• The “Christkind”

    Luther was an opponent of the veneration of the saints, since there is no mention of saints in the Bible—this is why, by 1535 at the latest, he pleaded to replace the custom of gift-giving on St. Nicholas (December 6) with presents to mark the birthday of the Lord (December 24). For this, he invented the artificial figure of the Christkind, where it still today remains unclear exactly what kind of being that is. St. Nicholas then reemerged later in the 19th century as Santa Claus.

  • The “Real” Paradise in History

    In the Bible—after all, the only written source we have—paradise is described rather succinctly: it is a garden with all sorts of vegetation, “pleasing to the eye and good for food,” in the middle of the garden there is a “Tree of Life” and the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” And a river has its source here, later dividing into four headwaters: two, the Tigris and Euphrates, are known today. Adam, in the Judeo-Christian Islamic understanding the first human being on earth, had to care for the garden and also had the task of naming the fauna gathered there, “the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” But Adam and his wife Eva were driven from paradise because they ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge despite having been forbidden to do so—not because it was a sin, but to keep them from also eating of the Tree of Life and thus becoming immortal.

  • גן עדן —The Jewish Paradise “Gan Eden”

    In the Jewish tradition, there is a distinction made between a primeval, a concealed, and an eschatological paradise. The primeval is the biblical garden of Eden (Hebrew for delight, joy of love), the holiest place on earth, where man was created and where peace, fertility, and immortality once ruled: this is where, at the end of time, the souls of the just will dwell. Until then, as a kind of intermediate station, there is a current, concealed paradise on the outer edges of the earth or in heaven. 

  • Paradise is everywhere

    Like so many quotations attributed to Luther, the great reformer probably never said these words exactly. But he did once comment on a biblical text: “that all heaven and earth will become a new paradise,” and we have it in writing that he said the following at one of his famous colloquia, “The form and aspect of the world is like a paradise.” These are probably the passages that were abbreviated at some point to form the catchy phrase, “Paradise is everywhere.”

  • An Early Form of Maternity Leave

    A break from everyday life was something in the late Medieval period that only the rich could afford. Others had to make do with a comparably brief interruption of their everyday tasks and duties. Luther, who thought all pregnant women should have the same right, called for the “six week” as he called it, a right to a kind of break after giving birth to a child.

  • Monument protection

    When during the course of the Reformation mobs began destroying the interiors of churches, Luther came from the Wartburg to Wittenberg and sermonized against this practice: “It is better to convince people with words of the new belief than to destroy everything.”

  • Locating Paradise

    For almost 2000 years, Christians have located paradise on maps: they all refer to a certain area, the Garden of Eden, as described in the Old Testament. The book, which begins the biblical story of Jews and Christians, was written nearly 3000 years ago and combines many tales that were passed down orally through hundreds of generations and only vaguely indicate where this garden might have been, a challenge for centuries of historians and cartographers. The oldest existing map where paradise is marked dates back to the eighth century and is kept at the Vatican Library.

  • Jannah: Islam’s Heavenly Garden

    Islam has no earthly paradise: here, heaven is paradise and the dwelling place for the chosen after the Last Judgment. The garden of paradise Jannah is furnished with precious carpets and pillows, milk and honey flow in the streams, and beautiful virgins and young men serve delicious food and drink. Radical Islamists use this idea of a heavenly paradise as an enticement: “martyrs” will be rewarded with 72 virgins and places for 70 family members, but some clerics warn that suicide is one of the “mortal sins” that result in a punishment of eternally repeating death. 

  • Divorce

    In the view of the ruling church, marriage was a sacrament that could not be dissolved during lifetime. Luther found no evidence of this in the Bible, so (Protestant) marriages were for him a worldly matter, with the request for the blessing of God, but they could be dissolved.

  • New Words and Sayings

    To translate the Bible into a vivid language understood by all, Luther created many new German words and phrases. Many of these made their way into everyday speech and are still very common in German usage today.

  • Schools

    Everyone should be able to read (the Bible). Towards this end, during the Reformation so-called “catechists” began to gather the children of the poor each morning in the church to teach them reading in three steps: letters, grammar, and Latin. Attendance logs were kept for control purposes.

  • Vicar’s Families

    “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband,” we read in the New Testament, and Luther thought this should be taken literally, like everything in the Bible (sola sculptura), so headvocated abolishing celibacy and encouraging clerics to marry.

  • Popular Music

    Luther found the standard church music of the period horrible: “the organ blares and screeches,” he found, and tympanis and trumpets sound like “heavenly battle noise.” Luther himself, a gifted lute player, composed 40 new church hymns, sometimes with texts of his own. Most are still included in the German Protestant missal today.

  • Welfare

    Itinerant beggars and mendicants were typical of life in medieval cities. Luther suggested that each city should take care of their poor residents, and so, towards this end, a large collecting box was placed in the town church, the community chest with four locks. The town council then decided who should receive the money. Other cities soon followed this example.

  • University Reform

    As rector of the university in Wittenberg, Luther’s friend Philipp Melanchthon introduced humanistic education in history, poetry, and the ancient languages in addition to the classical disciplines of grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.

  • Christmas Carols

    Hymns praising the birth of Christ were usually in Latin and thus not sung by most with the proper feeling. So the master himself wrote a number of Christmas songs, several of which are still in use, the most well-known being “Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her” (From Heaven Above to Earth I Come).

  • The Garden of Eden: A World Cultural Heritage Site

    Scholars generally agree: the story of paradise from the Bible and the many older versions of a similar story in other cultural traditions and religions are based on a real element: at the end of the last Ice Age, around 11,000 years ago, a cultural transformation took place with dramatic consequences in the area that is now the border region between today’s Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Stone Age hunters and gathers became sedentary and began to
    breed sheep and goats, invented primitive housing and beds and at some point the ceramic cooking pot. The location of this paradisiacal new beginning is suspected in the southern Iraqi Al-Ahwar Marsh, which since 2016 has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • How everything began...

    3000 years ago—that’s how old the word “paradise” is—the word paradise in what is today Iran referred simply to an enclosed or walled in piece of land. The word came to the Jewish world via the Persians and the Greeks; there it already meant “grove” or “park.” The early Christians understood paradise as a place of happiness, and that it can be a happy, earthly place is something we have known at the latest since Martin Luther’s colloquia: “The form and aspect of the world is like a paradise.” The Internet is very informative here: If you search “vacation paradise,” there are 383,000 Google entries, followed by “travel paradise” (328,000) and “holiday paradise” (298,000). Shopping paradise reaches 366,000. For all kinds of paradise (sock yarn paradise!), there are 520 million finds.

  • Abolishing of Privileges

    As part of the translation of the Bible, Luther turned against the power of the clerics, with sayings such as, “Every man has earthly duties,” or that the peasant is as valuable as a bishop“ if each fulfills his own office and tasks.”

  • Self-Determination

    In his text “On the Freedom of a Christian,” probably the most important text for the Reformation, Luther rejected the primacy of the pope. The passage on the free, self-determined human being has often been cited: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

  • Unified German

    Als Luther die Bibel übersetzte, gab es in Deutschland (das es so natürlich noch nicht gab) rund 20 verschiedene Sprachvarianten. Die von ihm gefundene Schriftsprache, angelehnt an die obersächsische Kanzleisprache, verwendete anschauliche Begriffe aus allen möglichen Regionen, und durch den gerade aufblühenden Buchdruck wurde diese einheitliche Sprache schnell und weit verbreitet.