Walking through the old town of Zwickau and following the footsteps of Luther

Do not underestimate the importance of the Reformation for Central Germany; for sure history would have run a different course without those early humanist and reformist tendencies.

For Zwickau, that is reason enough to dedicate a special sightseeing tour to those events 500 years ago. This tour is also an appealing possibility to go on the Luther Trail through Saxony.

You might start this walk at any point, for example at the main market. It is said that in spring 1522 Martin Luther gave a sermon standing on an open window of the town hall while 14 000 people from Zwickau and its surroundings listened to him. Just to the right of the town hall, at the intersection with Innere Schneeberger Strasse, you may find Zwickau’s narrowest house — the so-called ‘Handtuch’ (which means towel). It was built by Stephan Roth, citizen of Zwickau and later on becoming town clerk, in 1534. Until the dispute about the right to solely appoint parsons and preachers Roth and Luther were friends and stood in close contact; Roth also lived in Wittenberg for a while.

When you leave the main market and turn towards the riverside of the ‘Mulde’ you reach a bridge, the so-called ‚Paradiesbrücke’. At the time of Martin Luther a wooden bridge supposedly crossed the river at this point. It is said that the Reformer saved himself from angry Franciscan monks by running over this bridge and seeking protection in a tavern at the end of this bridge. When entering the tavern he is claimed to have said the following words: “Thank God that he made me find this house. For truly I say: this is my paradise!” From this point of time the tavern was called ‘Zum Paradies’; however, it does not exist anymore. Following the ‘Mulde’ down the river you reach St. Catherine’s and Osterstein Castle just after a few minutes. Thomas Müntzer preached at St. Catherine’s until he was dismissed by the town council; it was this parish where the Reformation actually started in Zwickau. This building, firstly mentioned in 1219, served as castle and town church. It is characterized by its modification to a late-Gothic hall church. However, the whole church was built over a long period of time from the 12th until the 19th century. Particularly important is the altar, created by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Starting at St. Catherine’s and strolling through the old town you reach the city center with the Domhof within a few minutes. This is one of the most important places regarding the Reformation in Zwickau. Here three contemporary witnesses are waiting for you: St. Mary, the Priesterhäuser and the Galerie am Domhof an art Gallery. The gallery is located in the same place where the Zwickau Latin School was once located.

The Latin school was firstly mentioned in 1383. The school building at the Domhof was built by Martin Römer, a wealthy citizen and later on ‘Amtshauptmann’ (district administrator) of Zwickau, in 1479. Leading personalities such as Georgius Agricola, Stephan Roth, Leonhardt Natter etc. worked here during the 16th century. All of them stood in close contact with Martin Luther and his fellow reformers. This school enjoyed an excellent reputation far beyond the borders of Zwickau.

In the 19th century this school formed the basis for the ‘Realgymnasium’, a modern secondary school.

A few minutes out of the city center the visitor may find two further churches, St. Maurice and Luther. Although both are not directly linked to the Reformation, they give witness to the Protestant parishes which could be established in Zwickau later on.

Besides the Kunstsammlungen Zwickau Max Pechstein Museum, the Zwickau city archive and the ‘Ratsschulbibliothek’ as the oldest public research library of Saxony are keeping precious treasures of those early days. Among them a huge collection of local religious art including works of Peter Breuer (1472-1541) — a famous woodcarver — or letters from Luther, the salary receipt of Thomas Müntzer or precious bibles of that time. In total 16 original sites invite you to experience vivid history giving you a great impression of Zwickau’s old town as well as an insight into the historical context of those days.