The Jewel of Germany

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Sunday, October 2, 2005

So it's back to Germany we go! We were competing with hoards of school kids for seats on the train from Prague to Dresden; wisely we had moved further down the platform and had first chance at some of the compartments that weren't full. Two other people joined us whom I think were Czech. They tried to talk to us about our seats, but we couldn't understand what they were saying, so they switched to German and that didn't help either. Finally, we all gave up and never did figure out what they were trying to tell us. (At first I thought that maybe we had taken seats that they'd reserved, but they no more had reservations than we did.)

Our compartment on the train was a non-smoking car, but that just meant you couldn't smoke in the car. All up and down the aisle, people were puffing away. It's been the same with hotel rooms. Even if they're non-smoking, guests can smoke outside the rooms (there's often a place by the elevators). (I remember telling Ulrike about our "no-scent" policy at work and she was amazed that we had such a thing. People with allergies wouldn't do well here. Vigilant non-smokers, either!)

It was nice to see some smiling faces again - or at least people who will smile back at you! (Scarlet said she'd never been "dissed" by as many people as she had in Prague. But they're probably sick of tourists!)

We arrived in Dresden around lunch time and then had our work cut out for us - finding a place to stay! I had tried to find something on the Internet while we were in Prague, but there was nothing! Nada! (That's one thing I don't like about travelling these days - you have to be too organized. Before the days of the Internet, you could just arrive and find accommodation. No one ever booked ahead.) So obviously, we had hit upon another busy weekend! (Apparently, there was some talk show that was going on here this weekend, Sunday is Thanksgiving and Monday is a holiday - National Reunification Day - the 15th anniversary.) Needless to say, we ended up in an expensive place (€92 per night or about $130 CDN including breakfast). Why is it we always seem to hit places at such busy times? In Berlin, there was the marathon, in Prague a holiday and now a holiday here! Well, at least our hotel was close to the major attractions. Martin also appreciated that there was a TV, though the only channel we could get in English was BBC - with no picture! However, he seemed quite content to watch "Die Simpsons" and movies dubbed in German! (You know you've moved up a step when shampoo and soap are provided in your hotel room!)

Dresden (population 500,000), the jewel of Germany with all its splendid architecture, was fired-bombed by the Allies for two days in 1945 in order to "break the spirit of the German people". Over three-quarters of the city was flattened and more than 35,000 civilians were killed. Since reunification in 1990, they have been reconstructing historical buildings in the city and are close to completion for much of it. (The target is 2006.) This was no small feat. One of the most famous landmarks in Dresden, the Frauenkirche (Our Lady of the Church) sat in ruins for more than 35 years. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle to put back together, the new blocks of stone are intermingled with the fire-blackened ones that survived the fire.

What incredible buildings there are here! I can't imagine what it must of been like prior to February, 1945! The opulence of its palaces, the opera house and the collections of porcelain, master paintings and gold-encrusted jewels/ornaments are something to see! For €10 (about $15 CDN), you can buy a one-day "Tageskarte" (museum pass) that gets you into many of the various museums and galleries. Once again, we were walked out (and museumed out) by the end of the day!

Sometimes, you just luck out, too, in coming across interesting/entertaining things when you're travelling. In Desden, we happened upon a number of excellent musicians: a classically-trained group playing modern music that were wonderful, a street performer demonstrating how to play an unusual medieval instrument; a German men's choir singing at the Zwinger Palace. These are the magic moments you remember.

Martin has spent hours studying the cobblestone streets here and wondering how they manage to square off the corners. Often the stones are placed in very intricate designs. (He's making plans for our backyard at home I think.)

Our guidebook warned us that the tap water in the former East Germany may not be safe to drink, so we have been buying bottled water. Most people here seem to drink "mineral wasser" (mineral water) that is carbonated, I prefer "stilles wasser" (regular table water), but it's not always easy to find! The wine is pretty good, though . . . .

We did manage to see some of Martin's cousins while we were here. They drove in from Chemnitz (pronounced "Kem-nits") and Jena ("Yay-na"), both of which are west of Dresden, to see us. Karina, a surgery intern now living in Jena, speaks quite good English and was very helpful in assisting the rest of us to communicate. Her boyfriend, Mike, who is involved in the security business, did not speak much English and neither did her aunt, uncle and cousin from Chemnitz: Martina, Ulli (a confectioner) and Ralf (a woodworker). Martina and Martin are second cousins, their grandfathers were brothers. Martin's father and Martina's father are first cousins.

Since reunification was the focus of the holiday weekend, I asked Karina her thoughts on the Berlin Wall coming down/the reunification of East and West Germany. She does remember the events (though she was only 9/10 at the time). She recalls that her mother was particularly happy because now they were free to travel and to visit relatives in other parts of Germany. Karina did comment on the divisions that still exist between east and west. She says that a number of West Germans are bitter that they have to pay to rebuild East Germany, but, she says that all Germans are taxed for this, so it is not just West Germans who are paying.

(Karina also informed us that there was an election this weekend. The candidate who had been elected in the recent national election died, so voters were having to choose a new representative. There were election posters all over the place.)

Martin and I invited Martina and family and Karina and Mike to visit us in Canada, but, for the most part, the invitation is met with caution. Martina has never flown and is afraid to fly; Ralf is concerned his English would not be good enough. Only Karina and Mike seem interested, Karina particularly because physicians are not well paid in Germany. I do not know if her training here would qualify her to practise in Canada.

We met in the hustle and bustle of the Frauenkirche, visited (as much as we could) over coffee and wandered around. I'm sure they didn't know what to do with us! And there was so much to say, but it was so difficult to communicate. We spent the afternoon together, exchanged gifts, hugs and then said goodbye, probably not to meet again for years, if ever.
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