2017 BAVARIAN STATE EXHIBITION
The 2017 Bavarian State Exhibition presents a panorama of the period around and after 1500, which examines every social class. It focuses on Martin Luther’s impact on the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, especially in Southern Germany. Social, economic, political and artistic traditions and breaks are addressed, which shaped the epoch from the late 15th century up into the second half of the 16th century.
Exhibition at Coburg Castle
“Knights, Peasant, Lutherans” – Coburg Castle ties into this theme in a variety of ways, as an Electoral Saxon fortress, as a ducal palace, as a place where Martin Luther stayed and as a historical Luther site. This makes Coburg Castle the biggest object exhibited in the state exhibition.
Introductory Film (Luther Chapel)
A multimedia film introducing the exhibition is shown in Luther Chapel. Many architectural and decorative details of this chapel built in the early 20th century on the site of the ducal castle’s old chapel were designed for a typical Lutheran worship space, thus creating a fitting framework for the topic being presented.
The Pillars of the World (Stone Bower, Ground Floor)
The exhibition begins in one of the oldest sections of Coburg Castle, the stone bower. The bedrock of the world around 1500 ─ a world order based on God and church fellowship that seems quite remote today ─ are examined in these mighty substructures, in massive walls under heavy vaults on which the upper floors rest. Coburg’s special role in the Holy Roman Empire also becomes evident here: The city, “Electoral Saxony’s picture window” to the south, was a centrally located hub of commerce and news with close ties to both Nuremberg and Central Germany in those days.
City Life and Country Life
People lived their lives, which were imbued with diversity in both the countryside and cities, outside the bounds of posited social orders. Chances of survival in relatively heavily urban Central and Southwest Germany largely depended on the agrarian world. Peasants epitomized vassalage; yet 16th century rural society was already extremely varied.
Cities around 1500: Salvation for Sale
The nuclei of economic booms and new ideas were located in cities. The growing range of wares at city markets vied with the extremely diverse “range” of paths to salvation for the faithful. Pious foundations, mendicant orders, hospitals and homes, parish churches housing the living and the dead – clergy and church offered numerous opportunities to provide for one’s own and ancestors’ salvation with good works. New ideas and views rapidly spreading in tracts caused a sudden “crash” in this old world. Martin Luther’s “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace” was printed in Nuremberg in early 1518. It is a simplified German version of his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences, which he had sent to the Archbishop von Mainz at the end of 1517 – the very writing that is the reason for the Reformation quincentenary.
Knight, Death and the Devil (Great Court Hall)
While the foundations of material life are presented on the ground floor, the major antitheses of the period, the clash of new ideas with social reality are examined on the floor above in the “great court hall”, one of the most magnificent late Gothic profane spaces of the period after 1500. Uncertainty about the right path to salvation spawned the widest variety of forms of religiosity. Magnificent weapons and suits of armor, pageantry and an antiquated social ideal were united in the vivid aristocratic theater of tournaments, while the reality of imperial knights and landed nobility was already imperiled by decline and insignificance. Imperial princes developing new nationhood in their territories established themselves as an emerging power.
The “new era”, the “scientific century” impassionedly celebrated by the knight and writer Ulrich von Hutten was imbued with the ideals of humanist scholarship. This is also the place in the exhibition for presenting the crucial tenets of Luther’s doctrine, his translation of the Bible and his widespread writings on religious practices. The combination of theology and major political events became evident to everyone in Martin Luther’s famous meeting with Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521. The intention here is not to perpetuate a heroic image of Luther in the spirit of 19th century “Protestant metanarrative”, though. Instead, two fundamentally antithetical ideas are juxtaposed, the clash of which affected the course of imperial history significantly. Peasant demands in the “German Peasants’ War” (1525) were directly inspired by Luther and his treatise On the Freedom of a Christian ─ yet he harshly criticized the rebellions of the “common man” as contravening the divine order.
Protecting and Defending (Luther’s Rooms)
The exhibition’s emotional core is the two rooms next to the “great court hall”, which Martin Luther occupied at Coburg Castle during the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Along with the original letters and works displayed, a media installation of Luther’s writings elucidates his situation at the castle: between depressing isolation and exuberant activism in view of the crucial proceedings at the diet.
A wall-walk leads from Luther’s rooms into the Carl Eduard Building where the “media revolution”, the print media activation of interested parties on the side of the new doctrine – and their opponents – is examined. Hymns became the most important propaganda instrument among these publications.
Religion, Fellowship, Confessions (Carl Eduard Building,
Taking the “Confessio Augustana” presented at the Diet of Augsburg of 1530 as the point of departure, the issues examined here are: How did the confessions form? What is demonstrative of their differences? Where is there still common ground? Just like the people in those days, visitors have to choose a path, learning that there are not only things that separate but also things that unite. Examples of the implementation of the new religion in practice in principalities and imperial cities are located on the “Lutheran” side. The majority of the imperial estates that did not back Luther are on the “Roman Catholic” side.
Confrontation with the Duchy of Bavaria
A prime example is the Duchy of Bavaria, which, together with the imperial church and the Habsburgs, was committed to the Counter-Reformation. Noteworthy individual cases reveal that conflicts were by no means settled even after the Peace of Augsburg of 1555: for instance, the confrontation between the Catholic Duchy of Bavaria and the Lutheran enclave of Ortenburg, the clashes between the city council and sovereign in Amberg or the Grumbach affair exemplifying the conflation of territorial sovereignty and imperial and confessional policies. Examples of every confessional alignment are found in the territory of the present-day Free State of Bavaria: Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists as well as Anabaptists and other “spiritualists”.
On the Freedom of a Christian
And Coburg? The reformer’s six-month sojourn at the castle turned Coburg into a Luther heritage site – some quaint, some earnest appropriation is displayed here. Luther was exploited anew time and again. Luther’s anti-Judaism and the reception of his “writings on Jews” by the National Socialists are also examined here.
In closing, the equation of the Reformation and liberty in the context of Luther reception is addressed. People tend to forget that Luther’s conception of liberty has virtually nothing in common with modern conceptions of liberty. These vitally important topics are taken as the starting point for closing the circle with issues that were current 500 years ago.
Companion Exhibition at the Church of St. Moriz
In addition to Coburg Castle’s art collection, the castle’s outside areas, the path into town and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Moriz are also part of the overall experience of the state exhibition in Coburg. A companion exhibition is being presented at St. Moriz, which is not confined to Luther’s day. Taking the historic site itself as the point of departure, it first focuses on the Reformation in Coburg and its environs, which had been introduced by Pastor Balthasar Düring in 1524. The seven sermons Martin Luther preached at St. Moriz in 1530 at the beginning of his sojourn in Coburg are presented. Another topic is each confession’s specific church architecture and interior. Confessionally diverse Franconia particular provides many striking examples of this.
Music in the form of hymns – frequently staring out as battle anthems – was essential to the establishment of the new doctrine, too. Hymnals established the basis for the particular abundance of Protestant church music.
And, last but not least, current issues of the Reformation quincentenary that emerged from discussions during the Luther Decade are addressed. What is actually relevant today, and does the church still play a role in it? These topics were expounded through intensive discussions in the congregation of St. Moriz itself. The Church of St. Moriz is not a museum. It remains a worship space and concert venue even during the exhibition. The combination of exhibition, Lutheran worship and church music is exactly what makes an authentic experience possible in one of Northern Bavaria’s particularly architectonically interesting church interiors.