauchau’s market square is not the main attraction during the holiday season. The reason behind this is that this year was the first year the Christmas market expanded to include the market square, given the increase in visitors to Glauchau and the need for space so that other merchants can sell their local goods. This was based on a referendum that was taken after the 2015 market, which received an overwhelming yes for the market. In its first year at the market the number of stands that encircle the large Christmas tree is about 10, but given the size of the market square and a stage for performances, it is not surprising that the need to limit the booths at this place was needed to accommodate the crowd during the weekend of the market. However, sometimes it is OK to have booths along the Shopping Mile and the corridor connecting the market square and the next attraction at the market, which is the church. It was seen at some markets including Flensburg, where rows of huts connected the city’s two markets along Roter Strasse.

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St. Georgenkirche:

Going past the city hall overlooking the market square we have the St. Georgenkirche (St. George Evangelical Lutheran Church) on the left side. This tall structure was built in 1728 replacing an earlier church that was destroyed in a fire. It underwent extensive renovations to return it to its original form beginning in 1988, which included the restoration of the building, pipe organ, pews, mural of the Madonna and lastly in 2002, the church bells. The white and gold color of the interior coincide with the white color of the outer siding of the building. But in this church there was a display of Räuchermänner, located along the wall on the right-hand side as one enters the church. Over six dozen different incense smokers, resembling miners, stoves, hunters, and even forest creatures were found encased in glass. There were many that were made by hand and over 80 years old. Others came from the East German times, although Christmas was not celebrated much at all because of the suppression of Christianity by the Communist regime. In fact, Räuchermänner were rare to find in any household during the age of the Cold War and if they exist, they were considered as sacred as Bible itself. Furthermore, information revealed that Räuchermänner were still being made during that time, but were either sold at Intershops or exported to West Germany- a real torture for the East German who prided itself on Christmas products made in the east. One could really sense elation and euphoria once the Wall fell and Germany was reunited because of such tactics like that- all for the purpose of being loyal to Socialism (Hilfe!!!).

Originally I had taken a few pics of the Räuchermänner on display until I was confronted by the church asking if I was working for a professional media outlet. When I mentioned I was an independent columnist doing a tour of the Christmas market, I was told not to post them on my page due to potential copyright issues. I learned that I had to register at the city office days in advance. So much for being a passer-by writer. As I could not post the pics, I hope you can imagine what the display looked like, otherwise the most practical alternative is to see the display itself to get some impressions of your own.

But the church did have a neat manger set with live animals and a few booths selling church-related items for both the church-goer and those interested in Christ or other religions, which best fit the scene with the church in the background. But as a small population goes to a church in Germany, the guess is that a quarter of the people stopped there, while the rest made their way to their final destination, which was…….

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Museumsschloss (Glauchau Castle Complex):  

Leaving the church ground and going 300 meters west, one will cross a bridge spanning a moat and enter the castle. Consisting of the Fordere and Hintere Schlösser (the western and eastern halves of the castle), the castle complex has been the centerpiece for the Christmas market in Glauchau, having hosted the event since German reunification. All of the eateries and local goods, combined with some Medieval-style entertainment and some amusement can be found in the courtyard. Unlike before the new format, most of the shops and huts were located inside and surrounding the castle. Yet since having expanded the market to include the market square, the castle has much more space, and people can better enjoy food and entertainment without having to fight for a little space, especially at night when the visitors are at their peak and as the temperatures go below zero.

Apart from some ceramics, home-grown honey and local spiced wine, I had an opportunity to try Martin Luther liquor from a distillery located in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt. Martin Luther was an avid beer drinker, and even his wife Catherine craft a homemade beer for him as he was spreading the 95 Theses throughout the church. The timing of the liquor was perfect as next year will be the 500th anniversary of his work that formed the Lutheran Church. As each of the liquors tasted hearty and sweet at the same time- be it herb or with fruit, then the distillery will hit a grand slam in sales, as hundreds of thousands of people convene on Germany to pay homage to the monk who ran amonk for the good of the people who refuse to be sent to purgatories without indulgences.

Apart from an antique carousel, picnic area and even an ice skating rink outside the castle, the Castle Complex is the main stage for the Christmas market, although because of its increasing size and number of tourists in the region, it is more likely that the market will shift more towards the market square in the next couple of years and even expand further in the future. However, from a columnist’s point of view, in order to avoid having a tsunami rush of people for one weekend, it would make sense to have the market like in Chemnitz and Zwickau- that is for the whole month. Even if the city decided for the market on the weekends during Advent and even Christmas, it would encourage people to plan ahead and choose when to visit Glauchau and when to visit the markets elsewhere. Combine that with a corridor of huts connecting the main areas like in Flensburg, which means huts along the street connecting the Castle Complex, The Church and the Market Square, plus some along the Shopping Mile, the city will have a win-win situation as it will be able to better accommodate tourists, bring in more income and make it more attractive than it is right now. Glauchau’s Christmas market is nice small market that is worth every minute of my thirty-minute tour this time around. However, sometimes more can be done to make it better for the future.

And as I board the train for my nex destination, I leave Glauchau with some impressions of a small agricultural city, priding on religion and culture, but with a potential to become more attractive in the future than it is now. And if you disagree with that, especially when you look at the photo gallery on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page (click here), as well as those taken by the Glauchau City facebook page (click here), then maybe the town is worth your day’s visit so that you can see the impressions yourself. 😉

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The Mulde consists of the Zwickauer Mulde, which flows through Glauchau and the Freiberger Mulde, which is east of Chemnitz. They make a confluence near Grimma and flow northwesterly to Dessau-Rosslau, where it empties into the Elbe River. The river, together with the Pleisse, which flows through Werdau and Crimmitschau, have had a history with flooding the flat plains in the valley, which makes the suffix Aue unique. In Glauchau’s case, a diversion canal was constructed after the flood of 1954 to keep the flow of water away from the city.

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The German Railways (a.k.a. Deutsche Bahn) has a ticket available where you can travel throughout the state for one day. In this case, we have the Sachsenticket. For 23 Euros, you can travel around to as many destinations as you please between 9:00 am and 3:00 am the following day. It is valid for all regional trains as well as local tram and bus services. When travelling in Germany next time and you wish to travel cheaply, look at state ticket options.

 

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500 Years of Luther

Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011
Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011

1517- the year that changed the world and the way we interpret Jesus Christ. It was that year a gifted monk Martin Luther ran amok and presented the 95 thesis to the Roman Catholic Church, accusing them of corruption and taking from the poor to finance their system. With indulgences bought to ensure passage to heaven instead of the pergurtory on one hand and the disadvantaged being written off for Dante’s stew right from birth on, Luther felt that the Church favored the financially rich who were morally weak instead of the poor, many of whom had strong wills and a solid set of values.  Therefore, it was his duty to bring it to the attention of Christ, even if it meant splitting from the Church.

And in what language?  Of course, German.

And in which country did it all happen?  Even if you were not that good in history, you should know this answer……. 😉

Even though we have Lutheran Churches outnumbering the Catholic Church 6:1, many universities named after this key figure and even some of his followers, including his wife Catherine (von Bora), what do we really know about Martin Luther, his relationship with the Church, his establishment of his church (which eventually branched off into Evangelical Lutheran, Calvinist Lutheran, etc.),  and how has it changed over time. Lastly, why use Germany- and in particular, central and eastern parts- as the platform for his teaching and revolution?

Between now and the end of next year, we’ll have a look at the legacy of Martin Luther and his work, looking at key concepts, traditions and other interesting facts that made him famous and keep us talking about him and his works today. It will include interviews with people associated with Luther, including American expatriates who have received their calling to their churches in Germany. Some churches and cities will be mentioned in the series with some points of interest in connection with Luther, including the Christmas markets (some of which have been visited already and others will be profiled).  If you have some topics related to Luther you wish to bring up in this column, please contact Jason Smith at the Files, using the contact form below.

Keeping all this in mind, let’s have a look at this documentary about Luther. Watch it in its entirety and take a look at the following questions:

  1. Describe Luther when he attended the university at the beginning of the story to his role as a revolutionary at the end of the film. How did his character change and why?
  1. What flaws of the Catholic Church were revealed in this film?
  1. Why did Luther leave the Church to start his own religion? What was the reaction of the Church? His father? The university?
  1. Which of the 95 theses were either mentioned in the documentary?
  2. How did Luther meet Catherine?

These questions can be used as a platform for additional activities and discussion. 🙂   Now enjoy the film and the stories of Luther to come in the next year. 🙂

 

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