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Scene 1521

The term enactment describes the spatial visualisation of a work otherwise expressed in thoughts, words and decisions, whose implications reverberate into the present.

The Scene, drawing: Constanze Illig 
The Scene, drawing: Constanze Illig

Luther needed immense courage to testify before the King and his realm. And yet he undertook the journey with steely resolve. His request for a period of reflection before responding to the question of whether he would recant his writings appears to suggest nonetheless that making this decision plagued his soul with fear. But the burden falls from him in the exclamation "I am finished!"

A temporary, artistic installation resembling a stage re-enactment provides the opportunity to make this situation experiential. Visitors to this physically connected space can slip into the role of either Luther or King Charles V. 


The alignments of the room, both length and crosswise, clearly delimit the roles while still remaining elements framing the same construct. 

Visitors taking the role of Luther enter from a lower level, isolated, humiliated, subjected to scrutiny by those observing from above. King Charles V and the prosecutors stand on a gallery, glaring down at Luther, waiting to cross-examine.  Besides the spatio-physical juxtaposition of perception in this setting, there are four elements for each role that permit varying planes of interpretation: quote, term, word circle, symbol.

The words that Martin Luther spoke in the last sentence of his response to King Charles V, the noblemen and the Church on 18 April 1521 are quoted in the role of the reformer. The term assigned to this role is 'freedom'. The words 'German', 'diutisk' (the common vernacular), 'People', 'Holy Scripture' and 'God' provide other associations with Luther, while raising yet more questions.

In his translation of the Bible, for instance, Martin Luther constituted what we now perceive as the German language. Does Martin Luther symbolise the people facing an Imperial power? Is Luther's understanding of freedom the nascent form of individuality as it is understood in our contemporary age? In his speech he appeals to the Word of God, the canon of the Bible, to which he feels beholden. What kind of god is that? The symbol assigned to Martin Luther is then, as one would expect, the Bible, which visitors can heft in their hands. The symbol for the figure standing up in the gallery is a crown that one dons. The term juxtaposed with 'freedom' (from below) is 'unity' (from above).

The circle of words around Charles V read 'Caesar', 'Kingdom', 'Crown', 'Holy Empire' and 'God'. Charles, Emperor from 1530, derived his universal claim to power from the succession of the Roman Empire as a Holy Empire ordained by the Pope.

He perceives himself as Protector of the Faith and preserver of unity. Proclaiming the Edict of Worms to excommunicate Luther, he says: "I am firm of mind to maintain all that has been enacted by those before me. For it is certain that a single monk shall err in his opinion that is and has been contrary to all of Christendom throughout the thousand years past and henceforth to the present day."