The Wartburg dominates German culture as much as it commands Eisenach’s skyline. It has its own saint for a start, St Elisabeth, a thirteenth-century Hungarian princess, betrothed to Landgrave Ludwig IV, who renounced courtly splendour to pursue an ascetic life caring for the sick. It was some court to snub, too. At the time Wartburg was considered to be one of the richest arts centres in Europe. The finest troubadour of his generation, Walther von der Vogelweide, clashed with Parsifal author Wolfram von Eschenbach in the celebrated Contest of Minstrels sing-offs; the winner of the six-strong Battle of the Bards met with princely favour, the loser the hangman’s noose.

Arguably, the most significant moment in the Wartburg’s history, though, was the arrival of Martin Luther in May 1521. Excommunicated and declared a heretic for refusing to renounce his doctrine at the Diet of Worms, the renegade priest was kidnapped by order of Saxony Elector Frederick the Wise and protected within the Wartburg’s mighty walls. The former cleanly shaven, tonsured monk remained incognito as bearded, tousle-haired Junker Jörg (Squire George) while he toiled for fourteen months over the first translation of the New Testament from Greek into the vernacular. For German Protestants that makes the Wartburg a holy of holies. For everyone else, Luther simultaneously propelled German into a modern language.

On October 18, 1817, five hundred students from eleven German universities met to celebrate a Wartburgfest. The jollies morphed into a rallying call for unity delivered to a nation of petty fiefdoms, and the first demand for democratic rights delivered to its ducal rulers. And when students of Jena university hoisted their fraternity flag above the fireplace, Germany found the black, red and gold colours for its future national flag. A darker upshot was that the Nazis cited as an inspiration their book-burning of Napoleonic works.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Germany features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Get on board: the 5 best European river cruises

Get on board: the 5 best European river cruises

Among a certain segment of travellers, cruising is sometimes maligned: the dismal buffet and watered-down cocktails. Those kitschy lounge acts. The contrived sh…

29 Mar 2016 • AnneLise Sorensen insert_drive_file Article
10 of the best European city breaks

10 of the best European city breaks

In this article sponsored by Scenic Australia, Emma Gibbs picks 10 of the best city breaks across Europe. Europe is so crammed full of fascinating, vibrant c…

01 Dec 2015 • Emma Gibbs insert_drive_file Article
Discover Berlin's biggest bathtub: the Baltic Sea

Discover Berlin's biggest bathtub: the Baltic Sea

Carved balconies like lace, swaggering villas in spacious gardens and an absurdly long pier. Who would have expected “Herring Village” to be so glitzy? I…

08 Oct 2015 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month