Seppel’s Hometown of Spalt

On my writing desk is a coffee-stained Bierdeckel, or coaster, advertising the Stadtbrauerei, the city brewery, of Spalt, near Nuremberg, Germany. This souvenir was a gift from my friend and mentor Dr. Gottfried Krodel, a Luther scholar whose help was invaluable as I conducted research for a novel set during the Reformation. In the course of our conversations Doc Krodel came to refer to the young protagonist of Kingdom of the Birds as “our Seppel.” 

In the first chapter, fourteen-year-old Seppel, whose full name is Josef Burkhardt the Younger, is at home in Spalt with his widowed mother and three sisters. From faraway Wittenberg, Seppel’s uncle, Georg Burkhardt, a scholar better known by his Latinized name of Spalatinus, or Spalatin, meaning “one from Spalt,” summons his nephew to a year of service on behalf of the Elector of Saxony. 

While Seppel and his family are fictional, Spalatin was an important historical figure. In Wittenberg Spalatin served as tutor to the nephews of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, and as Frederick’s chaplain, librarian, and secretary. In his role at the Saxon court Spalatin corresponded with Martin Luther during the political and religious turmoil of the early days of the Reformation.

In 2010, the year that Kingdom of the Birds was published, the city of Spalt celebrated a 500th anniversary jubilee that included a tribute to Georg Burkhardt as a “great son” of Spalt. A memorial sculpture features the scholar in front of a wall with a hole in the shape of his silhouette, showing the Reformation figure symbolically breaking free from the Catholic church. 

To me this Spalatin-shaped portal is also the doorway through which I peered when I began exploring the world of sixteenth-century Germany. By creating a fictional nephew for Spalatin, I was able to introduce my protagonist to other significant figures of the Reformation. 

When I visit Spalt, I will be sure to get a photo of myself at that portal. My husband and I will most likely take a tour of the Stadtbrauerei, sample the wares, and raise a glass in memory of Spalatin, Doc Krodel, and, of course, “our Seppel.”

Seppel’s Journey: The Trip I Didn’t Take

This summer I hoped to take the trip I first imagined seventeen years ago when I began research for Kingdom of the Birds

My plan for Summer 2021 was to travel in Germany retracing the route taken by Seppel, the young protagonist who leaves his village near Nuremberg in 1521 to journey north to the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach. Seppel’s further adventures during an eventful year include time in Erfurt, Leipzig, and Wittenberg. 

I rejoiced in the prospect of visiting Germany exactly five hundred years after Seppel’s journey. This trip with my husband would also serve to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary and my retirement after 34 years as a high school English teacher. 

As you may have realized, Mark and I will not be able to follow in Seppel’s footsteps this summer. Still, as a writer I know how to enjoy journeys of the imagination. I invite you to join me on the dream trip as I post a sort of travelogue. Welcome to Seppel’s Journey!

Mother of the Reformation

The invitation to a Reformation party sponsored by a women’s group at Immanuel imageLutheran Church in Valparaiso, Indiana, promised a special guest appearance by Katie Luther, also known as the “Mother of the Reformation.”

At the afternoon gathering, the hospitable Frau Luther welcomed visitors to her home and spoke about her busy life as the wife of Martin Luther–amid interruptions by their youngest daughter, a university student, a farmer, her aunt Magdalena von Bora, and Wittenberg professor Philipp Melanchthon.

imageProviding this entertainment for the church group was a family affair. My inspiration for writing “A Visit with Katie Luther” was an earlier piece by Immanuel member and family friend Constance Bretscher, my children’s piano teacher. At the Reformation party my daughter Elena performed the dramatic monologue wearing a costume designed by her sister Katrina.

After the performance Elena fielded questions about Katie Luther’s life, relying on her memories of visits to Wittenberg during choir tours with the Valparaiso University Chorale. Elena also sold copies of Kingdom of the Birds to audience members eager to learn more about the fascinating figures of Reformation history.

The monologue runs about eleven minutes; the script is formatted in 14-point font imagewith brief stage directions and convenient page turns. I encourage anyone interested in providing simple entertainment for a Reformation celebration to consider  “A Visit with Katie Luther,”  available as a free download here: A VISIT WITH KATIE LUTHER by Hilda Demuth-Lutze.

And if you use the piece, please let me know how your event turns out!

A Sixth Anniversary Offer

Six years ago this weekend, family and friends and fans gathered in Valparaiso, Indiana, to celebrate the publication of Kingdom of the and castlescape

The launch party at Immanuel Lutheran School featured a consort of Renaissance musicians, demonstrations of historical combat, and opportunities for guests of all ages to brandish swords. Kingdom of the Birds book launch 067fighters

To mark this six-year anniversary, I hereby offer the first SIX people who contact me to order multiple copies of Kingdom of the Birds the opportunity for an author interview via Skype with a designated group or organization.

What better way to prepare to celebrate another anniversary, the 500th year of the Reformation in 2017, than by learning more about the heroic life and turbulent times of Martin Luther?

Angels Unawares

Fourteen years ago I spent every Sunday afternoon at a piano in my home church listening to a sermon in a language I did not know. As a volunteer musician for the Gloria Dei Hispanic Mission, I depended on two years of high school Latin and a lifetime of Lutheran liturgy to get me through each Spanish-language service with the congregation of recent immigrants.

At the time posted for the service, the tight rows of chairs in the little chapel would be empty. I would flip through my music and wait for a few families to arrive so the pastor could announce the opening hymn. Later arrivals would be greeted by those already seated, who cheerfully slid over to make room for the newcomers.

Even during the Scripture readings, men in blue jeans and work boots would enter, welcomed in whispers as the signal went down the rows—move closer. No matter how many worshippers were packed into that space, they always made room for more.

On Sunday, September 16, 2001, I sat at the piano struggling to follow the pastor’s references to the “Ciudad de Nueva York” and “el terrorismo,” but the sermon was as incomprehensible as the horrifying attacks earlier that week.

After the sermon the collection basket was passed down the rows, and I dropped my folded check into the pile of crumpled bills and coins. Then a man stood up and began to speak earnestly.  Nods and murmurs ran through the congregation–“Sí, sí.”

The pastor picked up the basket and made an announcement, and this time I understood him perfectly. “We will make another collection,” he said. “We must send money to help the people of New York.”

Faith and a Good Horse

Playmobil Martin Luther Thuringian Forest Kingdom of the Birds Reformation Wr
In another scene inspired by the Playmobil Martin Luther, Seppel and his faithful horse Tintenfleck travel through the Thuringian Forest.

“Faith and a good horse will carry you far,” says Sir Gottfried to young Seppel during their journey to the Wartburg Castle. In certain aspects the scenes in Kingdom of the Birds involving Seppel and his little black horse Tintenfleck (which is German for “inkblot”) or red-haired Ilse von Berlepsch and her white mare Eisblume are the culmination of all the horse stories I wrote in seventh and eighth grade.

Unlike some horse-crazy young people, I could do more than daydream about riding. In the old barn on my family’s property were a black pony called Thunder, a pinto named Prince, and a chestnut known as Charlie Brown.

Sometimes I would ride a mile down the road to visit the Haas kids, another big family in an old farmhouse.  Jean was my age, Ann-Marie was two years older, and both of them were  horse-crazy too.  In their pasture were a pony named Dolly and a white horse called Cindy. None of us took riding lessons. Unlike Seppel and Ilse, we had no Captain von Berlepsch to school us in horsemanship. We just rode.  Jean and Ann-Marie were absolutely fearless. I can still picture them galloping bareback and barefoot, Jean’s blond ponytail bouncing and Ann-Marie’s red hair flying.

kb-high-res-cover1Having come far from those teen years, I have not ridden a horse in a long time. Ann-Marie, on the other hand, is still riding, and, just as Ilse von Berlepsch would have done, she and Jean have introduced their children to the joys of horsemanship.

My Pen Proves Mightier Than My Sword

Martin Luther, Playmobil, Wartburg Castle, Kingdom of the Birds, swordsmanship
In another Playmobil Reformation moment, Captain Hans von Berlepsch teaches Seppel the art of swordsmanship in the armory of the Wartburg Castle.

“Was sehrt, das lehrt.”
What hurts, teaches. Thus says Captain von Berlepsch in the armory of the Wartburg Castle as he schools fourteen-year-old Seppel in the art of swordsmanship. More than once in Kingdom of the Birds, Seppel is to learn the truth of the captain’s words.

My own childhood experiences with sword fighting were considerably less dramatic. After watching Errol Flynn movies on WGN’s Family Classics, my brothers and sisters and I would hurry out to the barn to reenact our favorite scenes by brandishing pointed sticks at one another in the hayloft.

After years of daydreaming about wielding a genuine blade, I signed up for fencing as a P.E. credit in college. The group instructor was a disinterested coach with a whistle around her neck. Clad in T-shirts and gym shorts, a dozen of us freshmen stood dutifully in two lines and stepped forward and back for forty-five tedious minutes. At the end of each session our weary instructor told us to put away the equipment and then disappeared in search of real athletes.

Her exit signaled our transformation into a melee of pirates and musketeers. Down two flights of stairs the twelve of us battled lustily, thrusting and parrying, metal clanging on metal, deep into the dungeon level of the old brick gymnasium.

Kingdom of the Birds, swordfighting
Swordsmen at the launch party for Kingdom of the Birds, March 2010.

Even the youngest guest at the Kingdom of the Birds launch party got to wield a sword.
Even the youngest guest at the Kingdom of the Birds launch party got to wield a sword.

I never did become a swordsman, but twenty-five years later I found myself studying a translation of a sixteenth-century Fechtbuch, or fight manual, looking up from my scribbled notes to brandish a pen and try to figure out the moves in Seppel’s first encounter with an actual opponent. And when Kingdom of the Birds was published in 2010, the launch party provided opportunities for guests of all ages to wield a sword.

swordfighting Kingdom of the Birds
A enthusiastic young swordswoman is schooled by the master.

The Great Reformer and His Sidekick

Unpacking my Playmobil Martin Luther
Unpacking my Playmobil Martin Luther

Today I finally dared to open the sealed box containing the hot-selling Playmobil figure of Martin Luther, a gift from sister author Emily. I was delighted to find the Great Reformer accessorized not only with quill pen and German Bible but also cap, cape, and scholarly white cuffs.

The Playmobil package includes a fold-out map of Germany marked with 35 places associated with Luther. On the reverse is a paragraph on Luther’s role in the Reformation, the 1528 Cranach portrait of Luther, a photograph of tourists in Nuremberg, and a travel website urging readers to “Discover the legacy of the Reformation–in Destination Germany.”

The Great Reformer and his trusty sidekick Seppel
The Great Reformer and his trusty sidekick Seppel

I intend to do my part to encourage readers to discover or rediscover that legacy. In my novel Kingdom of the Birds, Seppel’s adventures include journeys to Wittenberg, Erfurt, Leipzig, and Eisenach, notably in the nearby Wartburg Castle.

kb-high-res-cover1In future posts I will highlight some of the significant Reformation events featured in Kingdom of the Birds. Just now, however, I must return to enjoying
my new Playmobil toy.

Of Sheep and Shakespeare

For sixteen summers I have scribbled late at night in the sheep barn at the Porter County Fair while my children waited to sell their 4-H lambs, always the final livestock to be auctioned off.

During fair week various drafts and revisions of my historical novels took shape as scrawled lines in spiral notebooks or typed pages slashed with red ink and arrows pointing to addenda in the margins.  Unlike Sir Georg in Kingdom of the Birds, I could never employ a scribe like Seppel to make a fair copy of my work because nobody else could understand my scratches, as my children have often told me.

On sale night my children would read or play cards or run lines–for ten years one or two or all three took part in the Young Actors Shakespeare Workshop at Valparaiso University.  After watching the youngest, eight year-old Matt, debut as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the sainted John Stephen Paul, founder of that program, remarked, “The Lutzes are the Barrymores of Valparaiso.”

Katrina and Elena (in Shakespeare T-shirt) and Matthew Lutze with their 4-H lambs at the Porter County Fair.


They would sit on the Hil-Mar Farm showbox beside our lambs’ pens, reciting their parts to one another.   Over the years I prompted Mercutio and Prince Hal and Lady Macbeth and a host of others as the lambs bleated inconsolably and the auctioneer’s staccato crackled over the intercom.   Our sheep must have been the most cultured in Porter County–one year even a basket of Hil-Mar wool was featured in a production of As You Like It.

Last night when eighteen year-old Matt sold his last lambs at the county fair, his sister Katrina was treading the boards across town in a community theatre production of Romeo and Juliet, a fitting end to our years of sheep and Shakespeare.


A Little Epiphany

kb-high-res-cover1Whenever my husband and children ask what I want for Christmas, they already know my reply: “A happy family.”  They also know that few things give me more pleasure than hearing those I love singing in harmony.  Like Sir Georg in Kingdom of the Birds, I believe that music is one of God’s greatest creations.

During the first winter storm of 2014, the five of us were snowbound at home on Sunday morning.  I suggested a family hymn sing and requested that each person choose a favorite.  We gathered in the living room with an assortment of hymnals, and I sat down at the piano.  One of the delights of living with Lutzes is that even when my fingers do not hit the right notes, the resident singers are generally able to find the four parts.

For my husband, almost every hymn evokes memories.  When we sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” Mark told the kids about attending Operation PUSH meetings in Chicago and hearing the Reverend Jesse Jackson and hundreds of other voices sing that anthem together, loud and proud.  “As with Gladness Men of Old” reminded Mark of the outdoor Epiphany services of his childhood when neighborhood families piled up all the Christmas trees and sang around the blazing fire.

In my vision of a happy family, no hymn sing would be complete without tears.  Mark wiped his eyes after “Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning,” one of his sainted mother’s favorites. During “Now the Green Blade Rises,” the page of my hymnal became blurry as I played the lilting melody we sang around the redbud tree planted in memory of our son Joseph:

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

Your touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;

Love is come again like wheat arising green.