Follow by Email

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A day and night in Dresden, museum, art passage, old city, sauna, lots packed into one last day.

So, last leg of the trip, or next to last. We are sitting at Tegel airport, awaiting boarding of our flght. We fly to NY this time, then to Boston. ON the way over it was Boston to Amsterdam to Berlin.  Hopefully won’t have trouble making our connecting flight in NYC.
We spent a wonderful last day in Dresden yesterday. Not much time, less than 24 hours, but we made the most of it. We arrived at about 11am, and were able to check into our room immediately. It was in the center of the old city, with a garage underneath, so very convenient. We left the car for the day, and took a long walk over the Elbe( same river as we were on in Stadt Wehlen for the previous four days. )

We were headed to the Art Passage, a place I’d read about some years ago, and then again more recently. It’s in a kind of trendy/cheap area of hippyish shops, bars and cafes,  ethnic eateries,  graffitied walls and tattooed folks.  There’s several courtyards with apartments fringing them, but one in particular has some art installations with a series of pipes and musical instrument looking things that trail down the wall. Water cascades down, making a fountain of the whole wall, and supposedly, musical sounds as well.  Perhaps in a rainstorm, but the small trickle there yesterday wasn’t all that impressive, although the idea was great and the courtyards was visually appealing. 
Nevertheless, it gave us the opportunity for a couple of hours walk around the newer inner city, on the other side of the river, and through some interesting neighborhoods. And quite a contrast to the stunning old architecture in the old  city around our hotel, and the museum of Old Masters in the old Palace, which had been our first stop in our one day visit to the city.
At the museum, full of grand portraits and landscapes from the15th century through the 18th, in a beautiful building that was under renovation, we saw Rembrandts,  Cranachs, a Vermeer I was unfamiliar with (they had a second one but it was undergoing renovation)  many more, some artists I was familiar with, many others, German, Dutch, others, with whom I was unfamiliar.
And then, there were the Canalettos!  We’d only realized that he had painted here through the book Boris had in his apartment in Stadt Wehlen.  We’d seen copies of the twelve he painted of Pirna, near Stadt Wehlen,  at the tourist office there. They did not have any originals. “We’re just a small town,” explained the woman at the tourist office, nevertheless seeming quite proud of the connection. According to the woman, it was assumed, but not known for sure, that the artist had spent a good deal of time in Pirna, since he painted so many large works there.

In the Dresden museum there were six of his paintings hanging in one gallery.  It was an impressive display, six large murals with details of the old town, where we were staying, and views of the Elbe, all painted in the 18th century.  

We knew that Dresden had been heavily bombed during the second World War, by the US, and that it largely destroyed the town.  As in Berlin, we’ve been fascinated by the history and archeology, trying to figure out what was from what time period, what had survived, what was reconstructed, etc.  To us, it seemed like many of the very old buildings in the old city had survived, judging by the number of still blackened structures. The woman who’d guided my Berlin tour had mentioned that much of the statuary had been hidden away earlier in the war, and if you saw fairly white buildings with black statues, that was an indication that the building had been reconstructed.

Yet here in Dresden, we were surprised at the number of buildings that seemed to have survived.  I’m sure if we’d been there at the time it wouldn’t have seemed like many. Nevertheless, it seemed that some of the major buildings, churches, palaces,  had survived. I’m going to have to read more to get a better understanding of what the city has looked like during various time periods of the last century.

It has been interesting to see the amount of construction, and reconstruction, that is continuing all these years after WWII, and also after the reunification of Germany.  Of course, most major cities have a large amount of construction. 

It is one of the most interesting and appealing aspects of Berlin to see the combination of prewar and pre 20th century construction, combined with Soviet era buildings, newer construction, and melding of more than one.  I find the combined construction the most interesting, ie buildings that retain some of an earlier structure but add more modern elements, like a glass dome or projecting features.  I know there are building codes that determine if or how much of a building can be changed, based on historical significance. But I don’t know just how that works.

The area right across the street from our Dresden hotel, and the view from our window, was an archeological site that is still being excavated. I couldn’t read the signs (they looked mostly like photos of the company’s other building projects)  or tell from what time period the area dated. The very friendly man who checked us in told me that the hotel, too, was built on an excavated site. He said that the excavations were worked into the cellar of the building, which housed the health activity center and saunas.  So of course we had to check the saunas out.

Clad in white terry bathrobes and spa slippers, we took the elevator down, encountering a few similarly attired folks on the way.  The space was indeed integrated into the walls of the old (ancient?) building. There were two saunas, a Finnish style and a bio sauna. The difference seemed to be mostly the temperature, the bio sauna being not quite as hot. The saunas were both coed, and I believe I was the only one, of about a half dozen while we there, who had a bathing suit or any clothing on.  I also had the bio sauna, plenty hot for me, to myself.

 There were showers, a tiled room with foot baths, rooms for massage, and a “relaxation” room. I was relaxed enough after a couple of bouts of sauna and shower, but felt the need to experience the relaxation room.  It consisted of about eight or ten lounge chairs, soft music and some not- too- strong- smelling herbal essence, and, two of what looked exactly like queen -size beds.  I was a bit puzzled about who and how people would relax in those. But didn’t find out because I was the only one relaxing. In the relaxation room, that is. Loring said he would relax better in the bed in our room, and went upstairs to do so.  I think we were both pretty relaxed at the end of the process.

Fully refreshed, we headed out to choose a place for our final dinner in Germany.  We’ve probably eaten out only four or so actual dinners in our two weeks, plus several mid day snacks of either pastries, sandwiches, or ice cream.  Other than that, we’ve cooked in our two abodes.  It’s not for money reasons, , and in fact the restaurants there were surprisingly inexpensive by US standards.  We just like to cook and hang out in our accomodations, when we’ve picked them well and have views or some kind of charming ambiance. But it also is nice to have a meal out every few days.

The first few restaurants, on the main square, were fully occupied.  We’d waited until fairly late, by our standards, until about 830, because it doesn’t get really dark until about 10pm and I wanted to see the old city at night.  But on the far side of the square we found a perfectly nice, traditional (ie no pizza or pasta or burgers) place. I had a “suckling pig” dinner with vegetables and a mushroom dumpling,   Loring  had  a platter with a variety of meats and cheeses and breads. His plate included a meatball which turned out to be a raw meatball, of which he gamely ate half.  

This morning, we came down for breakfast only to find that on Sundays, breakfast starts at 7am rather than the 6:30 on other days.  I was devastated. Well, very disappointed anyway. They offered to make up box lunches for us. But I knew that would probably be meats and cheeses. Nicely, the desk staff talked to the kitchen and they let us in early.  We wouldn’t have been able to wait until 7 because we had a  two to three hour  drive back to Berlin.

So our sojourn, aside from the flights home, ended with a splendid array of cheeses, breads, croissants, cakes, eggs, meats, lox, herring, fruits and fruit salads, coffee of choice, mine cappuccino,  etc etc.  I didn’t even touch the bacon, there was so much else. Or the cheesecake,    ( which I gather isn’t unusual for breakfast at all, as I thought when my volunteer group devoured 10 or 12 of them in the first week, donated from a food bank. )  I think the quality and variety topped most of the breakfast buffets I’ve ever had, abroad or in the US. And I’ve had some good ones. I asked Loring if it was just my good mood, or if it was truly a superb buffet. He said it was “right up there.”  When the desk staff asked if everything had been okay, I thanked them profusely, and added what Loring had commented. I didn't know if they'd understood the expression, but I am sure they got the message. I was truly appreciative that they'd made the effort to let us have an early breakfast. 

And that about sums things up. We are now on the plane heading to JFK, and then, if we don’t miss our connection, back to Boston. 

It’s been a terrific trip, no complaints other than the ants in the kitchen in Stadt Wehlen, and the lack of a freezer, and hence ice, there. We’ve concluded that it’s a German thing, they are not into ice as much as we are. Just another cultural learning experience.

The only sad part of the last month was the end of the volunteer project, which degenerated due to Saskia’s discomfort with some of the group participants, and her way of handling the situation. I think some of her frustrations were justified, but, as the group leader, she handled it rather badly and left me, and probably everyone, with a sour feeling. I hope she recovers ok. She really did put a lot of effort into planning and implementing the problem, and I like her personally. She may come visit us in August, after the Wikipedia conference in Montreal, and I hope she will. 
And I hope I can stay in touch with a number of people from the group, as I usually do. I expect to stay in touch with Khanh, who seems to be prolific facebooker, and Viola, from South Sudan, who is an inspiration and just a truly nice person. I’d like to keep in touch with Kirke, from Denmark, and the girls from Russia and Latvia, Olga and Pollina and Larisa. Sergey, too, from Ukraine, who was so helpful with the wiki tech stuff.  Plus he was familiar with my Chernowitz cemetery project, because SCI/ SVIT only sponsors a half dozen projects.   Arkun and Martin, from Turkey and the CZ too, but not sure I am fb friends with them. And the others too, Vessy and Turquese who I think I am fb friends with. And who did I miss?
Michael, who I like very much, is not on fb, nor is Jakob,  the co-leader  of the group with Saskia. I tried to convince them to join, if only to keep in touch with me. But if someone is in principal not interested, I understand.  So we will see. I told them they could just have me as a friend, and not accept anyone else! Doubt I've convinced them though.

Well, dinner is being served, so I will end here. Not a bad way to end a tale, with food. Even airplane food. 

A village with charming ambiance, excursions to Bad Shandau, the rock formations at Bastei, an impressive castle, and an unexpected Canaletto encounter!

We've been here in the small village of Stadt Wehlen for the past four days. Tonite is our last night. It’s an idyllic little place. One of the houses directly across the river is, in fact. Called Elbe Idyll.  The Elbe is the river  on  which we are situated directly.  The town has a few restaurants and cafes, a shop that makes candies by hand, and another that makes soaps. We are just a five minute walk from the little main plaza. There’s a couple of hotels, and tons of places with signs saying “ferianhaus”  or holiday house.  We’ve eaten breakfast here every morning, usually had some kind of snack instead of lunch, pastry or ice cream, cooked dinner here a couple of times, eaten out the others. It’s a nice balance.  

We’ll head out shortly for dinner, for our last night. The town is fairly busy during the day, with people coming through on bicycles, hiking, by the boats that ply the river, by ferry from across the river, and on tourist busses. But it’s pretty quiet at night. 

We’ve driven to several of the towns and sites nearby. Most impressive was Bastei, an area of spectacular sandstone rock formations, a scenic stone bridge, and the remains of a medieval fortress built into the rocks. Loring hiked up there a couple of days ago from the village of Rathen, while I strolled around the town taking photos and looking at tacky souvenirs.  At the top, about a 40 minute hike, he encountered hordes of tourists who had come in by car and bus from the other side. It was so crowded he had to elbow his way through to see anything. But the hike itself had been enjoyable.
 Today we approached it from the road, a few hours earlier in the day, and missed most of the crowds.  The formations are massive and impressive, and the views of the Elbe and the surrounding towns are too. We could easily see our own village just around a bend in the river. It was a photo online of the formations and bridge that had first drawn my attention when researching the trip.

One day, we went to Bad Shandau, named for the mineral waters that were discovered there some centuries ago.   I’d seen ads for a place called Toscana, with sauna, massage, health services, and a mineral swimming pool with underwater music and, I think, some kind of light show. If Loring had been inclined to go on another hike, I would have considered spending a couple of hours there, but may not have liked it much anyway. And if there is anything remaining of the old baths, I couldn’t find any reference to it.

On our way back from Bad Shandau, we stopped and spent several hours at Castle Konigsberg, perched high on top of more rock formations, and huge. It is supposedly the largest fortress castle in Europe. It was certainly huge,  with ramparts surrounded some 50 buildings. It’s been used on and off through the centuries as a castle, a hunting retreat for the king, a prison for world war I prisoners of war, a hospital, a facility for disturbed juveniles during the cold war (ie: to retrain them to espouse the politics of the regime) and, since 1955, as a museum.  It is so large you can easily get lost within the compound. And I did. 

Our arrangement was to meet at the elevator that brings you up to the top ( big enough to fit a small truck in, and it did.) I wandered around the ramparts and compound for what seemed like at least a half hour before finally finding the place. In the meantime, I’d come across a museum on the grounds, about the history of the fortress., with explanations in English, which we’d been hard put to find through our wanderings around the compound. So, we went back, toured through the museum, and learned some more about the castle’s history.  In the entry hall, they had an area with period dress ups for kids.  Throughout the museum, we kept encountering children in costumes. One was being pushed, all dressed up, in a wheel chair. It added a nice touch.

I’d mentioned Canelletto, the artist,  before. We’d fortuitously discovered, through a book in our house, that he’d painted many scenes of Pirna, a a town near here, in the  1770’s. At the castle, we also discovered that one of the Kings, a George I believe, had also commissioned Canelletto to paint scenes of the castle.  Today we visited Pirna, and walked around the old marketplace, where some of the buildings are still recognizable from the Canelletto paintings. The woman at the tourist office told us that he painted twelve scenes of Pirna. None of the originals are there, but some are in Dresden, so we may see them there if we have the time. They did have photos of all of them, and a meticulously painted copy of one by a well -known Pirna artist. I know that one is at the National Gallery in DC, which means we probably saw it when we visited the Canelletto show there a few years ago, and probably some of the others, too. But of course the name Pirna didn’t mean anything to me at that time.

 This place has been just right, a charming house with wonderful views and sounds from the river. A paddle boat is passing even as I write. There have been kayaks and rafters periodically, and the frequent sight and sound of the trains passing by on the other side of the Elbe. We are just at the edge of the town, an easy five or ten minute walk. People walk or bicycle by fairly frequently, which just adds to the charm. Cars drive through once in a while. We were, in fact, unsure when we first arrived if our street was actually drivable. 

We saw the two other places I’d considered once I'd chosen this area, and we picked right. Rathen is too honky -tonk and touristed. Bad Rathen is too big, although the place I’d considered was actually outside of town in a little hamlet of its own. So I think we picked just right. Like Goldlocks.

One thing we haven’t had for the last four days is wifi. So we don’t know if anything of significance has transpired, in the world, or in our personal spheres.   Tomorrow, at our Dresden hotel, I am sure we will, and so will catch up with anything we’ve missed in recent days. Hopefully no political or other world crises, or any in our own worlds. Loring is relieved now that it is the weekend, and therefore nothing he has to worry about at work that hasn’t already happened. I will be glad to be able to post these last blog entries, and also photos on facebook, and catch up with anything we may have missed.

 We leave tomorrow for Dresden, a 45 minute drive from here. We’ll spend our last night there, then drive back to Berlin the next morning, then fly home.