Exploring Thuringia – Schmalkalden, the centre of the protestant movement in the early 16th century

In August 2022, we travelled in Thuringia. Our last city in Thuringia was Schmalkalden, where we stopped for lunch.

In the early 16th century, Schmalkalden was the hot spot of the reformation. Here, some protestant dukes and protestant free cities founded the Schmalkaldic League (Schmalkaldischer Bund) to defend themselves, when being attacked by catholic armies (1530). The leaders were the dukes of Hesse (Hessen) and of Saxony (Sachsen). In 1547, the League was defeated by the catholic imperial army of Charles V and some allies he could recruit from the protestants. However, the protestant religion was already well established, and the Peace of Augsburg confirmed that in 1555.

On the Old Market Square, the coats of arms of some of the members of the Schmalkaldic League remind of the days, when Schmalkalden was the centre of the protestant movement.

At school, we have learnt about the Schmalkaldic League. Then I never thought that the name “Schmalkaldic” denotes a city, namely Schmalkalden. It is located at the southern border of Thuringia, south of the Thuringian Forest (Thüringer Wald), where the road starts to climb the mountains. Originally, Schmalkalden did not belong to Thuringia, it was part of the duchy Hessen until 1866. The people here speak with the accent of Hessen.   

Let us look at this small city.


Medieval half-timbered houses at the Altmarkt (Old Market Square) and in the narrow streets around it

The city centre of Schmalkalden has been well preserved. 

Medieval half-timbered houses surround the Altmarkt, the Old Market Square.

The City Hall had been installed in the Gothic stone bower (Steinerne Kemenate) of 1419. 

It was in the audience chamber behind the arched window, where the Schmalkaldic League was founded in 1530 and where the League met until 1543.  

Also, in the narrow streets around the Market Square, medieval half-timbered houses have been preserved.

Since 1664, the Rosenapotheke has provided their services in a building from the 15th century, located at Steingasse 11. 

Luther was also at Schmalkalden. 

During the 1537 meeting of the League at Schmalkalden, Luther stayed on the second floor of this house for about two weeks.


Late Gothic Church of Saint George (Georgenkirche)

The late Gothic Church from 1437 (accomplished in 1570) is located next to the historical City Hall. 

Luther preached here in 1537, during one of the meetings of the Schmalkaldic League.

The guard of the church is very proud of the Cantionale, a collection of spiritual songs, handwritten in 1599 by Andreas Ostermaier, court conductor (Hofkapellmeister) of duke Moritz von Hessen. 

For us, the guard opens the cloth covering it. 


The Wilhelmsburg above the city

1585-1590, the duke of Hessen-Kassel constructed the Renaissance castle above the city, to stay here for hunting and in summer.

The four-wing building clusters around the quadratic courtyard. 

The chapel is closed; we would find the wooden Renaissance organ inside. It is the original, built in 1587-89 and can still be played.

Along the wall, we admire the castle garden, laid out on terraces.

The steps lead down to the city.

We eat some delicious sandwiches and sweets in the bakery and café bar Endter in the city centre.

After that, we leave Thuringia and continue our way Hessen, to Steinau, and later to the Odenwald near Heidelberg.