Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dresden

So, we headed out early Wednesday morning.  We were to sleep in Prague, but stop along the way, in Dresden.  This was so we could see the reportedly beautiful town and also visit the famous Green Vault – known to be the largest treasure house in all of Europe.

Unfortunately, things did not go precisely as planned.  It turns out that Mr. Liberty’s parking brake had frozen to the back tire.  This meant we couldn’t really move our car since one wheel didn’t turn at all.  Believe it or not we got out onto the main road without too much problem since the thick layer of ice on the side streets allowed us to slide that wheel along.  But then, obviously, we couldn’t go anywhere without burning rubber.

Words can not really describe what our car was doing.  Please see the (took me forever to upload) videos below:

We were distraught (OK, actually André and I were distraught and the kids thought it was yet another grResized_HPIM4942and adventure).  I ended up enlisting the help of Regis and Marie.  They informed us (most tactfully) that you never,  ever, ever, EVER, EVER!!!! use your parking brake in winter. (Who knew? I’m pretty sure they never covered that in Driver’s Ed.)   They helped us find a local garage and we eventually made it there.  Of course, by the time we got there (about 9am) the brake had loosened and we could drive safely once more.   We headed for Dresden and the vault.

We got there only half an hour after our timed tickets and (wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles) they still let us in!  So, we did get to see the Green Vault.  But no photos were allowed, security is super tight.  I’m afraid you will have to only imagine the room dedicated to ivory, the rooResized_HPIM4948m dedicated to gold, the room dedicated to silver, the room dedicated to jewels, the room dedicated to obscenely wealthy but practically useless utensils and drinking vessels……..(I could go on).  It was done in a way that was almost tasteful and, somehow not all that overwhelming.  Simply put, it was awesome.  Better than the crown jewels in London, that’s for sure!

Here is a shot of a unicorn/snail thing they had on a poster outside.  This kind of fantastical creation was pretty typical of the stuff we got to see. I think I may have been most wowed by the diamond jewelry and the vessels (glasses, bowls etc…) carved out of pure quartz or amethyst. 

After the vaulview of Brühl's Terrace at twiglightt, we just walked around the city.  Dresden needs some good PR firm since I had never heard of it (except for maybe they make china or something?) but it is probably one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen (and by now I’ve seen more than a few). It was a part of former East Germany.   It was heavily, heavily bombed near the end of WWII.  In fact, 90% of the city center was destroyed (see photo right) and nearly wiped off the map.  Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is based on the experiences he had in the city at the time of the bombing.  In fact, the bombing of Dresden is one of the most controversial attacks in WWII and killed no less than 18,000 civilians.  Here is one survivor’s account from Wikipedia:

It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother's hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.

We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.

—Lothar Metzger, survivor

The city had made the barriers between cellars thin, so one could run to the next cellar if their house was on fire.  Unfortunately, every house on the whole street, for several blocks was on fire.  The tragic result was dozens of dead piled up in the cellar at the end of the block. There were so many dead bodies everywhere burial was impossible.  The local militia was sent out with flamethrowers to burn the bodies.   The photo at right is of a huge pile of bodies.

The attackers deliberately created a firestorm in the town.  This type of system is so intense it simply sucks all the oxygen right out of the air. Dresden was not the only place that got this treatment during WWII.  The Allies used firebombing enough to create firestorms in: Hamburg, Kassel, Braunschwieg, Darmstadt, Heilbronn, Pforzheim, Wurzberg (all in Germany) plus Tokyo and Kobe (in Japan).  Resulting casualties (mostly civilian) top 255,000.  Of course that doesn’t count the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which killed at least another 200,000).  This may be billed as the war won by the ‘good guys’ but, if you ask me, there are no real winners when it comes to war.

Thankfully, much has been put into reconstructing Dresden and you would never know it was so devastated to see it today.   Around every corner was a new surprise, and even just turning my head at a new angle often brought me gasps of amazement.  Semper Opera House, TheatrePlatz, views of the Elbe river – all breathtaking.

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It all looks super old, right?  Who would know they rebuilt a great parResized_HPIM4973t of it less than 50 years ago?

I think this photo (at left) is my favorite.  The kids sliding on the frozen ice in the moat surrounding the palace walls.

We all had a great time sliding around on the ice and just enjoying the fact we were walking on frozen water!  It really is quite amazing that something that was liquid can turn solid enough to support us.  Thank you water, you are another miracle I tend to take for granted….

We headed onward toward Frauenkirsch (or The Church of our Lady).  This building had been heavily firebombed but had been rebuilt fairly recently – only finished in 2008.

Here is how it looked as recently as 1991 (at left) and here is how it looks today (at right).  Notice how, during the rebuild, they purposely used white new stone to mingle with the older gray stone.  This way you could really see how heavy the damages were and how much work was involved to rebuild it.  I like it when they do that kind of thing.

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The inside appeared to be completely restored and gorgeous.  It seems all white interiors and raised galleries are far more common in Germany than in any of the other countries we have visited.  The only sign of damage was the original (I think) cross from the tower which showed how melted it was from heat damage.

And now we head to Prague…

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