Postcard from... Berlin


Wittenberg is famous for being the town from which Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation. The outspoken critic of Catholicism nailed his 95 revolutionary “theses” to a church door in the East German city back in 1517. Now, almost five hundred years on, Wittenberg is again infuriating the church authorities.

The city council has nominated Russian punk band Pussy Riot, right, for the city's prestigious Luther Prize.

The award, which is worth €10,000, is presented every two years to individuals who show the kind of moral courage exhibited by Martin Luther.

But the decision has enraged Germany's Protestant church, which insists that the punk band's anti-Putin Orthodox Church protest in Moscow was offensive to Christians.

"They could have performed on Red Square, in a swimming pool or whatever, but not in a church," complained the Protestant theologian and former anti-communist dissident, Friedrich Schorlemmer.

Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats have described the band's nomination for the prize as "absurd" and a breakaway group on Wittenberg town council has described the punk musicians as "chaotic shrews who make discriminating and offensive statements".

But Volkar Joestel, a historian and authority on Luther, insists that Pussy Riot was protesting against a disturbing fusion of religion, church and state power, in breach of the principles of the Enlightenment. "That alone deserves all honours," he said.