Greetings from East Germany!
We (the Lafayette-Jacobs Uni exchange group) are here in conjunction with our study of the differences between East and West - the varying political cultures and the challenges of reunification. That's our excuse, anyway, for visiting this wonderful city.
Dresden has been amazingly restored after three waves of firebombers almost completely destroyed it on February 13, 1945. The fact that most of this reconstruction took place AFTER Germany’s 1991 reunification defies logic: what took hundreds and hundreds of years to first build was rebuilt in only about a decade and a half.
The sandstone pillars supporting the huge single dome of Dresden's Frauenkirche ("Church of Our Lady") burned so hot in the fires of 13 Feb 1945 that they exploded, and the 3 ton dome fell to the ground two days later. It stayed there until reconstruction began in 1993. The project was completed in 2006, allowing our 2007 ascent to the cupola for a view of reconstruction’s progress as of today. From our high angle, we saw the interior of some other buildings being actively restored while their still unrestored exterior was covered with what looked like a large sheet of white posterboard.
Probably at least partially due to the fact that the city was leveled, Dresden is now a very "green" city - a wise choice on the part of city planners. It’s hard to find a three block span without a park or small copse of trees, blooming and leafing out for the spring. I enjoyed morning jogs through a few of Dresden's many parks and along the banks of the Elbe [river]. On Sunday I jogged up to one of the three castles we had passed the day before, with a beautiful view overlooking the Elbe valley. On our previous day's tour we also stopped at 'the world's most beautiful milk parlor' (according to Guinness) and saw why it deserved the title while enjoying a fresh milkshake. These areas, as well as the small hotel we stayed in, were in the “Neustadt” (new city). You know you're abroad when “new” means "late 1600s." That's still before the USA was even a country!
When preparing for this trip, several people I talked to said, "Oh, you're going to Dresden? You have to see a show at the opera house there." So, I found three other Lafayetters and tickets to "Illusions: On Swan Lake." It was a very nice ballet performance, with the added bonus of no spoken German required to understand. The dancers were so flexible and simply able to dance, they could do almost anything with their bodies! The orchestra was also quite good. One member played a huge harp made of gold...exactly the kind of instrument you might imagine the angels playing up in heaven. I thought those only existed in cartoons and movies!
Next door to the opera house is a moated palace called the Zwinger. It houses four museums including the Old Masters' Gallery, which I ventured into. Raphael's "Sistine Madonna" (think of the two bored-contemplative looking angels on the threshold with clouds behind) was there, along with works by Rembrandt and other famous Dutch, Flemish, and German, Spanish, and French artists. You can look up what's there if you're an art history major...it was fun to go and see but I'm glad I'm not [an art history major]. Some of the cityscapes and paintings there were so detailed that they were used as guides to reconstruction after WWII. What struck me as even more impressive than these classic works was when I saw an art student sitting by one of the paintings, and a near-exact copy of the work at the other end of the paintbrush she held. In six weeks, she had replicated the work so well that I would be hard-pressed to distinguish the copy from the original. There were a couple such students in the museum. People in Dresden apparently know that masterpieces take ages to create and only months or years to reproduce!
Another very interesting museum was in the royal palace, where we saw the treasures of the Green Vault. Among them were a large gold mechanical clock from the 16th (?) century, detailed models made from pure rock crystal, an ivory ship from centuries ago that's so advanced we don't have the technology to make it today, tiny cherry stones with hundreds of faces carved into it (the craze for tiny treasures is not unique to microelectronics), a 'birthday party' puppet set for a prince with 20-30 kg of gold and silver, and a giant green diamond that might take the Hope diamond as one of the ‘small’ decorative stones in its setting. [Note there: 1 kg = 2.2 lbs.] The diamond as a single stone cost is worth 1.5 times what the entire Frauenkirche cost! I have never seen so much wealth and treasure accumulated in one place, and probably never will again.
Our awesome experience in the city was certainly thanks in part to the beautiful weather we had the whole weekend. The temperature was quite nice for shorts and t-shirt (or no shirt, for many guys relaxing by the river), an occasional light breeze carried only mist from nearby fountains, and the sun was out all day. Trees and flowers were welcoming the spring, and the birds had a lot to sing about.
Well, I'm excited to report this is the first postcard completed with the new Postcards system online, so small writing on a postcard is no longer an issue. It's exciting to be back in touch. I'll write again soon!
Grace and peace,
Postcard photo, text, & software ©2007 W. Ben Towne / WBT Productions.