Europe's train systems make it possible to reclaim a sense of adventure--and still be back in time for dinner.
BERLIN TO WITTENBERG
Rest and recreation in the birthplace of the Reformation: Only now finishing extensive restoration after decades of Communist-era neglect, Wittenberg is where Martin Luther started his fateful break with the Catholic Church. Easy to explore by foot, the cobbled streets boast a concentration of ancient churches, chapels, and cloisters--although religious life is only slowly reviving after virtual extirpation under Communism. Start with Luther's House (Lutherhalle), a 16th-century former monastery at the entrance to the pedestrian-only Old Town (Altstadt), a 10-minute walk from Lutherstadt Wittenberg train station. Lutherhalle houses a museum of the Reformation, along with a room untouched since Luther's time. As you walk past the patrician houses lining Collegienstrasse, you can see the spires of the Stadtkirche (City Church), relatively unchanged since the reformer preached there. The splendid altarpiece, by German old master Lucas Cranach the Elder, shows a Last Supper scene incorporating the face of Martin Luther. Stop for lunch at one of the cafés on the Renaissance-era market square, or, better yet, head to Brauhaus Wittenberg, a brewpub in a restored 15th-century mansion. Locals like the braised pig's knuckle and kraut and the herring with a fresh wheat beer. In the afternoon, check out the Schlosskirche (Castle Church), where in 1517 Luther nailed his 95 Theses, the act of rebellion that launched the Protestant Reformation. (The bronze door with the theses inscribed was added centuries later.) Climb the 289-foot bell tower--damaged by a tornado, it's due to reopen this month--to get a view of the Elbe River. For a taste of more recent times, there's the House of History, a museum devoted to lifestyle accessories of East German Communism, such as vintage kitchen appliances and sturdy undergarments.
A crispy rye-roll sandwich from Ihr Bäcker bakery, located on the main market square.
Luther's House (Lutherhalle): Collegienstrasse 54, 011-49/3491-42030, martinluther.de, $7. Stadtkirche: 011-49/3491-62830, stadtkirchengemeinde-wittenberg.de. Brauhaus Wittenberg: Markt 6, 011-49/3491-433-130, brauhaus-wittenberg.de, brewery tours available, entrées from $12. Schlosskirche: schlosskirche-wittenberg.de, 011-49/3491-402-585, free organ concert at 2:30 p.m. each Tuesday, guided tours by reservation only. House of History: Schlossstrasse 6, 011-49/3491-409-004, pflug-ev.de. Ihr Bäcker: Markt 6, 011-49/3491-419-235, sandwich $3.
40 minutes each way. Round-trip ticket: $60. The quick IC and ICE trains (from $60 round trip) take 40 minutes to get from Berlin's Hauptbahnhof to Lutherstadt Wittenberg. A slow train ($49 round trip) takes a half hour longer. There are fast-train deals: The Sparpreis 25 and 50, which must be booked at least three days (but no more than three months) out, offer 25 percent off on weekdays and half off on weekends; subject to availability. If one passenger pays the Sparpreis fare, up to four accompanying passengers will pay half the Sparpreis fare. Buy tickets online (bring your credit card to the train) or at the station. An ICE train departs at 9:52 A.M. (or 8:39 A.M., except Sundays); catch a return at 4:36 P.M. Schedules at bahn.de.