Wittenberg is a small East German town quite close to Berlin. It's most famous, of course, as being the place where Martin Luther, according to legend, nailed his 95 Theses (g) to the door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church). Wittenberg was a university town before that, and remained one for generations. Many of the houses in the city center bear large white plaques with the names of famous scholars who lived or taught there. Wittenberg University has now been absorbed into the Martin Luther University of Wittenberg-Halle (g), and, judging by the how utterly mouse-dead it was on a Saturday night (to Englishize a German expression), all of the student life seems to have decamped for Halle.
The town apparently built a shiny new visitors' center after the Wall fell, anticipating an influx of protestant tourists which doesn't seem to have materialized. Wittenberg is nevertheless filled with Reformation-related museums and Luther-kitsch. You can visit the permanent exhibition on Luther's life, and the house where his colleague, Philip Melancthon, lived and worked (Melancthon's original name was Schwartzerdt, or 'black earth', he later 'grecianized' it into Melanchthon). Local stores sell 'Luther Burps' schnapps, Luther beer, and Luther bread. As you see in the slideshow, you can even get 'lutheran food' in Wittenberg (bland and rigid?). Martin Luther marital aids are apparently so common that we saw one discarded near a construction site.
What's odd about Wittenberg is the cheek-by-jowl juxtapositions in the city center. You'll pass a row of trendy shops in carefully-restored buildings, and then encounter an abandoned, boarded-up hulk. A faded legend identifies the building as a former soap store or brewhouse, but the bottom floor is now encrusted with tattered posters, and the windows on the upper floors are shattered. The alleys and courtyards around these buildings offer numerous poignant still-lives of decay and abandonment. One building featured an impressive set of deer antlers nailed atop an ancient-looking carved-wood deer head, presumably the former emblem of a pub, or taxidermist or hunting shop.
Signs of East German material culture, such as Barkas trucks (g) (the 'Mercedes of East Germany', the owner proudly informed us) and typical elongated-oval streetlamps, are everywhere. Not to mention the 'Kramladen' (junk store) that offered 'Soviet childrens' gas masks' and displayed an Obama 'yes we can' T-shirt with a gun muzzle pointing at it. The local Sparkasse Bank was recently vandalized, leaving an oddly beautiful pattern of fracture planes in the front windows. Graffiti was everywhere, much of it of thoughtful or enigmatic.
Overall, Wittenberg left a somewhat somber and desolate impression, despite the fine churches and friendly people. Perhaps it's more inviting in the summer…