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January 21-24, 2011
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A Real Diary
Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
Dresden, Germany -- Breakfast
We are acting on a years-old resolution to travel more, even if it is just a weekend. We vow to not let weather and "long drives" dissuade us. Ideally, we will even change our view of "long" and be able to reach more of Europe than just greater-Frankonia.
For this weekend, I had a business meeting in Offenbach and Marianne had a "girl's brunch" in Erlangen, so the start was a bit complicated, but no matter. I took the company bus up early in the morning and have to admit I enjoyed riding, not driving. It was possible to appreciate how nice the route really is, despite the current autobahn-under-construction nature of the views.
Marianne drove up alone after her brunch. For her too, the two-hour trip was uneventful, not always a given on this part of the A3 autobahn. By 2pm, we had re-joined and started our road trip to Dresden. The navigator web sites had said the trip was somewhere between four and five hours, long by our standards but good training.
We started north from Frankfurt and then turned East, on roads crowded with Friday afternoon trucks and travelers. Throw in a little snow, and early winter dusk and it was not a fun drive. But, again, it was training to get us out of our comfort zone! In the end, the four hour, thirty minute trip was unremarkable -- remarkable in itself.
We checked in at the Maxstrasse Dresden Hotels, where we had reserved a studio apartment at the Pension am Zwinger. Our place in the remodeled old building seemed like we were the first to ever stay there. So far, worth a recommendation.
This morning, we are across the street at breakfast. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite parts of travel in Europe, especially in Germany where good breakfast buffets are the rule. The slow start of the day allows planning (and diary writing). Our targets for the weekend include:
-- Frauenkirche, a famous cathedral bombed in WWI whose' reconstruction was recently completed
-- Semperoper, the grand opera house. We will try for a tour, since we felt too intimidated to go to a five-hour Wagner opera on Sunday night.
-- Zwinger, an elaborate Baroque palace
etc. I wonder what this will cover?
Sunday Morning (23rd), Breakfast again
So, What DID we do yesterday - after breakfast? Mostly we walked, from 10:15 to past 6pm. The day started sunny, so we decided we could leave behind hats and gloves; big mistake. By the time we had walked five minutes and were looking at the moat around the Zwinger palace, we knew we would want to stay inside most of the day.
Our first stop was the cathedral, not the most famous church in Dresden (that would be later), but a good tourism start. Outside was large and imposing and inside, quiet and white.
The next stop, where we would remain for hours, was the Residential Palace (Residenzschloss). The palace houses several different museums and galleries, the most famous of which is the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe). The Vault dates from the 16th Century, when it housed the treasures of Augustus the Strong. I don't know about strong, but he certainly was rich. We have been kicking around European museums for quite awhile now, and we saw luxuries beyond anything we have seen so far.
I would show you pictures, but the security surrounding the collection prohibited cameras -- or coats or purses for that matter. All I can suggest is to visit websites for the New Green Vault and the Historic Green Vault. (Any pictures below are, in fact, from websites., not my normal practice. My favorite was the collection of jewel-encrusted sets of ceremonial swords and medallions. One set would have been a highlight of any other history museum but the Residenzschloss had 15 or 20. Marianne's Vault favorites included the enameled boxes and the jewels.
On the floor above the Green Vaults, was a collection entitled the "Rüstkammer". The translation was variously "Armory" or just "Collection" but it had displays of arms and castle paraphernalia that were as extensive as the Vault's collection of jewelry. Here, without a doubt, our favorite was the "Turkish Chamber", a collection of souvenirs from a 19th Century diplomatic tour of the Ottoman Empire. Within this collection, the highlight was a huge tent, plain on the outside and gloriously colorful on the inside. (A Link to someone else's pictures.)
On the top floor was the "Kupferstich-Kabinett", dedicated to photography. The area started as a royal display of the 19th Century daguerreotypes. Today's public exhibit covered turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th) art photography, where picture styles resembled paintings, but not quite. The 100-year-old works would stand up to any modern display of photography.
Somewhere else in the Residenzschloss was the Münzkabinett (Coin Collection) but, I have to admit, after four hours of seeing wonderful collections, we passed on coins. Maybe next time. We needed some fresh air.
At this point, we had no particular goal. We wandered up on the walkway along the Elbe River, Alte Bühne (Old Stage) for a view of the opposite side of the river, the Neustadt or new city. We need to hit the area sometime, but it's hard to work everything in. Besides, we were getting pretty cold, so we turned away from the river and walked toward the Frauenkirche, Dresden's most famous church.
Much of Dresden was bombed flat in February 1945 by a controversial British bombing raid and the Frauenkirche was left in its destroyed state until fairly recently. Today, however, it has been completely rebuilt, including a massive new tower bell, a British product and donation. Inside, the church has been redone in its traditional , Protestant decorative scheme, soft colors and an absence of the garishness of, for example, Catholic Bavarian churches in our neighborhood.
After church, and a little shopping, we had lunch at Kurfürstenschänke, a nice place on the Frauenkirche square. The food was OK, not special, but the setting, both inside and the window view, were special. A good balance.
Tomorrow, we need to cover more of Dresden's forty museums, but I'm sure there will be some we leave behind.
Monday morning (24th) Again, Breakfast
A summary report on Sunday.
-- Breakfast at the Italian restaurant associated with the hotel. Good, but getting boring after just two days.
-- Lunch: Cafe Something-or-other, across from the Zwinger. Marianne had pudding for lunch again, a German confection called "Rote-Gruetze" that is a fruit compote underneath a rich vanilla sauce. This is two days in a row where she convinced herself it was diet-worthy. Simple sandwich for me.
-- Dinner: Sushi und Wein, a sushi restaurant right
next to the hotel. Normally, I am cautious about sushi outside of Japan
or a big city's
-- Semperoper. Our major goal for the day was a tour of the Dresden opera house, which is called the "Semperoper", after Gottfried Semper, the architect of the original 1841 building.The opera house burned down and was rebuilt in the 19th Century and destroyed again in the February, 1945 bombing and rebuilt in 1985.
Our tour was all in German, so my mastery of details was not good, but here are a few points. After WWII, there was an extended debate over exactly how to rebuild. The outer facade had survived, but virtually every other part was destroyed. In the end, the decision was made to re-construct the old interior, but make modern functional modifications.
The vestibule was a spectacular fake, in the 20th Century as it had been in the 19th. The elaborate "oak" paneling, as well as the "marble" columns, were plaster reproductions, not for cost but for fire protection. The surfaces were hand painted to look exactly like wood or stone. It was amazing to remember that this entire area had been rebuilt in the 1980's.
Inside the concert hall, the theater was bright, sumptuous, and quite comfortable. The most recent layout removed 500 of the original 1700+ seats. Modern people are much taller (leg room) and wider, but Wagner operas are still hours long, so something had to give. However, the most famous technical aspect of the Semperoper is the sound quality. Voices from operas and plays on the huge stage can be heard in the highest of the four balconies, without electronic amplification.
We passed on the opportunity to see the Semperoper in action since the only opening was for a Wagner event of over five hours -- way too much German for us, I'm afraid.
-- Zwinger. The Dresden Zwinger, a palace not unlike the French masterpieces such as Versailles, was built by Augustus the Strong, the elector of Saxony and the King of Poland. He had it built in the early 18th Century as grounds for elaborate parties and celebrations, demonstrating his wealth and power. Like much of Dresden, it was bombed in 1945 and has had to be rebuilt in the half-century since. Today, even the reconstruction is being rebuilt. We sympathize, 18th Century buildings are expensive to modernize and maintain!
We went to three separate museums housed in the Zwinger: (Interior pictures not allowed.)
-- Armory. This collection of medieval arms and armor was spectacular, and I'm sure would inspire wonder among most boys, of any age, but we were getting museum-saturated. That's a shame because it deserved more attention. Maybe next time we could bring a nephew or grandson and see the Zwinger Armory as it should be seen.
-- Porcelain Collection. Augustus the Great liked porcelain. Lots of porcelain. The Zwinger was built, it part, to house his collection and even though parts of his collection have been lost or destroyed over the ages, what's left is a mind-numbing array of pieces, large and small. His original collection was imports from China and Japan, but his interest was so strong that he actually sponsored the invention of porcelain in Europe. Eventually, his porcelain profits was call Dresden Gold and helped pay for Augustus' extravagance.
-- Gold of Hercules (Das Geld des Herkules). This was a temporary (Jan 2010 - March, 2011) display featuring citrus fruits as symbols of power and royalty. Really. The display was in a gallery that was originally an "orangerie" or green house for maintaining orange trees in a cold, northern climate. Augustus had several thousand citrus trees and, in summer, he would bring out 500 of the best specimens to decorate the grounds of the Zwinger. A nice, small, different display.
From the Zwinger, we wandered. We again walked by "The Parade of Dukes Mural ", aka The Meissen Wall. It looks better in the the light than at night. Our next choices were a gallery of modern art or Sunday church music (Geistliche Sonntagsmusik) in the Frauenkirche. We opted for music.
Yesterday's pictures show the compelling interior decor of the church, but today we heard the wonderful sounds. A trio of oboe, viola, and bass violin opened and closed for the forty-person Frauenkirche choir. Squeezed in were some prayers and homilies by the pastor, sort of commercials for the real business of the church. This was definitely better than another art gallery.
Now we were ready to head "home", but we were passing the Transportation Museum (Verkehrmuseum) and felt we just could not pass up yet one more museum, so we went in. Bad idea, actually. It was one museum too far. It seemed like everything had been seen before, although the East German nature of the displayed transport was a bit unique. Here are our pictures, but don't let the smiles fool you.
So, that was our Day Two. Pretty good, except for those trains and cars.
Of course we still had one more day, but that would be outside of Dresden, another story.
John and Marianne
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