ERFURT — The Christian faith is now rather foreign to many who dwell in the city where a young Martin Luther attended university and entered a monastery in pursuit of God.
The city of Erfurt, where Luther studied and became a monk before being sent to Wittenberg — where in 1517 he would write and post his 95 theses — hosted The Christian Post as part of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
A Lutheran pastor in Wittenberg told The Christian Post that only 8 percent of Germans are baptized Christians, a number that includes Protestants and Roman Catholics. While the Christian faith has declined in much of Europe, including Germany, there has been a spiritual stirring in the past decade with repentance occurring on both sides.
Here is a brief tour into the city that is still considered Martin Luther's spiritual home. (Click arrow above image)
With a population of approximately 200,000, Erfurt is the capital of the German state of Thuringia, a state in eastern Germany that was under Soviet rule until a few decades ago.
Pictured above is Cathedral Square, where tens of thousands gathered in 1990 when the nation reunified. Two Roman Catholic churches, the Cathedral of Saint Mary and the Church of Saint Severus, overlook this plaza. Today, the plaza hosts farmers markets and is the site of Germany's famous Christmas markets.
The Cathedral of Saint Mary, also known as the Erfurt cathedral, is built in an international Gothic style and is the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese in Erfurt.
Pictured here is an image of a young Martin Luther, a monk who is begging for money on one of the most iconic streets in town, the Merchant's bridge. The Mendicant religious orders took vows of poverty. This image is on display in the historic Erfurt Town Hall building.
City tour guides explained to CP that to live here on Merchant's bridge one has to fit into the kind of demographic the residents desire so as to maintain its charm, and avoid it becoming overly commercialized.
Wines, German meats and cheeses, handmade wooden kitchen tools, and woad — a dye similar to indigo, referred to as "blue gold" which was highly prized in Luther's day — are sold here.
A scary personal incident precipitated a tremendous change in the life of Martin Luther.
Caught up in a violent storm near Erfurt, he cried out to Saint Anne for protection and promised to enter the monastery as a life of service to God. He took monastic vows and entered the Augustinian Monastery on July 17, 1505, where he would say his first mass. On April 3, 1507, Luther was ordained a priest in Erfurt Cathedral.
His decision to become a monk was a move strongly opposed by his family, particularly his father, a businessman who had invested heavily into his son's education. Luther once said that "the University of Erfurt is the mother to whom I owe everything."
Monastery life was very hard and Luther was, in many ways, a troubled soul, who would spend hours in confession with his spiritual mentor, Johann von Staupitz.
The building process for Augustinerkloster began in the year 1277. Parts of it were destroyed during World War II but renovations have been done such that visitors can now stay there in modest lodging. Today, the monastery complex belongs to the Evangelical Church in Central Germany and is used as a meeting and conference center.
Amid the rise of secularism in Europe, "we say that people [here] have not forgotten God; they have forgotten that they have forgotten God," said Johannes Sparsbrod, Protestant leader from Eisenach, in an interview with The Christian Post on Nov. 2. They are disconnected from the basic questions about God.
Particularly in East Germany, which emerged from Communist rule a few decades ago, most Erfurters have lived as atheists for two or three generations. Many have never set foot in a church.
Jürgen Reifarth, a Protestant pastor from Erfurt, noted, "We are aliens for them. We use alien speech to them."
Yet despite how foreign the Christian faith seems to Germans nowadays, many are looking for spiritual answers and experiences and remain curious. When crises present themselves, such as a family member dying, Germans reach out to pastors, Reifarth and Sparsbrod told CP.
"There are then open doors for us, because there are questions on the other side," Reifarth said.
The two leaders have been involved in Reformation commemoration events in nearby Eisenach and in Erfurt for the past decade, where the leaders in each tradition have repented to one another for past sins.