Whence Have We Come?

A German author and journalist recently lamented the lack of attention given to the important historical contributions of Thuringia and Saxony despite Prussia having been recently elevated in the collective German conscience:

If you drive two hundred kilometers south [of Berlin], you come to a region where a lot more was going on. Here the history is so intricate and divided that it can't be made to suit the purposes of nostalgic identification although this is where, quite literally, everything German that had a positive influence on the world, began. Between Wittenberg on the Elbe and Weimar on the Ilm are regions that get hillier to the south, in whose little cities creative production developed over three centuries with an intensity comparable only to Tuscany in the Renaissance or Greece in Antiquity. Thuringia and what used to be the regions of Anhalt are to the Germany what Umbria is to the Italians: the heart of our country. But this never acknowledged by those caught up praising Prussia.

Yet a simple listing of events reveals this to be an anomaly. This region – between Erfurt and Wittenberg – is where Luther's Reformation began, and spread around the world, making among other things, the United States what it is today. Here - between Weimar and Dessau – the Bauhaus style was developed, and continues to shape metropolises the world over. And here Bach and Goethe got to work, here Luther wrote his translation of the Bible in the German language we still write with today.

I know regrettably little about much of the substance of the article, but that which I do know seems congruent with the author's thesis. It is quite amazing that a city like Wittenberg (and yes, I did actually go there for Reformation Day--in fact I lived there for a month almost four years ago) has not become a locus for both domestic and foreign tourism and the city's name not a metonym for Germany's cultural importance in the world.

Birkenstocks and BMWs are one thing, but the Protestant ethic is simply unparalleled as the most important German export, and one incidentally that not even the strongest of euros can hope to diminish.