Dresden Pt 1

Trip Start Mar 26, 2010
Trip End Apr 04, 2010

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Flag of Germany  , Saxony,
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Last night during our daily briefing we were given a choice: Our morning tour would be either Dresden on foot or by bus. If we went on foot we would have a 3 mile hike, and if we went on the bus we would go farther but we wouldn't really get to see anything. I had had enough bus trips by now to realise that I paid waay too much money to see Europe inbetween bus-napping. There's just something about buses that lull me to sleep...

Walking tour of Dresden it is then!

Did I know anything about Dresden? Not a blessed thing. A co-worker had told me that Slaughterhouse 5 was about the bombing of Dresden. Bombing? Apparently Dresden was 95% destroyed by an onslaught of bombs towards the end of WWII. I looked it up on Wikipedia and moved my eyes up and down the page and looked at the pictures of the New Jewish Synagogue and some incredibly weird looking fire escape, and simply based on the ugliness of those two incredibly modern buildings, I was prepared to be unimpressed.

We arrived at Dresden after the briefing, while we were sitting in the dining room and eating our German-with-an-American-twist cuisine. The ship had entertainment scheduled but Ms Jones and I retired early on this night. And by retired early, I mean I watched a movie on my laptop, listened to music, and wrote some in this blog and was on facebook. Home sweet home!

Our bathroom is tiny. Shower head with a curtain option, toilet, and a sink with a mirror. I have this thing where I can't go to bed until after 12am, otherwise I wake up at some ghastly hour like 4am and won't be sleepy again until it's time to wake up.

Guess what time I went to bed? 10PM. Why? I thought I was tired. And I was tired, until 3am, which is when I woke up. While I was awake, I finished my entry about Prague and uploaded pictures and marvelled at the fact that while it was 3am in Germany, it was only 9pm back in Baltimore.

Also my internal system has figured out when 7am Germany time is. Every morning I wake up at 7am, wake Ms Jones, go back to sleep until she's finished getting ready for the day, and when she heads out the door to breakfast I get ready for the day. By the time I'm finished getting dressed, she's back from her breakfast and I only have about 30min to eat and get excursion ready. Since breakfast is my least favourite meal, I have no problem eating a bowl of cereal (although it looks like what you'd find in a horse's feedbag, has raisins and is pretty good) and a croissant. As you can imagine, it doesn't take me long to eat. By the time I got back to the room Ms Jones looked at me incredulously and said 'Did you get anything to eat?! You were hardly gone 10 minutes!'

We turned in our keys and picked up our headsets at the reception desk. Everyone gets a headset for the tours, which is a fantastic thing because otherwise we'd have to huddle around the tour guides to hear them say anything. It's just a (receiver box that hangs around your neck and an ear piece and the guide speaks through a microphone the entire tour, so you never miss a word. Unless their accent's really bad, in which case you just wait for the un-understandableness to end.

Forecast: 50 degrees, overcast with a chance of rain. It, was, cold.

Dresden is right on the Elbe River. We followed our guide along the riverside for 5min and as we turned up a street I recognised the ugly New Synagogue that I had seen on Wikipedia! Score  Wikipedia! Our guide took us to by the Albertinium, a few magnificent churches whose names I never caught, down to the Semperoper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semperoper - Opera House which is 95% full almost every performance), the Zwinger Palace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zwinger), The Old Masters Picture Gallery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemäldegalerie_Alte_Meister), the hotel Obama stayed in for millions of Dresden taxpayers euros, which was across the street from the Green Vault.

During the previous night's daily briefing, there were lots of questions about the museums and churches that we were scheduled to see. The Green Vault, which apparently isn't always open, and the Church of Our Lady. Neither of which meant anything to me, but everyone else was greatly interested in seeing them. The Green Vault is a museum that contains the largest collection of 'treasures' in Europe. I say 'treasures' because some (well, most) of the stuff in the 'New Collection' has that overly rich feel to it that makes me think of the peasants and beggars starving in the streets while the kings and queens had their massive banquets with mile high hair and tureens carved out of ebony and decorated so profusely that they couldn't even be used.

There were some mind blowing exhibits though. The one that stands out the most in my mind is the ivory frigate held up by Neptune. Whether it's carved out of once piece of ivory or not, I don't know, but it's very large and the sails are paper thin and perfectly curved. Here's where my memory blanks: I could have sworn our tour guide told us that to this day, no one knows how they curved the ivory into those sails. And I can find no information via google about that durn ivory frigate!

The great thing about the internet (or rather, Wikipedia) is that while I'm sitting down to write this entry, I remember what I saw at the museum but not what it was called. Wikipedia to the rescue (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Vault)!
I saw the Moor with the Emerald Plate, Palace at Delhi of the Mogul Aurangzeb at his birthday ('...a miniature with about 150 persons and animals...costs as much as one palace'), the Dresden Green Diamond, and so, so much more. With help from my postcards I can tell you we also saw about two dozen of these weird people made from shape-deformed pearls. Some call them precious, but I call them creepy. Especially that one legged one.

We didn't get to go into the actual Vault, which I didn't understand until later (gosh darn it). Leaving the Vault we walked under an archway where someone was playing the accordion. Nothing sounds more German than hearing the accordion while traipsing about!

Next we came to what Wikipedia tells me is the 'Fürstenzug'. It looked like a tapestry, a massive tapestry painted onto the side of a very long wall. It's actually made up of porcelain tiles and is the largest tile mural in the world. It depicts a procession of 'all' the great Saxons throughout time. And like all old art, there were tons of 'See that thistle under this horse's hoofs? That signifies the downfall of this man's kingdom' moments that our tour guide peppered us with. I had a hard time paying attention to what she said (squirrel!) because there was this silver statue standing close to us right underneath the tapestry. At first I thought he was fake, until I passed by and saw his bushy black handlebar moustache blowing in the wind and I thought that's weird, why would they make a statue and stick hair on his face, is that a neo weird art thing that arty people think is cool? Then a kid went up next to him so his mom could take his picture and the statue started flipping his sword around and doing all sorts of moves that scared the heck out of the kid and his mom! Just as suddenly as he started moving, he stopped and became a statue again.


There was another one at the other end of the wall, and he did some not-as-awesome moves as the other one, but pretty crafty nonetheless.

I don't know how well you can see it in the pictures, but there was a large pink pipeline running over our heads when we got to the end of that block. No one asked what it was, so I didn't either. I was afraid of what the answer would be, to tell the truth. I will say, that for all that we were in the Old part of Dresden where the citizens have done their darnest to bring back the beauty of their city, they kind of lost me on the pink pipes running through their district high in the sky so you're sure to notice it.

The Frauenkirche was our last stop. Martin told us the night before that during the 7 Years War, bombs bounced off the dome of the Frauenkirche leaving it virtually untouched until the Dresden bombing in WWII. The church was totally destroyed and laid in a pile of rubble until the late 80s, when reconstruction of the church begun. Sitting on the top of the dome of the church, there's a cross that was made by the son of a man who bombed the Frauenkirche in WWII.

Walking inside I was met by one of the most magnificent, beautiful things that my eyes have ever seen. The first word that came into my mind was Light. There was so much light, and not just from the windows. The soft pastel yellows, blues and pinks, the white marble, the gold, the high arches, the dome. There was so much light it was hard to believe that it was overcast and drizzling rain outside.

I, in the process of trying to take everything in, couldn't keep the names straight. People kept talking about the 'Frauenkirche' and 'Church of Our Lady', leading me to think that they were two different churches (one Lutheran, one Catholic). I thought the Frauenkirche was untouched, or only partially destroyed during the bombing and that the Church of Our Lady had been hit pretty hard. Imagine my shock and horror at seeing the pictures of what it looked like after the bombing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dresden_Frauenkirche). The fact that it was so completely and utterly demolished, the fact that they reconstructed it to look almost exactly like it did before the bombing is a miracle in of itself.

We only had a few minutes to be astounded, and then we had to skoot. Standing outside the Frauenkirche our guide pointed out to us that everything we could see looked different five years ago. All of it has been under construction until a few years ago, so every single thing we could see was practically 'new'.

The walk back to the ship was like a dream. By now I was in love with Dresden. I took picture after picture of the tall, colourful rowhouses (I don't think that's what they're called, but whatever) and their incredibly intricate detailing, and the quiet majesty of a once destroyed city. I was undeniably excited for the afternoon. We were on our own in Dresden from 2pm-6pm.

I couldn't wait.

Next: Dresden Pt 2.
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