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River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

Wittenberg’s old market square and the Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther delivered the majority of his sermons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our ship, CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse, sails early in the morning of Day 6 of our Prague-Berlin river cruise for Wittenberg, reaching this historic city, the epicenter of the Reformation lined with noble Renaissance-style houses and a marvelous way of preserving history, in the early afternoon.

Lutherhaus, Martin Luther’s house in Wittenberg is a museum to The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Martin Luther House, which was once an Augustinian monastery and now is the Reformation Museum, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complete surprise – I might even say a revelation. I never expected to be so fascinated, so captivated by the unfolding of Martin Luther’s personal story so vividly depicted in the furnishings, artifacts, portraits and seeing where he actually lived, preserved pretty much as it would have been when he lived here. You begin to appreciate how one man could set a movement of such enormity – the Reformation! – into motion, how a single person could captivate and change the world.

Lutherhaus Martin Luther’s house in Wittenberg is a museum to The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I start off fairly disinterested but as I go through the house – the museum contains 1000 original objects from the Reformation over the centuries to the present including the many publications he put out – the answer comes quickly: the Guttenberg printing press (there is even a replica). You realize that Luther and the Guttenberg printing press were like today’s social media influencers. Indeed, by 1520, Luther had become a media sensation, unlike anything anyone had seen before.

The Reformation was made possible because of Guttenberg’s printing press © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among Luther’s ideas that were heretical to the Catholic Church: Sins cannot be redeemed simply through confession, but faith; he reduced the seven sacraments to two, baptism and holy communion; he called ordination, confession, and last rites as “tricks of priests” to exert power. He called for the abolition of celibacy (and used that as the reason he got married, so he would not be a hypocrite); and said, “A Christian is free, subservient to no one (but subservient to all)” and he called upon the “electors and sovereigns” to implement the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s books and publications are exhibited at Lutherhaus © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the most controversial, which really roiled the entire institution, was the idea you can’t buy redemption with an Indulgence (the next day in a church in Magdeburg, we see the wooden box that would have been used to collect the Indulgences), and that priests can’t rid people of sin,

In June 1520, a Papal Bull accused Luther of 41 errors and gave him 60 days to recant. Instead, he created a media spectacle and burned the papal bull and other items.

Luther basically removed priests as the middle man between a Christian and his faith, and is most famous for translating the Bible into German, to make it more accessible (if I remember correctly, Jesus did the same thing to the priests).

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits of Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luther had been a monk and his wife, Katharina von Bora, a nun, given over to a convent because her family could not afford to support her, lived here for 35 years.

In what would have been their bedroom, we learn that Katarina fled the nunnery to marry Luther. A monk at the time, Luther said he should practice what he preached – abolition of celibacy. There is a wonderful quote from him (just about everything he said was dutifully transcribed by adoring followers) describing the surprising changes in his life after marriage, and the pleasures of being part of a couple. They had six children of whom four survived to adulthood.

Martin Luther’s living room where he would have entertained guests and apostles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also see the living room where he would meet guests, have discussions with adoring followers. It’s like being in “the room where it happened” – where these ideas were formulated, transcribed, transmitted.

A Cranach portrait of Martin Luthern in the very room at Lutherhaus it depicts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The couple became well to do after their marriage. Katarina, who clearly did so much to propel Luther (among the journal accounts is how she poured beer for the guests), farmed, and rented rooms to students.

Having been informed the day before to the importance of artist Lucas Cranach the Elder by my traveling companion, I am alert to seeing several Cranach paintings here, including the first authentic portrait of Luther, several others of Luther, and his monumental panel of 10 Commandments. (The English-language audio tour is invaluable to appreciating what you see.)

An early portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who probably had as much to do with the success of The Reformation as Luther himself © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At this point, I am admiring of Luther and how he democratized religion, breaking the theocratic authority of the Pope and priests. But I later learn that in two of his later works, Luther expressed violent antisemitic views and called for the burning of synagogues and expulsion of Jews (I wonder if Luther regarded Judaism as a rival for worshippers.)

Martin Luther’s writings were beautifully decorated and published by Lucas Cranach the Elder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luther wrote of a sculpture depicting an antisemitic scene, “Here in Wittenberg, in our parish church,” Luther wrote, “there is a sow carved into the stone under which lie young pigs and Jews who are sucking; behind the sow stands a rabbi who is lifting up the right leg of the sow, raises behind the sow, bows down and looks with great effort into the Talmud under the sow, as if he wanted to read and see something most difficult and exceptional; no doubt they gained their Schem Hamphoras from that place.” The inscription “Rabini Schem HaMphoras” was installed above the sculpture 27 years later, in Luther’s honor.

My traveling companion on the ship – who is from Munich – has told me to look for the sculpture in the church which I assume (incorrectly) is the Castle Church where Luther posted his Theses.

I still have about an hour to explore Wittenberg on my own (the rest of our group are all French-speaking and led by a guide) – really not enough time. I would have loved to have the whole afternoon to wander. But, armed with an excellent map that pinpoints 36 important sites, I set out with an aim of finding the church and the sculpture.

Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s, was where Luther delivered most of his sermons and is the site of the first celebration of Mass in German instead of Latin. A statue of Martin Luther is in the square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I head to the old market square and the Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther delivered most of his sermons, and is the site of the first celebration of Mass in German instead of Latin. Wittenberg in general—and the Stadtkirche in particular—is considered the heart of the Protestant Reformation. There is a statue of Luther outside.

But on the map, behind the church, I see a street name, Judenstrasse (Jew Street) that suggests the Jewish Quarter would have been right here.

I later learn (from an article in Smithsonian, “Hatred in Plain Sight”)  that around the back of the Stadtkirche set into the facade is the carved sandstone sculpture depicting a rabbi lifts the tail of a pig to look for his Talmud that Luther referred to, that I was looking for.

“The sandstone sculpture is a once-common form of medieval iconography called a “Judensau,” or’Jew’s pig.’ Its existence predates the Nazi period by nearly 700 years. Sculptures of Jews and pigs started appearing in architecture in the 1300s, and the printing press carried on the motif in everything from books to playing cards well into the modern period,” Carol Schaeffer writes in the Smithsonian. “Today, more than 20 Judensau sculptures are still incorporated into German churches and cathedrals, with a few others in neighboring countries. At least one Judensau—on the wall of a medieval apothecary in Bavaria—was taken down for its offensive nature, but its removal in 1945 is thought to have been ordered by an American soldier. The Judensau in Wittenberg is one of the best preserved—and one of the most visible. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

(Later, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, I see the newly opened exhibit, “The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do,” showing how centuries of culturally-embedded anti-Semitism paved the way for the Holocaust. See: https://goingplacesfarandnear.com/the-holocaust-what-hate-can-do-at-museum-of-jewish-heritage-holds-lessons-warning-for-today/).

There was an effort in Wittenberg to “solve its Judensau conundrum” by turning the site into a Mahnmal – a memorial to the Jewish people.

“After five years of deliberation, those in charge of the project decided that the Judensau would remain—but they would add a memorial to the Jewish people. Unveiled in 1988, it is now installed on the ground in bronze. Two crossing lines are surrounded by text that reads: “The proper name of God, the maligned Schem-ha-mphoras, was held holy by the Jews long before the Christians. Six million Jews died under the sign of a cross.” Alongside those German words is a Hebrew quotation, the beginning of Psalm 130: ‘Out of the depths I cry unto Thee, O Lord’,” Schaeffer writes.

Neither of these are included on the map, and I miss them entirely, thinking that the sculpture is in the Castle Church.

Cranach House is now an art school © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But I do find the Cranach House. I’ve become fascinated with Lucas Cranach who turns out to have been an apothecary as well as important artist whose portraits filled the Luther House, and whose works decorate many church altars (including the one we had just visited in Meissen). You can visit the original apothecary (it’s still a pharmacy), and then go through to a courtyard where the Cranachs would have lived and today there is an art school. He and his son also served as Wittenberg’s burgomaster (mayor).

Lucas Cranach’s famous painting of the 10 Commandments is on view at Lutherhaus © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I later learn how important Lucas Cranach the Elder was in popularizing – spreading – the Reformation. Cranach was the court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, ground zero for the Protestant Reformation. His patrons were powerful supporters of Martin Luther and he embraced the movement, using his art to spread the new faith. Cranach made numerous portraits of Luther – several that we see in the Luther House – and provided woodcut illustrations for Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Cranach became such a close friend of Martin Luther that he was best man at Luther’s wedding and later godfather to his son. At some point, the duke gave Cranach the monopoly for selling medicines at Wittenberg and a printer’s patent with exclusive privileges as to copyright in Bibles. Cranach’s presses were used by Martin Luther. His apothecary shop was open for centuries, and was only lost by fire in 1871.

Cranach’s apothecary is today a pharmacy © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I notice that apartments on the second floor of many buildings through the town have names of their important occupants: Maxim Gorki (1903), Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, German playwright, poet, and philosopher. Jeremias Trautmann, German physician who performed the first completely documented cesarean section, in Wittenberg, Germany, on April 26, 1610.  And very close to the Castle Church, one name really stands out: Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), who lived here in 1852.

Novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe lived here in Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I make it to the famous door of the Castle Church where, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther is said to have posted his 95 Theses, challenging the notion that indulgences can buy salvation, setting off The Reformation.  The old wooden Theses Door was lost when the church was destroyed by fire in 1760. In 1858, King Frederick William IV of Prussia funded the bronze door with the Latin theses.

The Thesis Door at Castle Church where Martin Luther publicized his challenge to the authority of the Church that indulgences can buy salvation, setting off The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I don’t have time to go into the Castle Church (the Elbe Princesse group that was guided did). You can also pay a small fee to climb the tower.

I really would have liked more time to explore Wittenberg, a truly beautiful and well preserved historic village. (You can purchase an audio tour of the sites.)

Wittenberg is an important historic city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get back on the bus and then back on the ship for lunch, and then a relaxing afternoon sailing to Burg. In the evening, we have another marvelous dinner and entertainment. Tomorrow, we discover why Magdeburg is so interesting.

Cruising on the Elbe River on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Burg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, [email protected], www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com.

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

Meissen at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We sail on to Dresden, where CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess is supposed to dock for the night, and we are invited to take a 9 pm walk through Dresden’s historic city center. We are all excited and standing around, when we just sail passed. It seems that the docking spot which is reserved for us was occupied by another ship, and because it is Sunday night, there is nobody to complain to or address the issue. So we sail on to Meissen while the ship’s manager scrambles to arrange for a bus to take us back to Dresden for the morning’s excursion.

Our excursion the next morning is first by bus for an overview and then walking, and between the two, we get to see – from the outside at least – Dresden’s highlights and get a sense of its history, but this is certainly a city that deserves more time and a more immersive experience.

Dresden, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most of Dresden’s city center was destroyed in World War II, but the “suburbs” survived the so-called “moral bombing” in which 25,000 out of a population of 650,000 died. But you would hardly realize it – except that our guide, Alexandr Klein, pulls out black-and-white photos of the destruction so we can compare.

It’s fairly amazing, then, that the bombing could not stamp out Dresden’s extraordinarily rich history, heritage and culture, which in so many instances, have risen literally from ashes. They have restored and reconstructed the architecture, saving the facades where possible and in many cases reusing the stones;.

It was here, August 26-27, 1813 at the Battle of Dresden that Napoleon had his last big victory in Germany. It was fought on the outskirts of the Saxon capital of Dresden, between Napoleon’s 120,000 troops and 170,000 Austrians, Prussians, and Russians under Prince Karl Philipp Schwarzenberg. Alas, victory was short lived – a week later, Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig.

Dresden is a green city with more trees than people © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dresden is a “green city’ boasting more trees (600,000) than humans (550,0000). We drive through an enormous park – like Central Park – where among the sites is the intriguingly named German Hygiene Museum, Europe’s only science museum to focus on the human being and body within the context of the environment and society, culture and science.

We drive by the New Synagogue, built in 2002 to replace the 1840 synagogue designed by the revered architect Gottfried Semper, that was destroyed on Kristalnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938. At its peak, Dresden had 5000 Jews; today there are 700. “Most had escaped before World War II, so we have Jewish life again.” The New Synagogue has Star of David finial from the old synagogue. “A fireman who put out the fire in 1938 saved it, then gave it to survivors after the war.”

Dresden’s New Synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We pass Fletcher street. “The Soviets arrived May 8 1945. 200 soldiers had died in combat; Hitler had already committed suicide. Fletcher took white flag to surrender to the Soviets. The SS shot him in the back. He was martyred,” Klein relates.

Dresden also shows its history under Soviet occupation. There is probably no sight that better encapsulates the Soviet era than “The Red Flag” mural and wall fresco, “Our Socialist Life” on the exterior of the Dresden Kulturpalast. It was the pride of GDR architecture when it opened in 1969 as a “House of Socialist Culture”. Today it is the home of the Dresden Philharmonic.

“Our Socialist Life” mural is a reminder of East Germany’s Soviet era and no doubt figures into Dresden’s support for Ukraine. Today the Kulturpalast is the home of the Dresden Philharmonic © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The revolution against Soviet rule started in Dresden and Leipzig churches in 1989. It was the only successful revolution in German history. Then the Berlin Wall came down a year later.”

Dresden’s experience under Soviet rule no doubt figures into its support today for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A Ukraine aide center in Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get off the bus and start a delightful walking tour through this beautiful city.

We start at Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady. Completed in 1743, the Baroque church was considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. After it was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945, the ruins were catalogued and stored for its reconstruction. 4,000 of the original stones were used in the rebuilding, which began after Germany’s reunification, in 1990 and reopened in 2005. Great Britain, which was responsible for the bomb that had caused so much of the devastation, sent a gold cross to place at the top.

Dresden, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the famous Fürstenzug – the Procession of Princes – a 102-meter-long portrait of the Dukes, Electors, and Kings of the house of Wettin, together with leading German figures from the arts and sciences. Commissioned in 1870, it consists of 25,000 Meissen Porcelain tiles.

Dresden’s famous Fürstenzug – the Procession of Princes – consists of 25,000 Meissen porcelain tiles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our guide, Alexandr Klein, points out Taschenberg Palace, built in the 18th century by the Saxon King, Augustus the Strong for his mistress. (Augustus “had ambitions to be like Henry VII”; a mistress was an actual official position, he tells us). There is a bridge, reminiscent of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, connecting it to the Royal Palace. The original building burned down and was faithfully restored in 1995 and transformed into the luxurious Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski Dresden, owned by the Thai royal family (rooms can cost as much as 10,000E/night). A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2017, it is within the historic city center, steps away from the most renowned sights, such as Semper Opera House, Royal Palace, Zwinger, and the Frauenkirche. (Famous past guests of the Taschenbergpalais include Prince Albert II of Monaco, designer Karl Lagerfeld, and President Jacques Chirac of France, https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-taschenbergpalais-kempinski-dresden)

A bridge connects the Royal Palace to the Taschenberg Palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk along a Tuscan-style arcade with 22 rounded arches leading to the Court Stables.

One of my favorite parts of this delightful walking tour is strolling along Brühl’s Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse), also known as the “Balcony of Europe.” Our guide explains that by the 19th C, Dresden already popular for European tourists. This half-mile long promenade is built on the old city ramparts and was laid out in 1738 as a private garden; it was opened to the public in 1814.

Brühl’s Terrace is also known as the “Balcony of Europe,” a testament Dresden’s popularity with European tourists in the 19th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Klein points to where novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who fought with Americans in World War II, was held as a POW in the slaughterhouse district. He wrote “Slaughterhouse 5,” a science-fiction infused anti-war novel, based on his experience.

Klein leads us to the Zwinger, a magnificent early 18th-century palace and a stunning example of Baroque architecture. Inside is The Old Masters Picture Gallery with 750 paintings from the 15th to 18th centuries, among them Italian Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, Correggio, and Tintoretto, and Dutch and Flemish paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Vermeer.

Semper’s Opera House was reconstructed after World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also worth visiting (we don’t have time) is the Royal Palace, which houses some of Dresden’s most important museums, including the Green Vault and the Numismatic Collection. You can also visit the State Apartment, a suite of rooms that have been faithfully restored to their original condition.

Outside the Zwinger, our guide Alexandr Klein compares to a photo of the scene after being bombed in World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tour gives us an overview, but I wish we had the afternoon to explore on our own.

(You can get a Dresden museum card with gives two days and free admission to the city’s must see museums and exhibitions: Old Masters Picture Gallery with Sculpture Collection until 1800; Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments; Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Porcelain Collection; The Royal State Apartments of August the Strong and the Porcelain Cabinet, Coin Cabinet; New Green Vault; Renaissance Wing; Giant´s Hall of the Armoury; Turkish Chamber; Albertinum with Art from the Romantic Period to the Present Day; Lipsiusbau Exhibition Hall; Museum of Saxon Folk Art and Puppet Theatre Collection; Special Exhibitions in the Japanese Palace; Joseph Hegenbarth Archive; Hausmannsturm, 22E pp).

The market square in Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dresden has managed to reclaim its history, culture and heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meissen: World Famous for Porcelain

We are returned to the ship for lunch, and in the afternoon have a walking tour of Meissen.

Meissen’s Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride an elevator to the hill top, and visit the Cathedral, a three-nave Gothic hall church built between 1260 and 1410 and preserved in its near-original medieval state. We buy a ticket to see inside where there are paintings by the renowned Lucas Cranach., and stained glass windows from the 13th century.

Meissen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk around Albrechsburg, a palace built between 1471 and 1500 by Duke Albrecht of Saxony that dominates the city and the beautiful historic square.

Meissen’s Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After our brief walking tour with our guide, Brigetta, we are taken by bus to the Meissen “manufactory,” where you go room by room to see demonstrations of the remarkable artistry and craftsmanship that goes into making these porcelain treasures.

Seeing the Meissen Porcelain process as it has been for 300 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is remarkable to realize that they have been doing this very same thing for over 300 years, the oldest porcelain manufactory in Europe, founded in 1710 by King Augustus the Strong, who put together a team of physicists, alchemists and metallurgists to come up with the new technology. There’s also a museum with some 2,000 Meissen items.

Seeing the Meissen Porcelain process as it has been for 300 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back on the ship, we sail from Meissen through the late afternoon and overnight to Wittenberg.

We are always a stone’s throw from shore. We sail by people’s backyards and front yards, close enough to exchange greetings. Bicyclists keep pace and even go faster than boat, as they ride along a path beside the water. I see one man on horseback as the sun goes down. The scenery is beautiful, and the cruise so peaceful.

Departing Meissen in the late afternoon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse enroute to Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse enroute to Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dinner this evening is spectacular, beginning with an olive paste on toast, salmon with cheese, filet mignon, goat cheese with salad, raspberry/cream pie.

We cruise overnight to Wittenberg.

Contact CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, [email protected], www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected] Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

Konigstein Fortress as seen from CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get our first glimpse of Konigstein Fortress, perched on a 24-acre rock plateau high on a hilltop, 240 meters above the river, as our ship, CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess, sails past. It is formidable. Known as the “Saxon Bastille,” it is Germany’s largest fortifications and one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe. It was never conquered and never invaded (though our guide tells the story of a local teenager who managed to “invade” the fortress by scaling the walls; he was initially taken into custody but released after they could not find a law to charge him with breaking, and he became a local hero).

Konigstein Fortress © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fortress is a complex of more than 50 buildings, some more than 400 years old, including a dramatic medieval castle, with ramparts that run 1,800 meters and walls up to 42 meters high, which for centuries was used as a state prison (political prison). The fortress has been an open-air, military history museum since May 29, 1955, and is now one of Saxony’s foremost tourist attractions, visited by 700,000 a year. ((I keep thinking it should have been used in a James Bond movie).

Konigstein Fortress was built to be impregnable and self-sustainable. Built as a refuge, it was mostly used as a state prison and now a museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

100 million years ago, this place would have been at the bottom of the ocean, our guide, Gerold Jahn, tells us. Now, because it is the highest perch, there are lightening conductors everywhere (100 years ago, three tourists were killed by a lightening strike) and there is a safety talk and posters.He takes us to his favorite views of the Elbe Valley and villages well below.

Konigstein Fortress is perched on a 24-acre rock plateau high on a hilltop, 240 meters above the Elbe River © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fortress is a complex of more than 50 buildings, some more than 400 years old, including a dramatic medieval castle, with ramparts that run 1,800 meters and walls up to 42 meters high, which for centuries was used as a state prison (political prison), and is now one of Saxony’s foremost tourist attractions, visited by 700,000 a year. ((I keep thinking it should have been used in a James Bond movie).

View from Konigstein Fortress © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Originally, there was a monastery here, which was closed after Luther’s Reformation. It took 40 years to build the fortress, beginning 1580 until 1620, just after the start of the Thirty Years War (half of all Saxony people died in that war). The fortress was built to be invincible, though in fact, it was not built for defense, but as a refuge for the townspeople, scientists, and government.

Konigstein Fortress was built to be impregnable and self-sustainable. Built as a refuge, it was mostly used as a state prison and now a museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It was designed as a refuge (Dresden is 28 km away) to accommodate as many as 4000 people (the fewest number of full time residents is 40, the present number of permanent occupants). Peak occupation was during the Seven Years War, in 1756.

It’s fascinating to see the engineering and architecture that went into Konigstein Fortress. Known as the “Saxon Bastille,” it is Germany’s largest fortifications and one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I find most fascinating is how they solved all the problems – water, food and sanitation – to make this place totally self-sufficient (not just impenetrable). The secret to its steady supply of water is a 152.5 meter deep well, which is the deepest in Saxony and second deepest well in Europe – and the key to how this fortress was made to withstand any kind of siege. We get to see how it was built by local miners over a four-year period. The well is fed by rain that filters through the soil over a period of 6 to 7 months (they calculated) and naturally refills and could not be poisoned by an enemy. They devised a system to a 130-liter barrel into the well to collect the water.

Also, every household had a patch of land and was expected to cultivate their own food. The fort has a self-sufficient town with its own butcher, bakery, brewery, hospital and treasury. Even today, young children attend school at the fortress and older ones are picked up by bus.

The fortress was used to protect the Saxon state reserves and secret archives during times of war. In 1756 and 1813 and during World War II, Dresden’s art treasures were also stored at the Königstein.

Konigstein Fortress was built to be impregnable and self-sustainable. Built as a refuge, it was mostly used as a state prison and now a museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Its main function since the 17th century was as a prison. Some of the more notable prisoners incarcerated at Königstein (likely after secret trial) include: the Crypto-Calvinists, including Caspar Peucer (1574–86) and Nikolaus Krell (1591–1601), chancellor of the Electorate of Saxony; Johann Friedrich Böttger (1706–1707), co-discoverer with Tschirnhaus of European porcelain; Count Karl Heinrich von Hoym (1734–1736), cabinet minister of the Electorate of Saxony; committed suicide in his cell; Mikhail Bakunin (1849–1850), Russian anarchist and revolutionary; Thomas Theodor Heine (1899), caricaturist and artist and Frank Wedekind (1899–1900), writer and dramatist.

The fortress was never bombed during World War II, even though nearby Dresden was famously destroyed, That is because it was known not to be a military base but rather, American, French and Polish POWs (mainly officers) were kept here. “They were kept in very humane conditions – one day a week they could leave to hike,” Gerold tells us.

The fortress was considered impregnable – “The only way prisoners left was when their dead bodies were thrown over the wall” – but there is a famous legend of the daring escape of a French general Henri Giraud, who was kept here 1940-1942.

Konigstein Fortress is a complex of more than 50 buildings, some more than 400 years old, including a dramatic medieval castle, with ramparts that run 1,800 meters and walls up to 42 meters high © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We never knew how it happened. One theory was that he was smuggled little pieces of rope that he joined together until he had 45 meters, repelled down, and that a special agent met him at the bottom with clothes, false passport and he escaped to Switzerland. Another theory is that he had inside help and the Germans wanted him to escape because Giraud was an enemy of DeGaulle and if was free, there would dissention. The French claim it was Resistance who helped him. But after only two years, he died in airplane crash in North Africa.” (I’m thinking, murder???? What a film!)

In May 1945, the 20 soldiers (more like police) here waved a white flag to welcome the Russians. “They came with art experts. The Soviets confiscated the art, but when Stalin died in 1953 and Khruschev wanted to have détente, they and gave back the art.”

“It is a masterpiece of engineering, of architecture,” Gerold, who has a background in civil engineering, tells us.

I am grateful that we have about 40 minutes to explore on our own, and I go into a marvelous exhibit about the history of this place and this area housed within the castle (a treat to see inside).

We walk down from castle the through the four gates (coming up, we used the modern elevator). Really wonderful.

Back on the ship, we sail on to Dresden.

Scenic views as we sail on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Bastei Rocks formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Germany © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
We get a view of Bastei Bridge from the Elbe Princess as we cruise on the Elbe River to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenic views as we sail on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenic views as we sail on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Contact CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, [email protected], www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

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