A couple of hours later after driving through a dry Czech and German countryside we stop at Dresden (pop 530,000) for a couple of hours looking around. Dresden formerly in East Germany has a long history as the “capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendor. The city was known as the Jewel Box, because of its baroque and rococo city center.” During the 2nd World War controversial allied bombing killed approximately 25,000, many of whom were civilians. The bombing gutted the city but restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city. Before and since German reunification in 1990, Dresden was and is a cultural, educational, political and economic center of Germany and Europe.
We pick up a city map and outside take pics of the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau a stately home for art in the 19th century and now again today. Its glass dome is called, because of its folded form, “lemon squeezer”. Opposite is the Museum de Festung, a 17th-century fortress where European porcelain was invented. Besides the River Elbe and on a decent chunk of marble sits Ludwig Richter a German painter and etcher who was born in Dresden in 1803 and died in 1884.
Along the river Lilly captures the landmark terrace and river views. It is hot and dry and the water looks more inviting than it did in the Czech Republic.
Over the river two huge and drab buildings house the tax offices and the State Chancellery. There is another impressive building on our side of the river, forgotten its name. Further along we
The Semperoper is the opera house and the concert hall of Dresden and home to the Semperoper ballet. It was originally built in 1841. After a devastating fire in 1869, the opera house was rebuilt and completed in 1878. It has a long history of premieres, including major works by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.
Dresden Cathedral is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Dresden. Opened in 1751 after it was decided that a Catholic church was needed in order to counterbalance the Protestant Frauenkirche. It is the most important Catholic church in Dresden after being restored in 1980 from its devastation from the bombing at the end of World War II.
The Dresden Frauenkirche is a Lutheran church, although originally Roman Catholic. It became Protestant during the Reformation and the current Baroque building was purposely built Protestant. It is considered an outstanding example of Protestant sacred architecture, featuring one of the largest domes in Europe. It now also serves as a symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies.
The Fürstenzug is a large mural of a mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony, originally painted between 1871 and 1876. To make the work weatherproof, it was replaced with approximately 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles between 1904 and 1907. It is 102 metres long and is the largest porcelain artwork in the world.
Lilly captures most of the unforgettable buildings in Dresden, but the names escape me when I update a couple of days later and I will have to match up some time. Later Lilly reckons Dresden is one of the most interesting cities in Germany, Berlin by comparison being fairly ordinary.
We get into Berlin (pop 3.4m), now Germany’s capital, about 4:30pm and finally find our hotel after negotiating around a major road reconstruction. We are just inside East Berlin, somehow missing Checkpoint Charlie so hope we don’t get a midnight knock on the door by the Stasi or KGB. All in the past now and there are no longer any visible signs of a once divided city and a West Berlin somewhat isolated from West Germany. We must have tested the tolerance levels of locals a couple of times on the way in, once abruptly crossing two lanes of busy traffic to take a turn. It is easy to get in the wrong lane but everybody was very courteous and patient with us.
Wednesday 12th August
We start off this morning taking the Metro from our local station to Brandenburg Gate, notwithstanding that the ticket machine issued a receipt but failed to produce tickets. A couple of guys tried helping and one talked to the office via the machine but no substantive result. At least we have our receipt if asked.
The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical triumphal arch. It is one of the best-known landmarks of Germany. Built from 1788 to 1791 it suffered heavy damage in World War II but is now fully restored. Throughout its existence, the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.
Next stop is the Reichstag building an equally important historical edifice, opened in 1894 to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire. It was severely damaged in a fire in 1933 and fell into disuse until after German reunification on 3 October 1990. It underwent a reconstruction and after completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.
In the park just across from the Reichstag there is a memorial to the half million Roma and Sinta gypsies of Germany who were persecuted and systematically rounded up and exterminated by the Nazis.
We also stop for photos and reflection at the Holocaust Memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Here there are two thousand, seven hundred and eleven gray concrete slabs, or stelae. They are identical in their horizontal dimensions (reminiscent of coffins), differing vertically (from eight inches to more than fifteen feet tall), arranged in a precise array over 4.7 acres, allowing for long, straight, and narrow alleys between them, along which the ground undulates. We look for an explanation of the site that is supposed to be a memorial to 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. I thought there might perhaps even be something acknowledging historical culpability but there is nothing. I suppose the assumption is that everyone knows.
At Ministergärten is a photo exhibition of the walls along here from more than 25 years ago and the desolate no-man’s land.
After taking pics of the modern skyscrapers in the Potsdamer Place area we take refuge for a while from the sun and heat in the huge shopping mall on Leipzinger Str.
Then catch a 200 bus to Unter den Linden and get off a stop too soon for photos of the Berlin State Opera, Humboldt University (entrance qualifications are humility and boldness), an equestrian statue of King Frederick II of Prussia, The Historical Museum and the Beijing Cathedral. The latter is open for 7 Euro each and I think is the first cathedral demanding an entrance fee. We do not enter on both principle and pocket and note that many others also turn away.
Next is Museum Island at the northern tip of the Spree Island considered to be a UNESCO world heritage site. Five world-renowned museums are gathered in an “extraordinary ensemble”. Maybe, but also expensive entrance fees and long queues deter us and we are starting to feel like a break anyway, having been going for about 4 hours. An extra day here would have been of benefit, I would like to have seen at least the Historic Museum (later I regret not making this one a priority) and perhaps the Pergamonmuseum. The others are the Bode-Museum
Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and Altes Museum.
After a very tasty lunch at the apartment (Lilly is a marvel) and a rest we take off again. We walk from where we are in Veteranen Str to the Berlin Wall memorial in Bernauer Strasse. The wall was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic the idea was to keep East Germans from fleeing to West Germany. The fortifications were progressively strengthened and eventually the wall completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany.
Before the wall became effective some 3.5m East Germans defected but from 1961 to 1989 only about 5000 tried and there were thought to be as many as 200 who died in the attempt. The wall was eventually torn down, paving the way for German reunification. The memorial extends along 1.4 kilometers of the former border strip. It contains the last piece of Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it. It conveys an impression of how the border fortifications developed until the end of the 1980s and shows how many of people crossed or died trying to cross.
Later we catch a train to Brandenburg Tor station and walk part way down Unter den Linden. There is a lot of construction going on, but the city is generally quite shabby and not all that clean. The parks are dry and unkempt and the ubiquitous graffiti gives the impression that nobody cares much. Hideous blue pipes dominate the landscape in some areas, apparently these are used to pump water out of building sites while construction proceeds. They don’t look all that temporary. Twenty five years after reunification and at least parts of the city look drab and colourless as one can imagine it was under communist rule.
We struggle getting home in the evening, taking the wrong train once and twice going in the wrong direction. Not as bad as the Paris metro but the signage in some of the bigger stations is inadequate. Others are obviously also struggling.
Thursday 13th August
First stop today on our way to Dusseldorf (or Daffodil as Lilly described it today) is Checkpoint Charlie in the middle of Berlin. This was the point of entry/exit between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. The building and signs are still present and Lilly snaps away. The crossing had real significance during the Cold War, in particular as it was the site for a confrontation of Soviet and American tanks in 1961. The Soviets made a right charlie of themselves. Checkpoint Charlie has often featured in spy movies and books.
On the outskirts of the city we stop outside the Charlottenburg Palace for photos. The palace was built at the end of the 17th century and was greatly expanded during the 18th century. It looks grand but we have a long day and we move on.
Although we stop for a late lunch in Hannover we do not go into the city or take a look around the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen. Instead we both take a nap in the car. The gardens go back to 1666 and we should probably have stopped to view them but the heat and the travel are taking their toll and we have a way to go.