The road trip to Dresden takes us through farmland: oats, barley, soy beans, corn and white poppies for poppy seed. We pass through sections where the freeway is still being constructed as this post-Soviet country catches up to Western Europe.
In Dresden, Tilly helps us to find our next BnB in a funky neighbourhood, frequented by students, full of cheap accommodation, ethnic restaurants, and head shops. Our host, Jiří, (pronounced: Yirzhi) is a young professional musician who lives in a second floor apartment in an old building. Our room is a surprise: it is about two metres wide and maybe four metres long with a couch a TV and a desk and chair. The bed, though, is on an overhead platform reached by a ladder like a bunk bed. As the room has a very high ceiling, and the mattress is queen-sized, it is actually very comfortable, although a tad inconvenient for old folks who have to climb down the ladder in the middle of the night get to the bathroom. Jiří explains that it is a typical student room in the quarter.
We walk about twenty minutes and then cross the bridge into the centre of the old town. We are completely overwhelmed! We know that Dresden was firebombed by the Allies in February 1945 and we have seen pictures of a city that was totally destroyed with nothing remaining except enormous piles of rubble. To our astonishment, Dresden has been completely rebuilt, brick by brick, until today it looks exactly like the beautiful medieval city it was before the war. We learn about the trummelfrauen, (rubble women) who salvaged intact bricks and then cleaned them so they could be reused as Dresden recreated itself from the ashes of destruction. The reconstructed buildings are highly-decorated with ornate cornices, domes and gilded statues.
Dresden in 1890
Dresden in 1945
Jiří warns us that a street festival is set to begin this evening and he suggests we should move our car outside the neighbourhood. The sightseeing bus tour takes us to see castles and palaces, parks and botanical gardens, museums and churches...all of which would be worth a visit. We wander around craning our necks, taking pictures and enjoy some of the most decadent chocolate ice cream we have ever tasted. We explore the unique woman's church; round inside and out and decorated in delicate pastels -- it looks like a fairy tale. From there, we spend an hour or so in the Museum of Transportation: planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles and motorcycles. Bob loves it! Then he gets to fly a helicopter flight simulator. Nearly can't drag him out of there!
In the evening we go out to see what the street festival in our neighbourhood is all about. Holy hell it goes on forever! Maybe 30 square blocks and easy 30,000 revellers, all having a good time. There is every kind of food and drink available from food booths. Every bar and restaurant has sidewalk tables and patios and the apartment balconies above the streets are crowded with partiers. As the evening progresses, the streets become so packed with people, that we can hardly move. In the middle of an intersection, just as we decide that we should begin to inch our way back towards our apartment, I get dinged on the head by a flying geranium, flung from one of the balconies. Fortunately, it was not still in it's pot, but I'm covered in leaves, roots and dirt. How ironic this should happen to Mother Nature! The festival originated as a celebration of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and has evolved into an annual rite of spring.
|Street Festival -- early in the evening!||Mobile wine lounge|
|Balcony partiers||Street festival -- later in the evening!|
In 2013, in Nicaragua, we met Rainer and Katya, a lovely young couple from Berlin, and their bright and precocious two-year-old, Anton. We enjoyed each other's company so much that they invited us to stay with them if we ever got to Berlin.
Tillie takes us to Katya, Rainer and Anton's address with no trouble, but she isn't much help to find a parking place. They give us a warm welcome and we spend time chatting, exchanging stories, reminiscing and generally getting reacquainted. We all take a walk to a local park and to a little weekend market. Anton and Rainer go to play in the sandbox, while Katya takes us on a little tour. It is a really lovely neighbourhood in what was once Soviet East Berlin. The old-fashioned apartments are large and elegant with big rooms and high ceilings. The quiet streets have small shops, cafes and restaurants with outdoor tables shaded by big leafy trees. Berlin has an excellent public transit system and the tram stop is just a block away. Rainer and Katya have no need to own a car. During Soviet times, all the buildings became rundown and shabby. Now the neighbourhood is restored to its former elegance and has become a very appealing place to live.
|Rainer and Katya's street||Refurbished apartment building|
|Rainer and Katya||Anton|
We enjoy a lovely lazy Sunday breakfast with the family and then we head downtown on the tram to find a sightseeing tour. The difference between east and west Berlin is no longer as dramatic as it was pre-1989, but the signs are still there. A tremendous amount of building construction and restoration is still occurring. It boggles my mind that people in their 20s don't know about the Berlin wall and the Cold War, except from history books.
We get off the bus at Checkpoint Charlie and take photos of this famous Cold War site. Then we walk along the 200 metre section of the wall that has been preserved as a memorial. The Topography of Terrors documentation center chronologically documents the events, actions and decisions that brought the world to war and the atrocious things that occurred throughout that period. It is pretty sad and very sobering. I seriously regret that I did not visit Berlin when I was in Germany in 1969. It would have been amazing to have seen it as it was then and go back and see it as it is now.
|Old section of Wall preserved as a memorial||Topography of Terrors Documentation Centre|
We have a good chuckle at the Trabant Car Museum. The Trabant is regarded with derisive affection as a symbol of the extinct former East Germany and of the fall of the Eastern Block. It is a small, tinny, miserable excuse for a car with a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine that burns mixed gas, belches oily smoke and sounds like a demented lawnmower. Now they are curiosities and collectors' items. "Trabis" are restored and driven around proudly as a kind of reverse status symbol.
|Trabant Museum||Brandenburg Gate|
After a nice breakfast at Lilly's, a nearby sidewalk cafe, we catch the 200 bus to Unter Den Linden Straße and stroll along this famous boulevard (currently under re-construction) up to the magnificent Brandenburg Gate. It is hard to picture this magnificent symbol, isolated and inaccessible for decades, in no-man's land, just on the east side of the Wall. We admire the facade of the majestic and venerable Humboldt University. From there we get on the bus and go to the Kaiser Wilhelm church. The original Protestant church, built in 1893, was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943. Unlike most other buildings in Berlin, these ruins have been carefully preserved and maintained as a memorial to remind us all of the value of peace. Next to it is a most unusual new church which I find incredibly beautiful in its simplicity. Octagonal in shape, it is built entirely of 22,292 hand-made glass blocks. Most of the blocks are in shades of blue with a few in ruby red, emerald green and yellow. To stand inside the chapel, bathed in soft blue light filtering in through the coloured glass blocks, is a sublime experience.
|Kaiser Wilhelm Church||New chapel, Kaiser Wilhelm Church|
|One of the handmade glass bricks||Ka De We department store|
From there we stroll down the Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin's most famous avenue, to the equally famous KaDeWe, the largest department store in Europe. We wander through a few of the departments, but we can barely afford to breath in there, never mind shop.
We again take the 200 bus downtown to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial, located two blocks from the Brandenburg Gate, consists of 2711 large concrete slabs or stelae on a 4.7 acre site. Underground, below the stelae, is a museum that takes us through the events leading up to the holocaust. It is very disturbing that the Nazis deliberately planned the murder of 11 million people and frightening to realize how close they came to accomplishing their goal. The rest of the memorial is very personal, with one room presenting pictures and details of thirteen representative Jewish families that perished. Another room presents single names and a brief summary of the fate of each and a third room has information about the death camps. One display quotes from a letter written by a German officer home to his wife and two daughters describing how he got used to shooting the women and babies after a few days. In the letter, he justified this by his belief that given the chance these people would have done the same and worse to his family .
|Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe||Berlin Zoo|
From there, we decided to try something less intense and more light-hearted and spent the rest of the the day at the Berlin zoo eating ice cream and enjoying the antics of the residents.