Project Lutherstadt Eisleben

Common Responsibility – Redeveloping Luther’s Town

Eisleben, now known as Lutherstadt Eisleben, a former mining town in the district of Mansfeld, is focussing on its historic heritage in its work in the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010. “Luther’s Trail” through the old town brings to life the works of the town’s most famous son by authentic and artistic staging. It is based on a newly developed overall urban redevelopment plan, a planning tool that also integrates monument protection. It tackles the questions of preservation and also the demolition of valuable buildings in a community suffering massively from its shrinking numbers. It also offers possible solutions.


The history of Eisleben stretches back to the 9th century and has been closely associated with the mining of copper shale since the 12th century. Martin Luther was born here in 1483. When he returned to the town shortly before his death in 1546, he found a town greatly expanded to house the miners that had migrated here from all over Germany. Ever more pits and smelting works were established over the centuries. In 1900, the first consequences of this massive mining were felt. Considerable damage to the town was caused by ground subsidence; seventy years later this happened again. But by this time, mining was already on the retreat; the mineshafts in the Mansfield district were abandoned. The end finally came after German reunification with the closing of the mineshafts in the Sangerhausen district and also the shutting down of the smelting operations.

Whereas nearly 31,000 people lived in Eisleben in 1990, by 2020 the number is expected to be just 18,000. In the past twenty years, the population of the town has declined by more than 20%. Today, almost one third of all the residents live in the historic old town. Virtually no modernisation work was carried out on the buildings during the GDR era. Buildings had to be demolished in the 1980s and the first gaps appeared in the town centre. It was declared a renovation area in the early 1990s. This is where town life is concentrated. Luther’s birthplace and the house he died in have both been UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1996. However, in the meantime, numerous buildings in Eisleben town centre are likely to become vacant. The rate of non-occupancy was approximately 18% in 2005. An urban development concept that took account of the demographic and economic development and the resulting vacancy levels seemed urgently necessary. How can the careful management of the world heritage be maintained and urban redevelopment be initiated that will enliven the town centre and at the same time make it attractive to international visitors?


Within the context of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010, an informal planning committee was founded. “Common Responsibility—Redeveloping Luther’s Town” initiates an annual ideas and concepts workshop. This group includes town representatives, experts on monument protection, external planners and advisers, as well as building owners and landowners. These are both individuals and institutions, such as the Foundation for Luther Memorials. The first project will be the house in which Luther was born. The original building was burnt down in the 17th century. It was rebuilt later and has been modified continually over the centuries. Now the venue is to be promoted as a World Heritage Site. The planning committee eventually developed the idea of the “Luther Trail” from this innovative project. This was first revealed to the public in a guided walking tour in 2006 using the motto “Walk with Luther—From Eisleben Out into the World”. Authentic places where Luther worked in the town are coupled with newly staged locations. Thus, remembering Luther becomes the conceptual base for the conversion of empty buildings or demolition sites.


In March 2007, the foundation for all this was laid when the house where Luther was born was completed. The historic buildings were extended as part of a limited competition for a new exhibition building and a visitors’ centre. The design by Springer architects (Berlin) has, in the meantime, won many awards, including the architecture prize of the State of Saxony-Anhalt in 2007 and the German urban development prize in 2008. The contemporary new building fits in with the other listed buildings here and with the surrounding historic old town with sensitivity. It now links Luther’s birthplace with the “Armenschule” (charity school), making a complete exhibition tour possible.

On the second Luther tour in 2007, the results of the international artistic competition were shown as well as the newly produced locations in memory of Luther. In the meantime, a “Garden of Creation” with fruit trees (implemented by lohrer.hochrein landscape architects) has been created on an abandoned site. Luther’s significance for the development of the German language is the focus of the “Ohrenweide” (treat for the ears) site, developed by the landscaping company atelier le balto. Some of Luther’s quotations and texts can be heard through “ear trumpets” in a “whispering garden,” spoken by Eisleben’s citizens. Empty buildings get a new lease on life with artistic installations at other milestones along the trail: the “Showfenster” (show window) by urban-ict shows scenes from Luther’s life using light boxes; the corner building in Glockenstrasse was transformed into a bookmark by Anne Hentschel and Stefan Petrat. Another building block, the museum district near the house in which Luther died, is currently being constructed. The Stuttgart architecture office VON M Architects won the competition for their design.


The Luther Trail and Luther’s birthplace have noticeably raised tourist interest in Eisleben. The public Luther tour on the last Sunday in August has become a firm tradition. This image campaign to attract tourists could receive even greater momentum because of the Luther decade and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The image of Eisleben’s centre has already changed significantly—a former wasteland has become an attractive place to live.

The Luther Trail is only one part of the “conceptual urban redevelopment plan.” This was compiled in 2007 by the office for urban projects in Leipzig on behalf of the town and in cooperation with the State Office for the Protection of Monuments and also with the Protection of Monuments officers of the administrative district of Mansfeld-Südharz. It envisages the use of controlled demolition, “thinning out,” amongst other measures, to create high-quality housing. That is only possible if all those concerned pull together. A redesigned open area was created as a pilot study at the corner of Lutherstrasse and Badergasse. It will now be used as a beer garden. A red door and a sign indicate that this site is available for other uses as well. So far three modified sites display the “red doors”. Thus, Lutherstadt Eisleben, with the support of the “Common Responsibility—Redeveloping Luther’s Town,” is relying on citizen involvement to implement its planning strategy, which may be described as “controlled micro-perforation.”

Franziska Eidner, 2010

The "Luther's Trail" Eisleben

A Film by Henry Mertens, in order by IBA-Büro GbR, 2009 (German, Flash-Video, 17'29)

More pictures of Lutherstadt Eisleben


Info: Lutherstadt Eisleben

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 35.374
2009: 25.988
2025: 19.342 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 143,81 qkm

IBA-Website of the Lutherstadt Eisleben