Dresden was once called the “Florence on the Elbe” being one of Europe’s architectural and artistic highlights. However, much of it was bombed during WWII and much of the city was not much more than a rubble heap. On February 13, 1945, 800 British aircraft showered the city with 2,600 tons of bombs. The Americans followed the next morning with 300 Flying Fortress bombers. It is estimated that 25,000 people were killed, while 13 square miles of the historic city center were destroyed. With temperatures rising to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the burning city was visible to pilots from 100 miles away. Dresden was a central hub for the Nazi’s and the city remained loyal to them, hence its destruction. Being Saturday evening, there was not much open other than restaurants and bars, but it was lovely seeing the city at this time of day. The streets were crowded with tourists and residents strolling and chatting in various languages. What struck us the most was that it was COLD. We both had liners under our coats, but we could have used gloves and scarves too. The outdoor restaurants all had their heatalators on to keep the hungry crowds warm enough to sit through a meal.
What made my heart sing was the cable car ride we took to the peak of the Untersberg Mountain. This is one of the largest in the area and extends into Germany, creating a natural border. The cable car travels at 7 miles per hour from the base station at 456 meters above sea level to the top station at 1,776 meters, making an altitude difference of 1,320 meters. The ride on a two cable system lasts for 9 minutes, but the viewing is spectacular from the cable car and once you arrive at the peak. There was some religious ceremony going on at the next to highest peak, with the highest there was a huge cross. Neither attraction prompted me to venture beyond the hiking that I did do over loose rocks, steep inclines and no guard rails along the way. If Julie Andrews or Jesus were appearing at the top peak, it would not have motivated me further. Spending over an hour here, we were first in line for the cable car down, which was luck as we shared it with many of the people involved in the celebratory mass. This was clearly evident in their soldier costumes that spanned many centuries. We never did find out what it was. Normally, the cable car ride would be 21 Euros per person. You are stuck with a round trip, as you cannot get down without the cable car unless you are a mountain goat.
Our next stop was the Egyptian Museum adjacent to the Residence. They claim it is the only museum in the world to focus entirely on Egyptian art. Having been to Egypt, this is an incredible declaration on their part, forcing us to investigate their honestly. The generic museum brochure states offers that the collection is an overview of all period of history, with dazzling exhibits. Truly, once we entered, we were dazzled and beyond. The exhibits were breathtaking. So many pieces were magnificently intact, boggling one's mind as to how they could stay so well preserved over all of these centuries.
Hopping on another tram, we were headed to the Deutsches Museum. This is advertised as one of the largest and most important collections of technological and natural science items in the world. Yet, on the way, we discovered a quaint looking little bookstore that had all of the sensory appeal of days gone by where you wanted to hang around and browse through the books. With a wall of English books, this was entirely possible for us to do and picked up a couple of titles. Interestingly, these were new books, but they were cheaper than what we normally pay for used books back in Hungary. It is a conundrum as to why.
In search of a coffee shop, we wandered into one that looked cozy enough. After seating ourselves and doing the panoramic view of the premises, we realized there were only 3 men in the place if you counted us. There was a distinct air about the women surrounding us; they were really friendly to each other. It didn't take long for the light switch in my brain to flip on. This was a thespian coffee shop. Oh, forget that, they were not acting, this was for real. This was a lesbian hotspot, though we were not treated like aliens, so we stayed. If we ever return to Munich, this is on our return to list.
On the way back, we decided to have a drink at the Teddy Bar. Being this was a gay bar, our impression and what our host told us was that this was a bear bar. For the uninitiated, a bear bar is for those who are the hairy male version of Rubenesque as well as for their admirers. Out hosts told us they thought the bar had closed down, but we found lights on prompting us to give it a shot. Shock would have been better. A gay bar, yes, but nary a bear to be found. This type of gay bar is what is whimsically categorized as a wrinkle room or rather a conference hall for gay septuagenarian and octogenarian gay men. I was the youngest one in there by 2 decades.
The primary trek for today was the Nymphenburg Palace, where King Ludwig II was born. It was relatively easy to reach by public transport, but we made a mistake taking tram 16/17, which at one point changed to tram 11. We had to backtrack and get a tram 16 for the rest of the route. There is a stop right by the palace, which is set back from the road making for a breathtaking view. The palace sits within a park of 490 acres. There are two lakes with multiple dozen swans, geese, and ducks. It is the most enormous building I have seen. If you were allowed to tour the entire building, it would take you a minimum of two complete days. It was originally built in 1675 for the then electorate and his wife, the predecessors of kings. With each generation it was added to, creating the pavilions Amalienburg, Badenburg, Pagodenburg, and the Magdalenenklause. We toured the main building, which was plenty. Baroque, baroque, baroque everywhere baroque. This has never been my cup of tea. Even here, it seems so overdone. Museum entrance also provides admission to the Marstallmuseum, which is the collection of the royal carriages and sleighs. The first impression was that this would be less interesting than the inside of the palace. Not true. It was pretty incredible how those royals indulged in finery for their carriages and sleighs. Since Ludwig II was a bit light in loafers, he could not have a "Room of Beautiful Women", so not to be outdone by his father, he had a "Room of his favorite horses". Like his father, they ran the gamut to.
Sure we have a breakfast opportunity at the place where we are staying, but the market is so inviting. Just off of Marienplatz, one will find a large outdoor market where vendors are selling goodies that range from farm fresh produce to the cutest little straw animals you can imagine. In the center of all of this is the Maypole, suitably decorated with steins of beer, pretzels, and other Bavarian treasures. Off to the side of the open-air market is a more sumptuous upper scale place to tickle your senses. There are cheese shops, bakeries, chocolate and wine shops all presenting their wares worthy of salivating over. Yes, I went off my diet for a chocolate croissant and a coffee. It was worth every morsel; the flaky crust was buttery rich and the chocolate was as thick as a candy bar. I could hear my waist expanding with every bite.
Next it was time for a culture stop at the Muchner Stadtmuseum. Unassuming from the outside, inside it is like a playground for adults. The top floor is filled with displays of puppets and marionettes to stir childhood memories as well as transport you to lands of fancy. The museum has a special exhibit for Munich's 850th anniversary called "Typically Munich". Every floor was chock full of fabulous things and they allowed photos. Needless to say, we were there for hours. Across the driveway is a Socialist Museum, included in the entrance fee. There was not much translated in English here and after letting our children out to play, it was not so pleasant an experience. Admission is 6 Euros for adults, 3 for seniors. I entered for free with my press pass.
The next stop was the Neue Pinakothek Museum. Each evening, a different museum is open until 8pm. which is a lovely way to fit in a couple of visits in one day without liquifying our brain by the end of the day. Admission is 9 Euros, but 5 for seniors and free with a press pass. The majority of works are German artists, but there were Manets, Picassos, and other masters that everyone would recognize. They allow photos too without a flash, so I had a ball doing micro pictures. Rather than take a photo of a whole painting, I would photograph small sections. As I did this, I created captions in my head and had myself quite entertained, though the others were uncertain why I kept guffawing out loud. Once I have the photos up in the other blog, you will see what I mean. We closed the museum at 8pm, which is about all that we close these days. Long gone are the days when we could close a bar.
Berlin is an exciting city, though my best memories are from before the wall came down. There was a tension and excitement of being there and feeling the danger that increased the senses. However, we have been many times since then, because it is full of wonder. This trip, the city was in the last minute stages of preparation for the World Cup. We stayed at a self-catering apartment called Colorfield. When one sees the apartment, it is appropriately named. The colors are charmingly mixed and the bedroom had a huge sumptuous bed.
As we wandered the city, evidence of Football Mania could not go unnoticed. In front of the Brandenburg Gate, there was a giant soccer ball. All of the souvenir shops had soccer memorabilia obliterating the usual Berlin tokens. If one were not a soccer fan, there was no hope in getting a keepsake void of sports.
The one sight that is worth mentioning is the Holocaust Memorial. The last time we were here, it was still in construction. When I first saw the completed creation, I thought it was a waste of space, money, and an insult to the ideals it was meant to honor. A grand square block is filled with rectangular, dark depression moon gray solid blocks of varying heights. They are set in rows that have paths through both horizontally and vertically. The paths are undulating, so as you walk you are rising and descending amongst these massive columns. I set off walking, while Ron took off in another direction. I was ready to continue to criticize this monumental failure as I walked, but something transformed me as I did. With each step of disappearing behind extremely high columns and reappearing with the shorter ones, I gained a sense of walking, wakeful meditation. I felt a peace surround me. Each column then represented a person from the Holocaust each telling their own story as I walked by their life path, sharing with me their tale of sorrow. In some aisles, I was all alone while in others I could see another at a distance, many columns away. I felt a connection with these strangers as we listened to what secrets were being shared.
In spite of the bombing in WWII, there are still many highlights in this city. The Baroque Frauenkirche or Church of Our Lady is one of them. It is a Protestant sandstone church built in the 18th century, but was leveled during the war. A 12 year reconstruction project was undertaken at the cost of $160 million to bring it back to its original appearance. This was completed in October 2005. Architects and historians were able to piece together the original bricks that were still useable using archives and photos to put them in their original places. The church looks spotted as a result. The dark fire burned bricks stand out from the new replacement bricks surrounding them, giving the church a sense of resurrection or a phoenix rising from the ashes. Of the original stones, 8,425 were salvaged to be part of the reconstruction.
In the same area is a long wall with a 100-meter long porcelain mosaic called Fürstenzug. It is the ‘Procession of the Dukes’ displaying the rulers of Saxony. Nearby is the Semperoper opera house. It was built by Gottfried Semper, thus its name, in the mid-19th century. It is said to be one of Germany's finest examples of neo-renaissance architecture. Fire destroyed it in 1869 and again in 1945. The current building is an exact replica of the original.
One of the most amazing sights for us was the Zwinger. This amazing complex wascommissioned by Augustus II (the Strong), the elector of Saxony and king of Poland due to his passion for collecting paintings, sculpture, antiquities, but especially porcelain. His collection included 14,500 pieces of porcelain from China and Japan. He established the porcelain factory at Meissen in 1710. Augustus admitted his passion for porcelain was his maladie de porcelaine (porcelain sickness).
Augustus began to build the Zwinger in 1711. It resembles a palace and can easily be mistaken for one. The architect Matthaus Daniel Poppelmann designed it. The Zwinger was destroyed during World War II and partly reconstructed in 1952 and 1963. Now it is fully reconstructed and restored, displaying the famous porcelain collection.
Leipzig had the largest Hauptbahnhof in Europe until Berlin usurped it. This seems to be the trade fair capital of Germany and an important city for such throughout Europe dating back centuries. What we did not know was that Leipzig was having a Goth festival. As we were walking and admiring the beautiful architecture, there were many other sights to see walking along side of us. For music lovers, which I do not count amongst the many, Leipzig is where Johann Sebastian Bach lived for a good part of his life and was the Kantor in the Thomaskirche. He is buried in the choir with the Bach archives across the street. Felix Mendelssohn headed the Gewandhaus Orchestra and founded the first conservatory in Germany. Richard Wagner was born here, receiving his musical training here. This city also boasts Germany’s first stock exchange.