Kyra's Excellent Adventure Part 8: Into the East, part 3: Dresden
Sorry for the long break in the travelogue. I've been working hard on books; the second half of Book 3 of Defenders of the Wildings needed pretty much a complete rewrite. So most of my meager brain power has been going to that. But it's finally done, and now I'm working on final edits on Book 1. Watch this space for a cover reveal, coming soon!
So, on to Dresden. Dresden was planned to be one of the highlights of the trip. Once known as the Florence of the Elbe, a jewel box of beauty and culture, the city suffered devastating destruction from Allied firebombing near the end of World War II, a horrific, nightmarish tragedy. There's a lot of controversy over the reasons for and necessity of the bombings, but I believe the ultimate responsibility lies at the feet of the Nazi regime that led Germany into a terrible and completely unjustified war of aggression and conquest.
Since my previous visit to Dresden in the 70s, beginning after the fall of the GDR and reunification there's been extensive restoration work, and the city is once again a treasure. We were especially looking forward to seeing the Frauenkirche, the famous church that was reduced to ruins, left as a pile of rubble during the Soviet era, and finally rebuilt, 1993-2005.
Driving into the city, we passed the dreadful, ugly apartment blocks that once housed the families of Red Army troops stationed in East Germany. 10, 14 stories tall, I guessed, and no elevators. They don't look like dwellings; they look like warehouses for storing human cogs in the machine.
Past the Soviet-era apartment blocks on the outskirts of town, we drove into the city, and parked in a parking lot in front of this department store, built after reunification.
We didn't go inside. According to my mom, we could have spent a whole day just in that store, and we didn't have an extra day.
Our main destination was a short walk away, the square around the Frauenkirche. The church is breathtaking in its beauty and magnificence, outside and in.
In that shot of the balconies, you can see the resemblance between the Frauenkirche and the small church in Forscheim attended by our relatives (that we actually visited the next day; doing a little time traveling here!). We were fortunate enough to get there in time for the mid-day devotional, so we got to hear some wonderful organ music and an inspiring service.
The square and streets around the church are also beautiful, lined with elegant buildings. And there's a cafe there where you can get a strawberry parfait that's about a foot tall.
After this, my siblings and their spouses took off to go visit a castle, while my parents and my husband and I headed to the next attraction, the Gallery of Old Masters at the Zwinger palace.
On the way, we walked down this street lined with a mural of all the kings of Saxony. It's a history lesson in pictures, and it was fun reading the names and seeing the changing styles of clothing and armor from Konrad the Great in 1127 to Friedrich the Bitten (Gebissene) in 1307, followed by Friedrich the Serious (Ernsthafte) in 1324, followed by Friedrich the Strict (Strenge) in 1349, who was succeeded by Friedrich the Argumentive (Streitbare) in 1381, then later, Friedrich the Gentle (Sanftmuetige) in 1428, and so on to the late 1800s (unfortunately, my picture of the very end of the mural is blurry so I can't see the names and dates at the ends. They aren't all Friedrichs; there's also some Augusts and Georgs and other names in there too.) My husband had fun giving names to all the kings' minions.
My husband is a big art history buff, and the visit to the Zwinger was the part of the trip he'd been looking forward to the most. By this time, I was pretty tired, not just from the day but from the whole trip, and needed a break, so I sent him into the museum with my parents and told him to have fun, then I got to enjoy a couple of hours to rest and recharge.
I went to a cafe on the square by the Zwinger, which is also where the opera house is and a bunch of other cool historic stuff, and had an ice cream sundae. Germans are very serious about their ice cream sundaes, and the fudge-mocha-hazelnut concoction I got was delicious.
After that I retired to the courtyard of the Zwinger with my Kindle Paperwhite and my phone full of music and my earbuds.
Here's what I was reading:
If you like character-driven epic fantasy with a strong female lead and heavy romantic elements, this series is definitely worth checking out.
And here's what I was listening to:
I bought Kamelot's new album The Shadow Theory right before we left on the trip and hadn't really had time to listen to it. Finally, now I had the chance! Unlike their previous album, Haven, it didn't grab me by the throat with its sheer awesomeness on first listen, but as I listened through a few times, its brilliance started to grow on me. It's supposedly inspired by Jungian psychology, but I don't know anything about that. Instead, I got a definite dystopian vibe from it. Maybe because that was the theme of Haven, and partly because of the repeated catchphrase "I am the empire" which, vocalized in a growl, encapsulates the essence of totalitarianism. The children's choir on "Burns to Embrace" singing "We are the last to walk the earth" was especially chilling. It seemed a fitting album to listen to while visiting a city that survived two dystopias in the last century, the Nazi regime and the Communist GDR. And really, when you think about it, one is just as bad as the other. Some of the tactics and underlying philosophies might differ, but when it comes right down to it, there's really no difference between them. In both systems, the rights and freedoms of the individual are crushed beneath the demands of the state/collective, a philosophy that has put many tens of millions, if not hundred of millions, of people in graves in the last 100 years.
The most beautiful song on the album, Vespertine (My Crimson Bride) (link goes to Spotify, where if you log in/sign up for free, you can hear the whole album) offers a note of hope, and also seemed especially fitting. This probably isn't the real meaning, but to me, the song speaks of a beautiful woman fallen to ruin and madness, yet still living as young, vibrant, and beautiful in the memory of her beloved. It reminded me of a beautiful city fallen into despair and ruins then rebuilt to its former glory by people who refused to give up on the memory of what it once was. Every time I hear that song (and it's one of my favorites, so that's pretty often), I'll always think of Dresden.
These guys kept me company while I hung out in the courtyard:
And just a few more pictures from the area near the Zwinger:
After my husband was done with the museum, which he very much enjoyed, definitely one of the highlights of the trip for him, we walked across a bridge over the Elbe River, which is quite a beautiful river.
The only thing I didn't like about Dresden were the pay toilets. All three bathrooms I visited there made you pay. The one in the museum, you had to scan your ticket to get in. No way I was buying a 19 Euro ticket just to use the facilities, so my husband let me use his. I was hoping the museum's computer system didn't record that that ticket had been used to get into the ladies' room and deny my husband access to the men's room if he needed to go later. At the cafe where I had my ice cream, if I had thought to bring my receipt downstairs with me (the WC - water closet - was down in the basement), I wouldn't have had to pay, but there isn't anything that tells you that until you're already in the stall! And even at the McDonald's, you had to drop a coin in the turnstile to get in. At least you get a coupon for a discounted drink in exchange, but come on. Paying to get into the bathroom at McDonald's? At least, as long as we were in McDonald's, we enjoyed getting drinks with ice. No Dr. Pepper (by this time, my husband was seriously jonesing for a Dr. Pepper Polar Pop from Circle K), but yay, ice.
Aside from that minor quibble, Dresden was an amazing experience, deeply moving and thought-provoking from a historical perspective and filled with lots of wonderful things to see as a tourist.
Next time: Going Medieval, part 1
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