The Luther goblet: traveling back in time with DB Schenker

There is no way to know whether Martin Luther’s lips ever touched the drinking glass. But what is known, however, is that he gave the ornate goblet to his friend Wilhelm Nesen. Nesen was a humanist and pedagogue, who met the reformer in Frankfurt am Main in 1521 and later visited him in Wittenberg. There, Luther presented him with the crystal goblet – goblets like these came from liquidated monastery treasures and were primarily considered an investment.

The Luther goblet owned by Wilhelm Nesen © Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/Jürgen Karpinski

The Luther goblet owned by Wilhelm Nesen © Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/Jürgen Karpinski

Nesen then took it to Zittau. His brother Konrad, the mayor of Zittau, had ornate silver plating and decoration added to the goblet. The gem remained in the family’s possession for 260 years until the last heir bequeathed it to the Dresden Kunstkammer. And that almost brings us up to DB Schenker.

Two hundred twenty-four years later, during Germany’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the goblet has returned to Zittau. On loan, of course. The Grünes Gewölbe, or “Green Vault,” is lending it to the Städtische Museen Zittau for its special exhibition Something else. The Reformation in Upper Lusatia. And because state restorers are looking after the valuable piece, they needed the right art logistics specialist to transport the goblet and other art treasures. And now here’s where DB Schenker comes in.

Special containers for transport

“We transported the goblet along with other pieces on loan to Zittau in July,” says Stephan Diesend, who manages art logistics at Schenker Deutschland AG’s Dresden office for trade fairs and special transport. “We moved the goblet in a special container that we keep on hand for these types of situations. The restorers handled the packing and unpacking themselves – we made an exception in this special instance.” DB Schenker serves as the logistics specialist for a number of institutions in the region.

Diesend and his employees transported more than a dozen pieces on loan to Zittau, including historic weights, woodcuts, paintings, offering boxes, small sculptures and written documents from the Kulturhistorisches Museum in Görlitz. All of these pieces will be on display until the beginning of next year to give visitors a glimpse of how the citizens of Zittau experienced the Reformation and saw the world at that time.

One thing that won’t be on display is the amount of effort and expense that went into transporting the pieces. More than anything, keeping the precious exhibits safe and secure was the lenders’ primary reason for entrusting transport to highly experienced logisticians.

Discretion is the guiding principle

“We have an excellent security concept,” says Diesend. “Discretion is the most important principle. We don’t even tell our own families about upcoming transports.” And the vehicles, too, are inconspicuous, but they do have GPS and alarm systems. Each vehicle also has two drivers on board just in case. Restorers or art historians from the lending museums also accompany special transports so that they can jump in if a problem occurs. Transports of jewels or especially valuable items are sometimes escorted by a security service. Armed police officers even accompanied transports when DB Schenker moved the Grünes Gewölbe from Dresden’s Albertinum to the royal palace 12 years ago.

“Traveling back to the early modern period: DB #Schenker transports pieces to the special #Reformation exhibition in Zittau.“

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DB Schenker has put itself in a strong position in a highly competitive market. Art logistics at DB Schenker is part of its trade fair and special transport services. It operates six locations in Germany. In Dresden, six employees work in the office, while eight employees are responsible for transporting the precious objects. Diesend has been at it since 1999. “Of course, all of our offices collaborate on large projects,” he says. “But our customers appreciate our local presence. We’re able to respond quickly and reliably and carefully handle even small projects.”


Stephan Diesend
Head of Art Logistics Dresden