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Germany’s Hamburg and the Luther Trail


Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more
of the best of Europe. This time we’re enjoying
some under-appreciated corners of Germany,
both old and new. It’s Hamburg
and a whole lot more. Thanks for joining us. Germany is Europe’s
leading country in many ways. It dominates
Europe’s economy today and has long had a huge impact
on events shaping the continent. We’ll see that
by exploring Hamburg, its mighty port city, and then heading south to the stomping grounds
of a single monk who, 500 years ago,
changed the world. After enjoying Hamburg’s
inviting parks and lakes we’ll see how
its architecture ranges from some of Hitler’s left over
giant concrete bunkers to cutting-edge
modern buildings. We’ll explore a vibrant
counter-culture neighborhood. And, after marveling at
Hamburg’s vast warehouse district, we’ll take the best harbor tour
in Europe, sailing under its
striking new skyline capped by a towering
new concert hall. Then we’ll delve
into the places where Martin Luther kicked off
the Reformation 500 years ago, from the city
where he preached and taught to the castle in which he hid
out from the Holy Roman Emperor. We’ll learn about the chaos
he triggered along with the progress. Finally, for a contrast to all
that stern Protestantism, we’ll visit exuberantly
Catholic ürzburg and admire the elegance
of its Residenz, the palace of the prince
bishops of Franconia. In the heart of northern
Europe lies Germany. After touring Hamburg,
we head south to the Luther cities
of Wittenberg and Erfurt, and finish in ürzburg. Hamburg is Germany’s
second-largest city. Like other
“second cities” — Chicago, Glasgow,
St. Petersburg — it has a spirited pride. While yet to be discovered
by American travelers, it’s a popular destination
with Germans for its music, theater, and river-side energy. A century ago, Hamburg’s port was the third-largest
in the world, with strong connections
both east and west. Heavy damage in World War II devastated
its commercial center. During the Cold War
which followed, trade to the east was cut off. Port traffic dwindled,
and so did the city’s influence. But Hamburg’s been
enthusiastically rebuilt and, since the reunification
of Germany just a generation ago, it’s gaining back
its former status as a leading trade center. And it’s become one of Germany’s
most desirable places to live. The city’s delightful lakes
were created in the Middle Ages when townsfolk built a mill
that dammed the local river. Back in the 1950s, a law guaranteed
public access to the lake for everyone,
and today, peaceful paths and bike lanes
are a hit with locals. On a nice day, the lake
is dotted with sailboats. On the far side,
lush inlets reach into fancy residential neighborhoods. Along with plenty
of downtown parkland, the lakes provide Hamburg —
one of Germany’s greenest cities —
with an elegant promenade that comes complete with
top-of-the-line shops. Just a block away,
its massive city hall, built in the 19th century,
overlooks the lively scene. It’s flanked by graceful arcades and surrounded by
plenty of commerce. Its bold architecture
and maritime atmosphere gives this northern-most
Germany city an almost Scandinavian feel. With its trading heritage
and a strong economy, Hamburg’s downtown
showcases a wealthy city that rose like a phoenix
from a terrible recent past. You’d hardly know
that this was one of the most heavily bombed cities
in Germany in World War II. With its strategic port,
munitions factories, and transportation links, Hamburg was a prime target
for Allied bombers. American and British commanders
had an innovative plan with a horrific goal. Its name? Operation Gomorrah. On July 27, 1943,
they hit targets first with explosive bombs
to open roofs, break water mains,
and tear up streets. The purpose? To make it hard
for firefighters to respond. Then came a hellish onslaught
of incendiary bombs. -And the city of Hamburg…
-700 bombers concentrated their attack on
a relatively small area. The result was a firestorm
never seen before. The intensity of the bombs
actually created a tornado of raging flames
reaching horrific temperatures. Thousands suffocated inside
their air-raid shelters and those outside were
sucked off their feet, disappearing up into
the fiery vortex. In three hours, the inferno
killed over 35,000 people, left hundreds
of thousands homeless, and reduced eight square miles
of Hamburg to rubble and ashes. Somehow the towering spire
of St. Nicholas Church survived the bombing. It and the ruins
of the church itself are now a memorial,
left to commemorate those lost and to remind future generations
of the horrors of war. Where the original altar
once stood is now a simple yet poignant concrete
altar by Oskar Kokoschka. The memorial’s
underground museum quietly tells the story. You’ll see scorched
and melted fragments demonstrating the heat
of the firestorm and examples of the futility of trying to survive
such a bombing. The museum also shows
foreign cities that Germany destroyed. That’s because
Germans make a point to acknowledge the suffering
they inflicted on others when remembering
their own suffering. Though Hamburg
is mostly rebuilt, many World War II-era bunkers
were just too solid to destroy, so they survive, incorporated into today’s
contemporary scene. This mammoth structure
has 10-foot thick reinforced concrete walls. With windows cut
through the concrete, it’s surprisingly inviting. While once hosting gunners trying to shoot down
Allied planes, today,
bomb-hardened staircases lead to music shops
and dance clubs. [ Drumming ] And drummers here will
never draw complaints from their neighbors. Nearby, another bunker — this one with
colorful graffiti — is now a climbing wall
in a pleasant neighborhood park. While Germany is known
for its order and efficiency, that social conformity comes
with a flip side — neighborhoods well-known for
their energetic counter culture. Hamburg’s trendy
Schanze quarter offers a breath of fresh
cultural air. A popular neighborhood,
it has so many cafés, its main street is nicknamed
“Latte Macchiato Boulevard.” This fun-loving edge
is nothing new to Hamburg. Nearby, Hamburg’s
Reeperbahn neighborhood has long been Germany’s most famous
entertainment zone. It gained notoriety as a rough
and sleazy sailors’ quarter filled with
nightclubs and brothels. But, as the city’s changed, so has its
entertainment district. In one generation,
the Reeperbahn has earned a new, more respectable image —
a destination for theater and live music. Today, this street,
where the Beatles launched their careers
back in 1960, is a fun scene
lined with playhouses. Considered the Broadway
of Germany for its many musicals, the boulevard
attracts theater-goers from all over the country. Hamburg, 60 miles
from the North Sea on the Elbe River,
has long been a vital port. Its waterfront is designed to accommodate
the Elbe’s 13-foot tides. And, in anticipation
of a rising sea level and potentially
devastating storm surges, miles of embankments
have recently been fortified. Along with making
the city safer, this stretch comes
with a design element that gives Hamburg
a delightful new park-like stretch
of harbor front. Long a busy ferry terminal,
this floating dock is now a thriving tourist zone. From here, with the aroma
of pickled herring and French fries,
you can enjoy the harbor and the energy
of the city’s port. For German Americans,
Hamburg has a special meaning, because their ancestors
likely sailed from this harbor. Between 1850 and 1930,
millions of Germans emigrated to the United States
from right here. The port has always been
a central feature of Hamburg. It evolves and grows
with the city’s needs and with changes
in shipping technology. The vast Speicherstadt,
or “Warehouse City,” was originally
a seemingly endless grid of riverside warehouses. Today, these buildings,
once filled with cotton, rubber, and tobacco,
house engaging museums, offices,
and hip restaurants. While those venerable warehouses
survived, much of Hamburg’s
old port was abandoned when the shipping industry
moved to a larger and more modern port nearby. Then, a generation ago,
the city realized that what had become a derelict
industrial wasteland was potentially
prime real estate. The result, HafenCity, a huge
urban development project. With this new green
and integrated urban center, downtown Hamburg became
about 40 percent bigger, and once again,
the city faces its river. The re-energized district
seems a city in itself, mixing its maritime heritage with striking modern
architecture. Worked into the plan
are both high-end condos and affordable
subsidized housing. Hamburg has created a healthy
mix of business, culture, and leisure — convenient for
the modern citizen without a car. Today, city planners
from around Europe look to Hamburg for inspiration in designing integrated
urban centers. The centerpiece of HafenCity
is the striking Elbphilharmonie,
a combination concert hall, public plaza, hotel,
and apartment complex. Its daring design
and huge size fit in well with the massive scale
of the surrounding port. And, when approached by water, it resembles the looming prow
of the steamer ships that first put Hamburg
on the world map. An unforgettable capper
to a Hamburg visit is its harbor tour,
the best of its kind in Europe. You’ll see plenty of Hamburg’s
bold new architecture as well as its
more-established beach communities
lined with mansions. But mostly,
the hour-long cruise gets you up close to Hamburg’s
shipping industry — all those enormous
container ships, towering cranes,
and dry docks. Accommodating
12,000 vessels a year, it’s Europe’s second-busiest
harbor and earns the tag-line “Europe’s gateway to the world and the world’s
gateway to Europe.” Germany is compact, with
an impressive infrastructure. Within a few hours,
we’re in eastern Germany and Martin Luther country. In 1517, a German monk
Martin Luther was a professor here in the
university town of Wittenberg. As professors
routinely did back then, he tacked some points
for discussion on the door of the church, which served as a kind of
a bulletin board for the university community. These 95 points,
questioning practices of the Roman Catholic Church, kicked off
more than a discussion. They kicked off
the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther unleashed
a world of change. The Reformation was a political
and theological storm that divided Christendom
in western Europe into Roman Catholics
and Protestants. It ignited a century
of religious wars, and, along with the humanism
of the Renaissance, it helped bring
Western civilization out of the Middle Ages
and into the modern world. 2017 marked the
500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and eastern Germany is famous
for its Lutherstadts, or “Luther cities,”
and sights associated with that tumultuous time. The three most interesting
Reformation stops are Erfurt, where Luther studied
and first became a monk, Wartburg, the castle
where he famously hid out and translated
the Bible into German, and Wittenberg,
where he taught, preached, and led the Reformation. Luther went to law school
here in Erfurt, and today, this half-timbered
medieval town, with a shallow river gurgling
through its center, remains a charming destination that Luther himself
would recognize. Erfurt’s atmospheric
Merchants’ Bridge is lined with shops and homes. Then as now, merchants live
upstairs above their shops. This is the land
of fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm,
fine woodcarvers and fanciful puppets. You can peek into the workshop
of Martin Gobsch. Observe him at work. And don’t leave
without popping a coin into his tiny theater. The evil queen welcomes you into
the dreamy world of Snow White. Separate vignettes
tell the story. It all leads
to the happy ending when the charming prince
whisks Snow White away. Back in 1505,
as a young student, Martin Luther became a monk in Erfurt’s Augustinian
monastery. In this church
he gave his first mass. Its little museum
includes Luther artifacts and the simple cell
where the novice monk lived. Little did they know
that this humble novice would change the course
of European history. Nearby is Wittenberg. Around 1500, the local ruler,
Frederick the Wise, was establishing
the town as his capital. He invited young Martin Luther to join the faculty
of his university. The main square is dominated
by its town hall and a statue remembering
the “Great Reformer.” Wittenberg’s top sight
is the Lutherhaus, where Luther lived. Today it’s an excellent museum
displaying original artifacts — the pulpit from which
Luther preached, portraits of Luther
and the other reformers, and the Bible Luther
boldly translated from Latin into the people’s language. 500 years ago,
the selling of forgiveness and church corruption stoked public discontent
with the Roman Church, which led to
the Reformation. This is a letter
of indulgence, one of countless fund-raising
coupons the Church issued. These were sold to the faithful
for religious favors such as reducing time for
dead loved ones in purgatory. Their money would fill
boxes like this and eventually ended up
in Rome to fund the pope’s lavish world. Corruption like this
inspired Luther to confront the Church. And it was the invention
of the printing press with movable type by Gutenberg
in the same generation that enabled reformers like Luther
to spread their ideas. Luther wrote in
the people’s language and sold more than a quarter
million booklets like these. Like social media empowers
popular movements today, Luther’s pamphlets went viral. He was the bestselling German
writer of the 16th century. The Wartburg Castle
is a popular stop on the Luther trail. When Luther spoke out
against Church corruption, he was declared an outlaw
and needed to run for his life. A sympathetic German prince
gave him refuge. Disguised and under a fake name, Luther hid out here
in this castle. The actions of this
solitary monk brought far-reaching changes. Believing that everyone
should be able to read the word of God, Luther began the daunting
and dangerous task of translating
the New Testament from the original
Ancient Greek into German. He used simplified language, as he said, “like a mother
talking to her children.” Just as the King James version of the Bible did for English,
Luther’s translation helped to establish
a standard German language that’s used to this day. Luther’s translation brought
the Bible to the masses. As Germans actually
read the Bible, they saw, as Luther had,
that there was no mention of indulgences, purgatory,
or even a pope. Just as the Church had feared, this further fanned
the fires of reform. This part of Germany
was ground zero for the century
of religious wars Luther’s reforms
unwittingly unleashed. A vivid portrayal
of that tumultuous time with a intriguing
communist twist can be seen above the town
of Bad Frankenhausen. It’s a huge 360 degree panoramic
painting commissioned in the 1980s by the communist
East German government. The Peasant’s War Panorama,
400 feet around, was painted
as communist propaganda. It remembers the 6,000 peasants who were slaughtered
in a single battle. Armed with little
more than shovels, they rose up against the Church and the ruling class
during the Reformation. The detail is vivid. Using this popular
revolt 500 years ago, it hammers home a familiar theme
during the Cold War. Whether 16th century peasants or 20th century workers,
the people’s struggle is long and ongoing. The panorama portrays more
than just a horrible battle. It represents
the bloody transition between the medieval
and the modern worlds. At the base gather 20
great humanists, change agents at the end
of the Middle Ages — Luther, Erasmus,
Copernicus, Columbus, and more. Above them rages
the colossal battle under a rainbow,
imperial troops on the left, doomed rabble on the right. Nearby,
an aristocratic couple dances before a gallows. The message?
The elites continue to win. Until German unification
in the late 1800s, Germany was fragmented, a collection
of small independent states. After the Reformation, those in the north
ended up Lutheran or Protestant and those in the south
remained Roman Catholic. A few hours south
of Luther country takes us across
that religious divide and into the enthusiastically
Catholic region of Franconia and its capital city, ürzburg. ürzburg is surrounded
by vineyards and straddles
the Main River. Like so many German cities, it was devastated by
World War II bombs. But, while cities like Hamburg
and Frankfurt rebuilt on a modern grid plan, ürzburg recreated its charm by rebuilding according
to its original layout. The marketplace
is an inviting scene. Its 200-year-old obelisk
features Romantic maidens selling their produce. And to this day, the square
still hosts a charming market. This tourist-friendly town
is easy to navigate by foot or by streetcar. Today, nearly a quarter
of its 130,000 residents are students, making the town
feel young and vibrant. The town bridge,
from the 12th century, is one of Germany’s oldest. Its decorated with statues of ürzburg’s favorite
saints and princes. And it’s busy with people out
and enjoying the moment. Scenes like this are ideal
for connecting with locals. ürzburg was the capital of
the German state of Franconia. In the 1700s, it was ruled
was a prince-bishop. He exercised both secular
and religious authority, and this grand palace
was his home. Opulent as a German Versailles, the prince-bishop’s Residence is
the main attraction of ürzburg. Imagine VIP guests arriving
for lavish parties. Met here by the prince-bishop, they’d glide gracefully up
this elegant stairway, enjoying a grand fresco
as it opens up overhead. Dating from about 1750 and by the Venetian master
Tiepolo, it illustrates
the greatness of Europe with ürzburg at its center. The hero is the esteemed
prince-bishop, honored by a host of Greek
gods affirming his rule. Ringing the room are allegories
of the four continents, each with a woman on an animal and celebrating ürzburg as the center
of the civilized world. America,
desperately uncivilized, sits naked with feathers
in her hair on an alligator among severed heads
and a cannibal barbecue. Africa lounges on a camel in a land of trade
and fantasy animals. Asia rides her elephant
in the birthplace of Christianity,
marked by crosses. Europe is the center
of high culture, and Lady Culture herself
points her brush not at Rome, but at ürzburg. The adjacent Imperial Hall is
a fine example of Baroque — harmony, symmetry,
light, and mirrors. Its ceiling is also by Tiepolo. Typical of the Baroque movement, he was a master of
three-dimensional illusion, and he’d heighten the illusion with some fun tricks. Notice how 3-D legs
and other objects dangle out of the 2-D frame. The art, like nearly
all art of that day, was propaganda,
paid for and serving either the State or the Church. In this case, it’s both. Here, the Holy Roman Emperor
bestows upon the bishop of Franconia
the secular title of prince. The bishop,
now the prince-bishop, touches the emperor’s scepter,
performing an oath of loyalty. From this point onward,
the prince-bishop wears two very powerful
hats at the same time. A string of splendid rooms evolve from fancy Baroque
to fancier Rococo. It all leads to the
18th-century Mirror Cabinet. This was where the prince-bishop
showed off his amazing wealth. It features kilos of gold leaf,
lots of exotic Asian influence, and eye-popping extravagance. As for the commoners, we were finally allowed
inside this glorious palace about two centuries later. I hope you’ve enjoyed
our visit to dynamic Hamburg, the fascinating Luther cities, and ürzburg,
with its Baroque charm. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on travelin’. Auf Wiedersehen. -That what had become
a derelict industrial wasteland was actually prime real estate. [ Laughs ] The prince-bishop’s Residenz is
the main attraction in Hamburg. My name’s Debbie Downer when it comes to
16th-century history. If there’s anybody that can
cheer for the Reformation? Kicked off more than
a conversation. It kicked off
the Protestant Reformation!

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