An interview with Mirko Gutjahr
Mirko Gutjahr is an archaeologist and historian. Since May he has been head of the three museums in Eisleben and Mansfeld: Luther's Birthplace, Luther's Parents' Home and Luther's Death House. Privately, he runs two podcasts with scurrilous stories about history and archaeology. He lives in Leipzig (but is about to move to Eisleben soon).
Mr Gutjahr, you have been the director of the three Luther museums in Mansfeld and Eisleben since May and have previously worked as a research assistant at the Foundation Luther Memorials. What are the special focuses of your work?
As an archaeologist by training my first approach to Martin Luther was the then recently discovered remains of the homestead of his parents in Mansfeld. These finds together with new discoveries from his house in Wittenberg gave a complete new insight into the daily life of the reformer and his Family. Moreover, I also work on the materiality of the Reformation and of popular faith (and superstition) from the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period.
What are your plans for the future?
Our next major project is the hands-on exhibition on the Peasants' War 1524/1525 where we will focus especially on children and pupils as visitors. The exhibition which will be shown in two parts in Mansfeld and Eisleben will allow to play the roles of people involved in the “revolution of the common man” and to get an insight into the different perspectives of the parties involved. It is quite surprising that all the topics like co-determination, equality, resilience, conflict management and much more where already urgent matters in the 16th century as much as they are now.
In the near future I would like to implement more shows and other projects together with the locals in Mansfeld and Eisleben in the sense of a wider citizen participation. I am convinced that the Reformation and the past in general belongs to everybody, thus I would like to invite also non-experts to work with us.
What can visitors expect in the three museums?
Even though lived and worked in Wittenberg for most of his life, his home region Mansfeld and Eisleben was where his heart was. He was born in Eisleben and grew up in the miners town of Mansfeld – a region which shaped him and where he gladly returned to often. Even his last journey went to Eisleben. These stories alongside with insights into the daily life of the reformer and his family you can see there: The Birth House in Eisleben is one of the oldest museums in the world and dedicated to Luthers origins and the world in 1500 AD.
Luther's Parents' Home in Mansfeld shows the extraordinary archaeological finds from the house of his childhood and youth, including tableware, cloth fittings, toys and even remains from the daily diets.
Luther's Death House is the most unusual museum of all of them: Even though it was visited for 300 years, the house is fake. In the centuries following Luther's death the original house was confused with the one which is now the museum. But it is still worth a visit, not only you can experience the way Luther was venerated in the 19th century, you can learn how the perception of death and dying changed due to the impact of the reformation.
Is there anything about Martin Luther that has not yet been researched?
At least there are many things we still do not know about Luther and his time. His birth date for instance: Even though the 10th of November 1483 is mentioned in the most biographies, we still do not know for sure. Luther himself was not sure either, there are alternative years like 1482 or 1484 which appear in the sources as well. Even though Luther's exact birthday seems to be irrelevant to many – the story why it is not known is even more interesting than the date: Birthdays were not as important as one's Saints day in those days, Philipp Melanchthon insisted on the year 1483 because it meant a better horoscope for Luther and so on.
Martin Luther seems to be a well-researched figure in history but there are still many mysteries to be solved: Luthers journey to Rome, his “Tower experience”, the nailing of the Theses and so on – there are many details still to be discovered and things to learn about the Reformer and the Reformation Era.