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Country: Germany / World Region: Europe

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      07.12.2000 01:04
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      travelling through Saxony

      Hey, you Anglo Saxons, have you ever been on holiday in Saxony? If so, well done! If not, why not?

      In case you feel it's asking a bit much to even consider spending your holidays in Germany , you can stop reading here, in case you feel intrigued to find out why anyone should make such a suggestion, follow me!

      Let's begin our journey in the easternmost German restaurant of the easternmost German town Görlitz. The restaurant is built into a former watermill in the river Neisse, which is now the border between Germany and Poland. Before the Second World War the town stretched across the river, now the eastern part is the Polish town Zgorzelec. We could walk there across the bridge, we could also hop over to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, only about 1½ hours away by car, but no, not now, you can come back for that another time.

      Görlitz is one of the most beautiful German towns, there are Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Deco buildings. During the war only very few bombs hit the centre, so it survived with all its treasures. But during the time of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) nothing was done to preserve the buildings and 40 years of neglect did nearly the same to the ensemble as bombs did to other towns. Walls crumpled, roofs leaked and the people who lived in the centre fled from their houses and toilets without flushes. Outside the centre a suburb was built in a style that was typical for many towns in the GDR: 'Plattenbau' which means multi-storey houses constructed of prefabricated elements, not nice, but convenient.

      The u-turn came just in time, nearly all houses could be saved, reconstructed and modernized and now people are moving back into them (if they haven't left for good because of the high unemployment rate in that region).

      The tourist office is located in a beautiful house in which Napoleon stayed and from whose balcony he surveyed the parade of his troops. You can walk with a guide through the centre and learn many interesting things, for example that nearly each landlord had the right to brew his own beer! The inhabitants of Görlitz could built all those wonderful houses because they traded in textiles, salt and amber and became extremely rich. The town is situated at the junction of two of the oldest European trading routes, one leading from Kiew to Santiago di Compostela in Spain, called the Via Regia, the other from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

      We follow it to the west and find a road going straight on for miles and miles up to the horizon, no bends or curves or twists, all thanks to those early tradesman who crossed the continent many centuries before our time. The region is called Lusatia, the countryside is hilly and ideal for walks and hiking tours.

      After about an hour we come to Bautzen, again a very beautiful town, with many baroque buildings. In 2002 Bautzen will celebrate its 1000th anniversary! The town stands on a hill overlooking the river Spree (the one which then flows on to Berlin) and still has a long stretch of intact city wall, robust medieval towers (The youth hostel is in such a tower with the beds standing in recesses IN the walls.), a castle and one of the two churches in Germany which Catholics and Protestants have shared peacefully since the time of the Reformation, with a low fence dividing the nave into two sections.

      Bautzen is known not for the fact that I was born there (although I find this quite mentionable), but for the fact that it is the 'capital' of the smallest Slav people, the Sorbs (not Serbs !). They're like cousins to the Poles and the Czechs, their languages are so close to each other that they can understand each other quite well, each speaking their own language. Every public information, all street signs are bilingual in Bautzen, there is even a German-Sorb theatre and a Sorb secondary grammer school.

      In order to understand what's going on in the East of Germany one should really go there every two or three years. Immediately after the end of the GDR a single renovated house would stick out in a street like a sore thumb looking rather out of place in its drab neighbourhood. After about five years every second house or so was renovated and today it's the odd shabby façade that attracts attention. In some years it will be impossible to see any remains of the GDR any more, on the outside the East will be just like the West and tourists will have problems understanding the feeling and the problems of the people there.


      Let's leave Bautzen and go west, again the old Via Regia (now Bundesstrasse) is preferable to the motorway, because we can see more of the landscape and pass small towns and villages which are also worth looking at (for example Bischofswerda, a nice marketplace!) and because we want to enter Dresden via the Bautzener Strasse.

      Why that? The reason is No. 79 on the right side of the street which houses 'Pfunds Molkerei' the most beautiful dairy shop of the world! (Never heard of it? Well, now you know why you have chosen ME as your guide!) It is indeed, you don't have to look anywhere else, it can't be surpassed. It was founded in 1880 and has been in use ever since. The floor, the ceiling, the walls are full of the most beautifully elaborated tiles depicting floral ornaments, landscapes and rural scenes , animals, wild and domestic ones. Erich Kästner, the well known author not only of children's books, but also a sharp tongued satirist, lived nearby and used to go there with his mother. Today, after a very successful thorough restoration not only all kinds of dairy products are on offer, but also a wide range of fine wines from all over the world. Have you ever seen people leaning leisurely at high tables dangling a glass of milk? Have you ever heard a tourist asking a resident: &
      quot;Where's THE (not 'a'!) milk shop?" (By the way the tourist got an immediate answer although THE milk shop was still miles away.)

      Let's leave the car on the Königstrasse or in a side street and walk through the quarter. If you've asked yourselves where you could possibly spend all your money - this is the place! The last time I was there I saw only decrepit houses with grey facades, now one elegant and expensive boutique follows the other. No big shop windows, they are all tucked away, you have to look for them. Advertising would be too vulgar!

      We are in the Neustadt (New Town) which is also the centre of alternative Dresden, more or less just round the corner. Ask young people where to go and they will soon direct you to a quarter where one pub follows the next. So everybody should find something according to their taste on this side of the Elbe.

      Crossing the river we admire the cityscape. It has been immortalized by many painters, the most famous being Bernardo Belotto, a.k.a. Canaletto. And very soon it will be complete again, meaning it will look the same as before the war. Some of the destroyed buildings, the 'Zwinger' for example, were rebuilt immediately after the war, a decision which many people couldn't understand, because in those years people needed houses, flats, simply a room. The explanation was that without at least some of these buildings Dresden wouldn't have any identity any more. By and by the many wonderful buildings, the Semper Opera House (to name just one), have been rebuilt. The prevailing style is Baroque.

      If you like the Old Masters you should visit the Art Gallery in the Zwinger, whose most famous exhibit is the Sistine Madonna by Raffael. If you prefer Modern Art, it's the Albertinum on the Brühl Terrace for you. For me it's Caspar David Friedrich any time - if I'm not mistaken the Albertinum has 27 paintings of
      the most famous German Romantic painter. In the same museum is the so called Green Vault, a breath taking collection of jewellery and objects monarchs used to play with or give each other as presents. A definite must see!

      The last historical building on our tour today is the 'Frauenkirche', a Baroque church whose reconstruction will be completed in 2006. It is the symbol of what connects the destiny of the German and the British people in the most tragic way possible. The German Luftwaffe bombed the city of Coventry and as a revenge act a llied air raids practically erased the centre three months before the end of the war. The city was full of refugees from the east and about 35 000 people died. The church was a gigantic heap of rubble and remained so for decades. Many people wanted it to remain so for ever as a kind of anti-war monument, but then some visionaries came along and talked of rebuilding the church. Nobody thought it possible, but where there is a will, there is a way. If you want to see the greatest puzzle of the world, go and see the Frauenkirche. The remaining stones were all numbered and catalogued - in case they could still be used; they are dark, the missing stones were carved again and have the colour of fresh sandstone. For about 50 years the traces of old and new will be visible, then oxidation and pollution will have done their due.

      I learnt from a guide that it hasn't been decided yet, what the church will be one day. "Hopefully not a church!" he said. That sounds strange indeed, but he and many other Dresdeners want it to be at least an ecumenical Church (it was a Protestant one) or, better, simply a cultural centre, a place for peace and understanding. The lower part is already used for concerts. This year, on 13th February, the anniversary of the destruction of Dresden, the British friends of the Frauenkirche presented the Pinnacle Cross as a symbol of Reconciliation. It was flown in
      by the son of one of the bomber pilots who took part in the air raids! In 2004 the placing of the cross will mark the completion of the exterior work.

      Where does all the money come from? Only from donations! I have my share, too, I still have to make up my mind where to look for it. I bought a watch with a tiny bit of stone of the original church in it, 20 DM of which go to the fund.

      Which other souvenirs can you take back home? The world famous 'Dresdner Christstollen', of course, a heavy, rich cake for Christmas, but now baked and sol d all the year round. Don't take the cheapest variety, a good Stollen has its price.

      After so much history, art and culture you need some rest and recreation! In case you are in Dresden in May you might go to the Dixieland Festival or you might just sit on the banks of the Elbe and watch the 'Weisse Flotte' (White Fleet) pass by, ships which look just like the ones on the Mississippi, ah, well, a bit smaller...

      P.S.

      I wrote this text before the great flood came into the centre of Dresden in August 2002 and destryed much of what had been so carefully reconstructed, now many people have to start all over again.


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      "The Free State of Saxony (German: Freistaat Sachsen; Sorbian: Swobodny Stat Sakska) is the easternmost federal state of Germany. Located in the country's southeast, it is the tenth-largest in area and sixth-largest in population among Germany's sixteen states, and has a land area of 18,413 km² and a population of 4.3 million. Saxony has a long history as a duchy, an electorate (the Electorate of Saxony), and eventually as a kingdom (the Kingdom of Saxony). Its monarchy was overthrown in 1918 and a republican form of government was established under its current name subsequent to Germany's defeat in World War I. Abolished during communist rule, it was re-established in 1990 after the re-unification of the nation-state of Germany from East and West Germany."