Dearly beloved Dresden

Dresden, Sachsen, Deutschland
(a.k.a. The Florence on the Elbe)

Before I arrived in Dresden, Berlin had amazed me but I did not know if I could ‘fall in love’ with the city. When I arrived in Dresden, my life would be forever changed. I understood why my ancestors moved to Dresden and why my relatives stayed there. Despite seeing many changes of government leaders and parties, it’s stayed put. It’s been bombed, it’s been rebuilt. This baroque jewel has captured my heart. And now I know where I would like to live if I move to Germany.

V’s DAAD/OBW Project Proposal: Part 1 – Tracing Roots/Reuniting with Relatives in Dresden

I had an amazing time with my relatives (whom I finally got to meet after 2 years of letter-exchange) in Dresden, Sachsen (Saxony). In February, it marked a year since I had last visited my German relatives in Maryland, USA (the sister and nephew of the relative I visited this time).

F 27. – Leipzig: I visited the Nikolai and Thomaskirche. Saw the Goethe and Bach statues. Spent about 2 hrs or so then hopped on the train to Dresden.
– Dresden: Arrived punctually at 18.40 and soon found my Tante I. (the cousin of my Oma – Grandma) and her daughter, Tante G. When we drove over the bridge and had a view of Altstadt Dresden at night, my breath was taken away. It was like a dream. Dresden had been badly destroyed by the British-American bombs from 13.-14. Februar in 1945. The lit famous Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) which had collapsed on 15.2.1945 now stood prominently near the Elbe River. I stayed at Tante G. and her family during the weekend. Was so tired, I fell asleep at 21.00.
Sa 28. – Schloß Moritzburg – the hunting palace of King August (which one, I forget). The lake was still frozen though it was clearly getting warmer. Then went over to Tante I.’s and looked over our family trees and old family photos. Learned that contact with other relatives ‘died’ with the business of life and growing sizes of their own families. Pity. But at least I found out I had more relatives in Dresden. That is to say, Tante I. provided me with her completed family tree. Project 1 completed (well, mostly since I didn’t get to copy down the rest)!

So 1. – First day of Spring! I felt as if it were already spring anyway, with the warmer temperatures and lots of rain. In fact, patches of spring flowers could be found here and there! Snowdrops made me the happiest! 😉 *think: Stardust. Visited Sächsischer Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) with Tante G.’s other daughter (who’s closer to my age), her bf, and her baby son. What wonders! I don’t even know how to describe it except to liken it to Gimli’s Dwarf World (except above the ground). A Medieval village had been built on these rocky mountains. How they even survived, I haven’t a clue. Well, clearly it didn’t last long because there are only remnants of the village now. No houses, just partial foundations. Because it was Sunday, I broke my ‘fast’ and finally had white beer and less than shot of Bock something, which tasted like medicine and ginger and alcohol.

Mo 2. – awoke early only to sleep in a little later before it was time for me to leave the house and head to my hostel in the Neustadt (new city: ironically, it was orig. the old city before the Altstadt became the ‘new’ old city and then Neustadt became the ‘new city’. Confusing-ish.). Here, life is vibrant, filled with lots of Kneipen (bars) and cafes and hostels. The place for the young. I stayed in a dorm with 2 other girls (one from England, another from Halifax). After dropping off my stuff, I headed to Meißen. Visited the Albrechtsburg (castle) and Dom (cathedral) up on the hill. The castle was filled with medieval architecture, paintings, designs, etc. Unfortunately, I believe Meißen had also been somewhat bombed? and definitely affected by the 2002 flood (which had affected Sachsen and Prague too). Was the only (or one of the few) tourist wandering about the castle! I then tried to find the Meißner Porzellan Manufaktur (Meissen Porcelain Factory). Was the only one in my tour ‘group’. I watched the [demonstrating] potter, sculptor and painters at work. After that tour, I wandered through the porcelain exhibition. By the end, I could sort of distinguish what was real Meissen porcelain: something carefully made and painted with great detail. In fact, all that work must be tiring! Was nightfall as I headed back to Dresden.

Di 3. – What a surprise I had when I realised that my massage was to be done by a young man. But it was too late to cancel/change so I went along with it. I did feel better [physically] afterwards, but still, it was rather awkward. I shall NEVER ever let that happen again. I then hurried off to meet up with Tante I. and her son Onkel R., who drove us around for a Stadtführung (city tour). I visited the Dreikönigskirche (Three Kings Church), where only the altar had been saved during the bombings. I tried the delicious Saxon Eierschnecke (an egg…cake?) at a Markt which used to sell cheap Lebensmittel (products/grocery) before the bomings. Now it’s more expensive apparently. We then visited an art avenue/apartments with different themes in the Neustadt. Afterwards, had lunch (ate Sächsischer Sauerbrat? – Saxon dish) near the Blaue Wunder (blue wonder) bridge, which is as old as the Eiffel Tower (though it looks modern) and was nearly destroyed by the German Soldaten (soldiers) in order to keep the Russians from crossing over. (Rest of the story: 2 brave Dresdners defoiled the plan and the Russians came over. But the bridge was saved!) After our lunch, we headed to Schloss E., built by an English lord so he could spend time with his African servant or something. We drove on to Schloß Pillnitz, the oriental summer residence of August. It certainly did look more Chinese but still European in many ways. The sun was shining through the clouds again, and we headed to the Altstadt and walked around the Frauenkirche ‘square’. Tante I. pointed out how the layout has changed since the bombings. By nightfall, I returned to the hostel for my last night.

Mi 4. – Bid roommates farewell and good luck, then made it safely to Tante I.’s, where I’d spent the rest of the week sleeping on her sofa. We had breakfast before attending an organ performance at the Catholic Hofkirche. We listened for about 10 min. then continued on to the Frauenkirche for the 12.00 devotion and organ music. It lasted an hour but it was very soothing to be sitting in this old but new (had been opened since 2005) church. The sun shone and lit the golden altar. In that moment, I was very happy, for that brighteness reminded me of summer. I then continued on my own to the Residenzschloss and visited the Gruenes Gewoelbe (Green Vault) – the historic (which is hard to visit at the peak of tourism) and new. I think I’d see enough riches and beautiful artifacts that day… There were simply far too many beautiful and expensive jewels, caskets, cutlery, etc. Sometimes, I have to admit, though I’m a fan of finery, it was too much. I thought then, ‘Surely there must be enough jewels for everyone in this world. What are they doing sitting in a museum, useless?’ Ran into M.C. at the castle cafe, which was quite funny! Well, by nightfall, I was total kaputt (“totally broken”: dead tired). Had dinner with Onkel R. and his wife, Reg., as well. We watched a funny DVD on Saxon’s Mr. Bean comedian, Olaf B., give a Dresden tour as a drunkard. It was difficult to understand but sometimes it could be funny and I had to guess some of the Saechsisch (Saxon dialect) he was speaking. (e.g. Nu is ja in Saxon!) Tante I. was so eager to have me meet Onkel R.’s 2nd son (around my age), so I went with the parents to the bar he works at. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. Otherwise, he was occupied as a bartender and we didn’t converse. Didn’t sleep well that night. Learned later that you shouldn’t drink mixed drinks after wine. Oh yes, I had to break my drinking fast. Familial obligations. Same went for chocolates.

Do 5. – This day could’ve been better planned. Tante I. and I walked around the Brühlsche Terrace (sp?) and Schloß Zwinger (Nymphen Bad – fountain), before visiting Altmarkt Galerie (shopping district). After lunch, I visited the Gemälde Alte Meister inside Schloß Zwinger. What I should’ve done was go on the tour of Semperoper (opera house) first. There were far too many paintings to see, but I did manage to see all within 2-2.5 hrs. Among them were paintings of the then-Archduchess Empress Maria Theresia of Austria, Van Dyck’s portraits of Charless II and his siblings as children, and Raffael’s Sistine Madonna. Many of these paintings were also on loan from all over Europe, so that was a lucky experience! It was a quarter to 16h as I headed to the Neue Meister in the Albertinum. To my dismay, it was until reparation/construction and won’t be reoned ’til 2010. Thanks. No Degas’ ballerina paintings for me. So at the last minute, I rushed to find the Stadtmuseum/Stadtgalerie (City museum – with art gallery). Got to see the Frauenkirche temperoray exhibit. That was very interesting. Unfortunately, spent a little too much time in that one so I had to rush through the next few permanent exhibits on Dresden during the Empire, during WWII and during the DDR. That left me with barely enough time to visit the top floor exhibitions. In fact, I was shooed away almost as soon as I entered (close to 18h). And I didn’t even get to see the art gallery. Next time! I headed home and watched some clips of Die Fledermaus with Tante I. before going to bed.

F 6. – So sad to leave Dresden. I had truly enjoyed my time with my relatives, esp. Tante I. After breakfast, we headed to the Dresden Hbf (Hauptbahnhof/central stn.) and I was on my train to the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), destination Olbernhau, ancestral home of the Schlottigs (fr. great-grandma). As we passed whatever buildings they were, I noted how these were quite dilapidated and abandonned. I wondered if they were the result of the flood or the war. I arrived at Olbernhau [main station], for instance, at this abandoned station (building). Tugging my heavy suitcase along, I made my way down to the Busbahnhof (bus stn) and managed to leave my luggage (with permission) inside the building (accessed by bus drivers). I waited along with millions of Schüler (elementary students) for the bus to pick us up. As time passed, groups of children left and soon, I found myself waiting with a mixed group of children, some middle-aged women, and this punk guy who sounded much like an orc (reminded me of Queen’s engineers during Frosh). I was rather intimidated because he kept shouting (but there were times when he didn’t and that made him sound normal). I felt my German falter too. Suddenly it was as if no one could understand me the first round… or perhaps most of them spoke Saxon. I arrived at the Friedhof (cemetery) in order to search for any possible graves of Schlottigs and Bachs. But somewhat failed, though I had already learned why: in Germany, there are far too many people and sometimes, new graves have to take over old ones. One is buried for about 25 years and then, if it’s not taken care of or if the ‘rent’ hasn’t been paid for the next 25, it is replaced with a new occupant. Isn’t that disturbing? Corpses/bones on top of one another. And you can be forgotten… As the cemetery wasn’t that big, I could see that all the tombstones were new. The few that were old dated only as far back to the late 19th C./early 20th C. and were ‘prettier’. Hence, if your a penniless man with ‘poor’ ancestry, don’t expect to be found by your decendant. (Luckily, years ago, Tante H. fr. Maryland had already visited the Friedhof where very old tombstones of Schlottigs and the like could be found.) I found one tombstone of a Bach and 2-3 of Schlottigs. Whether or not we could be related is questionable, and perhaps I’ll never know. I would’ve checked the church register/records but a funeral had just taken place. Project 2 completed. I headed back to the Market square and tried to find Gerberstrasse (now Gerbergasse), where the ancestral home was supposed to be. It was a small section along the Floeha River, and in front of the Tivoli theatre. At last, I had found it but the few houses were relatively new and none looked like it could’ve been a house with a locksmith section. Unless that’s now a ‘factory’, in which case, it looks nothing like the house anymore. Project 3 completed. In fact, Tante I. had told me that around ’65, her vater (father) P. had visited Olbernhau one last time, only to find that it was much changed. He could no longer find/visit familiar surroundings. That must’ve been rather heartbreaking, one I can understand to a certain extent. Well, and my great-greatgrandparents had long been moved to Dresden in 1921, to be with the rest of their children. So really, Olbernhau was to be a memory and nothing more. For me, I could only say, ‘At least I visited my ancestral home.’ I visited the Stadtmuseum before I left. The building was much like the one that Tante H. had in her journal… the one I had thought was the ancestral house. Was very neat (only one wandering around the 3 stories) and allowed me to better imagine how life was like for my ancestors.