Postcard from... Eisenach


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The Independent Online

The Wartburg is an imposing 11th-century castle perched on the edge of a 1,350ft precipice that overlooks the east German town of Eisenach.

The place is steeped in history. Martin Luther was given sanctuary there in the 16th century after he was excommunicated by the Pope. In 1817 Germany’s emerging student “ fraternities” gathered at the Wartburg for the first time to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. They still exist but over the past two centuries have changed radically. Once they were a movement for political freedom but are now seen as a reactionary far-fight group. Their 10,000 members are famous for sporting semi-military uniforms, beer drinking, and for scarred cheeks obtained from fencing without face protection. But they are no longer seen as mere eccentrics.

Two years ago they hit the headlines over a dispute about a member from Hong Kong who was not considered “Aryan” enough. They subsequently tried to introduce a compulsory “Aryan pass” to ensure that all members were pure German. Recently one of their leaders denounced a famous wartime anti-Nazi activist as a “traitor”. This week, the fraternities had been hoping to hold their annual meeting at the Wartburg. But the trust which runs the castle has decreed their presence is “no longer acceptable”.