By J. Bradley Creed, President
The last time I stood before the statue of Martin Luther, he was decorated with an unsightly patina of green streaks and pigeon droppings. The only inhabitants of the city who seemed to notice him were the birds who found on his broad, bronze shoulders a convenient perch.
Martin Luther had been neglected in effigy and historical memory by the German Democratic Republic. Over three decades ago, I visited this city of Eisenach, then impounded behind the Iron Curtain. From the appearance of the statue, I surmised little had been done since the victors of World War 2 divided the spoils of battle into the bi-polarities of East and West. The two dominant colors of the cityscape were gray and dark gray. No window boxes blossoming with bright geraniums. No smiling faces or eye contact from passersby. No Struessel, Stollen or Lebkuchen in bakery display windows. No sounds of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms anywhere.
Thirty-five years later on that same spot, Luther was looking good, all dressed up for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a commemoration which drew millions from around the world, including 20 people from Campbell University. “Martin Luther and the Reformation Christmas Tour of Germany,” was the first Campbell Passport trip offered by Campbell in over 20 years.
The refurbished statue of Luther, standing proudly in the city square across from our hotel, was the centerpiece of Eisenach, where Luther attended Latin School as a youth. In the nearby Wartburg Castle in 1521, he translated the Greek New Testament into the German vernacular. Eisenach is also the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach, and our group visited the Bach House where we enjoyed a mini-concert of the composer’s music played on original baroque instruments. Other stops on the tour included Frankfurt, Mainz, Erfurt, Eisleben, Leipzig, Wittenberg and Berlin.
Leipzig was an especially memorable stop on the tour. It has the best Christmas market of any we visited and is rich in history; having been a crossroads of commerce, culture and conflict through the centuries. Within a few city blocks, we walked through half of a millennium of epochal history.
Leipzig was the location of one of Luther’s most consequential theological debates in 1519, and was the place where Bach made his greatest contributions as a composer and musician while serving as the organist and Kappelmeister at the St. Thomas Church. In the 800-year-old Nicolaikirche located in the city center, hopeful people gathered in the autumn of 1989 to launch the Velvet Revolution. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I was resigned to the inevitability of the Cold War. It was inconceivable that the iron fist of Soviet-style Communism could be unclenched or that people under its grip would know anything but a dystopian future, but here in Leipzig, prayers and peaceful protests were the first salvo that brought the wall down.
Within one small sector of a German city, we Campbell travelers contemplated monumental shifts sparked by small catalysts of faith altering the course of civilization: a praying monk named Martin who finds forgiveness and peace with God; a musical genius who writes on the pages of his compositions, Soli Deo Gloria — for the Glory of God Alone; residents who took to the streets under the banner “We Are the People” and brought a totalitarian regime to its knees without a drop of blood being shed.
These are events you can read about in a book, but there is no substitute for educational travel in gaining insight into the dynamics of history and culture. What we travelers witnessed and shared are the kinds of learning experiences I desire for Campbell students.
Travel offers a sense of perspective on your own life and the times in which you live. You gain a deeper appreciation of history and the forces which have shaped society and redrawn boundary lines across continents. Once you have pushed through your comfort zone by navigating another culture, you aren’t as skittish about tackling the next challenge. Students involved in educational travel are more globally and economically aware of current events. They have a leg up on their careers with enhanced marketable skills like speaking a foreign language, creative thinking, and curiosity. The sights and sounds of Germany at Christmas during a jubilee year of historic commemoration have now melded into my memory, but they continue to stimulate my moral imagination, forever altering how I encounter the world around me.
The Reformation is a topic I have studied as a scholar and teacher for over 40 years, but through this trip, I gained insights and knowledge previously unknown to me. The weather was cold, the skies were gray, and the days were short, but the conviviality among fellow pilgrims warmed us, the light of learning brightened our way, and the lessons we learned together were timeless. Campbell’s first alumni and friends trip after a quarter century of hibernation was a success. It won’t be the last.
J. Bradley Creed, President