SUCH memories haunt the old Wartburg of Tannhaiser, of St. Elizabeth, and of Martin Luther, that truth and tradition are in open conflict. Be it fact or legend that the keeper tells, it is so interesting, the adulteration only adds to the flavor of the tale, and one swallows it all down unquestioningly, because here in the old stronghold it has a genuine antique flavor in perfect harmony with the time-worn surroundings.
The Wartburg castle stands in the midst of the Thuringian forest, five hundred and sixty-five feet above the pretty little town of Eisenach. It makes an ideal climb for any walkers who enjoy scaling a perpendicular peak, while for others less gifted in acrobatic feats, an electric car’ goes part way up, but the easiest ascent is made by carriage, and cabmen seize their prey atthe Eisenach station and proudly urge the acceptance of their uncomfortable vehicles, patterned after the chariot that carried Elijah up to heaven, with springs of an antiquity in keeping with the whole place.
The Burg was begun in 1070 and does not consist merely of a castle, but of towers of defense before which soldiers still stand guard, and of many separate buildings grouped together, of which first and foremost comes the Landgrafenhaus, or palace. Here, leading to the chapel, is the Elizabeth Gallery with that Saint’s “Seven Works of Mercy” frescoed on the wall. She was the daughter of a King of Hungary and after marrying the Landgraf of Thuringia, came to the Wartburg to live. She was pronounced a great beauty and was soon be-loved by the whole country. Her husband, however, was much averse to her doing so much for the poor, and one day meeting her when she was as usual on charity bent, he angrily demanded to see what she was carrying, and lo, when she began to uncover the food, nothing but a mass of roses tumbled out, for her guardian angel, mindful of the need, performed for her at this critical hour a miracle.
Terrorized by her stern confessor, she grew, unfortunately, overzealous in her religious scruples, and began a system of penance pitiful in our improved age. After a pathetic farewell, she left her children, believing she must go out into the world; so, renouncing the luxury of the castle, she lived among the needy f’or several years, spinning and toiling for them, and (luring the plague walked unharmed in. their midst. Her husband’s death was her life sorrow, and when her young son was turned out from the Wartburg by a jealous uncle, the family were poor in good earnest. Although eventually restored to their inheritance, Elizabeth’s health was too shattered by self-denial to enjoy her return, and at her tomb in Marburg so many miracles were claimed to have taken place, she was canonized as the patron saint of Hungary. Her apartments have been recently redecorated with scenes of her betrothal, death, etc., and fancy finding electric lights now in the room she used in 1200!
In the Hall of the Singers is a modern painting representing the brilliant scene that took place here when the Landgraf offered his niece Elizabeth’s hand to the prize singer of the land. Then carne the great singer’s contest, in which Walther of the Vogelweide took part, and where Tannhauser, scorning the others because they knew nothing of real love, launched forth into that description of his days with Venus that sent the astonished guests home in horrified confusion and broke his poor Elizabeth’s heart.
It is this famous room that Elizabeth means when she enters in the second act of Tannhauser and sings her well known song, “Oh, Thou Dear Hall,” and on the back of the small stage here are inscribed selections from the ballads of these minstrels.
In the Knights’ Building is the Hall of Weapons, where armor of all ages is displayed, over which flags won in many bloody battles are triumphantly hung, making an ideal room of feudal strength and power. All through the castle animal skins, stag-horns and other trophies of the chase abound, and driving up the mountain so many deer are in sight, one understands why Emperor William counts on an annual visit to the Wartburg.
The great festival hall runs the length of the upper floor, splendid in carved wood and gold decorations. The other rooms have stone floors and many picturesque stone pillars through them, low ceilings, and small but heavy single doors curiously ornamented with iron trimmings, for this building dates from a time when folding doors were unknown. The few old carved chairs are jealously guarded and copied to give the castle the same appearance that it had “in the brave, days of old.” Indeed, it ranks today as the finest secular building in existence, of the Romanesque style, and the restored rooms used by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, to whom it belongs, have a strange splendor that makes the Wartburg different from other royal residences.
The next building of interest is that where Martin Luther spent nine months, and one sees the same table in it today where he translated the Bible in 1521. His celebrated picture by Lucas Cranach hangs on the wall opposite to that of his gentle friend, Phillip Melancthon, and Luther’s parents beam beside him, unmindful of the time when, as their stubborn son, he needed fifteen whippings a day. Mothers of bad little boys should take hope, for the world still rings with this one’s renown. The bed, bookcase, old porcelain stove, and some of his letters remain intact, but the blot of ink made when he threw the whole inkstand at the wall where he thought the Devil was tempting him, has been entirely chipped off by relic hunters. Outside his door is inscribed the first verse of his own hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Martin Luther was no pale-faced recluse, but an honest, straight-forward German, with a wholesome love of fun and the courage of his convictions. After he saw in Rome the corrupt state of the clergy, he boldly remonstrated against the indulgences Leo X. was selling to obtain money to finish St. Peter’s, and declaring the soul did not fly out of purgatory when a sinner’s money dropped in the box for pardon, he started the Reformation by claiming repentance came from the heart, not from the pocketbook. When the Pope threatened to excommunicate Luther for daring to defy him, he promptly .burned ‘the Pope’s bull, and at the Diet of Worms, when the mighty Emperor, Charles V., commanded him to retract his declaration, his brave refusal rang clearly through the rooms: “Here I stand, I can no more!” and would take nothing back. It was later that the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, fearing the Emperor would imprison him, had Luther kidnapped and carried up to the Wartburg for safe-keeping. His admiring host gave him comfortable shelter, while the Reformation spread abroad, and there, in undisturbed quiet, Martin Luther made part of his translation of the Bible, by which priests no longer could be the only readers, but all men and women might read it in their own language and judge for themselves. Thus it happened that one man changed the whole world.
The Reformation room depicts scenes from his career, and down in the village is the cottage where, as a boy, he stayed with Frau Cotta. The view from the Wartburg windows beg-gars all description, and a few miles in the distance stands the Burschenschaften monument, erected in memory of the gathering the liberty-loving students held here in 1871, when they clamored for reform with a vehemence that knew no abatement until a new German constitution was given the people. This monument is made of handsome stone, but because the students erected it, many laughingly insist it looks like a beer mug with the handle left off.
Another point of interest below in Eisenach is the house where John Sebastian Bach was born in 1685, and for many years after, Bachs, little and big, every one a musician, congregated there annually for a musical reunicn, and this custom was kept up without intermission to our own time.
At the entrance of the castle there is a welcome inn, where the German life preservers, beer and ham sandwiches, may be secured before making the descent down the mountain, but though sightseers come and go, the old Wartburg defies time. Its years have only added to its dignity and lofty beauty, for the wrinkles that always come with age-,have been filled by pretty little mosses that hide its scars from view, and enable it to face the world boldly, a monarch among strongholds.