OUT and ABOUT DRESDEN PART 1.
26th /27th JUNE 2014
People and cities have a lot in common. They both have scars and features that tell a story: Dresden has a lot of them and thus a lot of stories.
NOTE: Some of my feelings about the city of Dresden are based on my observations relative to the area we are staying. Other areas of the city may present themselves in an entirely different way.
Bev and I enjoy riding streets like this one, the facades and doorways fascinate us. With the construction of these buildings it seemed as if each builder/designer attempted to outdo each other with ornamentation. The following image of a doorway is an example of the architect/builder’s individuality.
The most striking thing about Dresden for me were the scars and features that told the story of WW2 and the period of Soviet domination. The following images show how Dresden acquired its scars.
Dresden was fortunate to escape bombing by US and British bombers during WW2 up until February 1945, only a short time before Germany’s capitulation. The decision to bomb Dresden was, and still is, a hotly debated point as it was believed that Dresden was not an industrial area but the arts centre of Germany and therefore would be spared. Some 600 000 Germany refugees believed it would be spared and migrated to the city, thinking it would be a safe haven.
RAF and USAAF bombers dropped approximately 2430 tons of high explosive bombs and 1500 tons of incendiaries. The high explosive bombs damaged the buildings and the incendiaries ignited them. Nazi propaganda reports claimed 200 000 people were killed, however the German Dresden Historians’ Commission in an official 2010 report concluded the casualties numbered 25 000.
The Allies claimed Dresden was a legitimate target as there was industrial activity in the area and also the railway marshaling yards were where military equipment was being dispatched to the German war front.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill distanced himself from the attacks even though it is said he was actively engaged in their planning. Several researchers have argued that the bombings were disproportionate as mostly women and children died.
It is unimaginable how the ordinary Dresdenites suffered, not only during WW2 but also from communist domination after the war. How they were able to pick themselves up and carry on is beyond comprehension. It is also difficult to imagine how the city, after being destroyed, was cleaned up and re-built. The task was monumental. The Dresdenites however did it and that is why I say there is a sense of accomplishment in the Dresden air.
The following images show a re-built Dresden.
The Lutheran Frauenkirche Church was built between 1726 and1743 and was destroyed in the firestorm of 1945. It was consecrated sixty years after its destruction. A large amount of old sandstone fragments were used in its re-construction: they are the dark blocks scattered throughout the building, the lighter blocks are newer and were fashioned during the rebuild.
I thought the dark stain on the old sections may have been a bacterial growth similar to what is found on stones in the Australian deserts (desert varnish) but I was informed that the stain is caused by a chemical reaction between chemicals in the stone and the atmosphere.
The Frauenkirche was originally Roman Catholic but became Protestant during the Reformation which was spurred on by Martin Luther. There is a statue of Luther near the church.
When I took this photograph I had little idea about the life and times of Martin Luther even though some of my ancestors were Prussian Lutherans. One ancestor was an alehouse inspector whose job was not to test the ales but to inspect the beds for the presence of bedbugs.
Martin Luther (1483-1546), theologist within the Catholic Church was known as the ‘Reformator’ and his career in this field began when he listed his thoughts and nailed them on a church door in Wittenberg Germany in 1517. The list became known as ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ and although his original intent was only to reform the Catholic church his actions led to a split in the church, dividing it into the Catholic and Protestant branches. Today’s Lutheran Church (of which there are several divisions) bears his name. When I was young and asked what religion I was I said protestant although I didn’t understand why I was. Protestant and Catholic kids when I was young didn’t mix, Catholic kids chanted ‘publics’ at my mates and me and we shouted back ‘cattle ticks’.
The content of Luther’s Theses: I read the Theses as part of expanding my knowledge about Luther and I have to admit I have a long way to go before understanding exactly what they all mean but there was one reference I did understand and that was Luther was critical of the Pope granting pardons to sinners if they contributed to the churches’ coffers. The Pope at the time was not all too pleased with Luther’s Theses and in fact he gave permission to followers of the faith if they had the opportunity to send him to his maker.
There are other statues in Dresden and all have interesting tales to tell but the one I found most interesting was that of King Frederick August ll (1797-1854) because his statue saw and survived the destruction of Dresden during WW2.
To comprehend what King Frederick Augustus ll saw it is necessary to go back to the image captioned ‘King Frederick Augustus ll overlooking his ruined city’ and take a closer look. What is of interest is there is no wood in the rubble and this is because the incendiaries that were dropped ignited all flammable materials resulting in the horrific firestorm that swept across the city and in addition locals would have collected wood to use for cooking and heating even though it was illegal.
At the base of the pedestal on which King Frederick August ll stands sit four ladies who also saw the destruction of Dresden. The following image shows one of the statues and she has a sad and haunting look. Maybe her expression is the way of destiny, reminding us to never let wars such as WW2 happen again.
When researching the history of King Frederick Augustus ll I came across another King August and I can’t help but tell you about him. There is a statue of him in Dresden but I’m not posting it because as far as I’m concerned he is no hero. The King Augustus I am referring to was more commonly known as The Strong. The Strong reference comes from the fact that during his reign (1694-1733) he engaged in some offbeat activities including the breaking of horseshoes in half with his bare hands and fox-tossing.
Fox-tossing involved the throwing of live foxes and other animals into the air using slings. At each end of the sling was a ‘tosser’ and when the animal ran across the sling the ‘tossers’ pulled the sling tight, flung it upwards and the result was the terrified animal shot skyward. The competition winners were those who flung the animal the highest. Expert ‘tossers’ could fling animals to heights exceeding seven metres. The result of course was often fatal for the tossed animal. During one of King Augustus The Strong’s animal tossing competitions in Dresden over six hundred foxes, five hundred hares, thirty badgers and twenty wild cats were tossed and killed. Wild cats, were not a preferred animal to toss as they clung to the rope sling and also when they landed they often took to the tossers, inflicting nasty wounds.
For those with an interest in etymological matters they might like to research the origin of the word ‘tosser’. The results will surely surprise you.
After WW2 Dresden came under communist rule and during that time city leaders chose to reconstruct large areas of the city in a ‘socialist modern’ style, partly for economic reasons but also to break away from the city’s past as a stronghold of the German bourgeoisie. In the 1950s and 1960s, Soviet and East German authorities razed many royal buildings.
Changes came to East Germany on October 3rd 1989. Civil disobedience began spreading across the country, protesters demanded the removal of the non-democratic government. As a result of continued protests in the early 1990s East and West Germany reunified. Bearing in mind the fact that much of Dresden has been restored and the fact that East and West Germany have reunified I think I can with qualification say something has been accomplished.
To appreciate the accomplishment I will take you for a walk around present day Dresden. Of course I can’t show you everything, just a few of the features that I thought interesting.
Dresden is often quoted as being a Baroque city, which is basically true but there are other influences as well including Renaissance, and both Modernism and Postmodernism periods.
The Baroque style does not sit well with me as it’s too busy. I formed this opinion after visiting a Baroque style library in St Gallen Switzerland some years ago. The designers of Baroque buildings had an obsession with placing adornment of some kind on every available space. It was their aim to exaggerate motion, drama, tension, exuberance and grandeur in not only sculpture but in literature, dance and music as well. The style began around 1600 in Rome Italy.
Bev and I discussed the fact the Baroque style is too busy and the Socialist style is bland and boring and we came to the conclusion that maybe this is why we lean to art deco as it is halfway between styles.
To the left and right at the top of the arched entranceways are ornate decorations. The following photograph shows the detail.
A building that I found interesting was the Yenidze cigarette factory on the outskirts of the city. Bev and I rode to the Yenidze factory for a closer look after spotting it when riding along the Elbe River bike path.
The factory, a piece of the Orient in the middle of Saxony, was built in 1907-09 in the form of a mosque. The design intention was to advertise the famous ‘Orient Cigarettes’ popular at the time. Today the building houses among other things a restaurant and an events centre. Events take place directly under the glass dome. There was, as would be expected, a lot of opposition to its design originally. Conservative Dresdenites did not want a mosque-looking building in their midst, even if it was a factory.
As I have shown and explained, Dresden has a complex mix of architectural styles. Some we warm to, others we don’t. The more we see of Dresden the more we appreciate the tenacity of those involved with the rebuilding of the city and also the love the post-communist generations have for their city. Bev and I feel comfortable in Dresden as there is a certain vibrance in the air. One of the things we particularly like about the city is it is bike friendly, so friendly that at the ‘no entry’ end of most one way streets bicycles are accepted.
The East German pedestrian and cycle traffic light symbols are called ampelmann (ampel in German means traffic light). The introduction of ampelman was in 1961 (up until then there were no pedestrian lights) in response to the growing threat of accidents at intersections and crossings. The idea for the ampelman was conceived in Berlin by traffic psychologist Karl Peglau, who suggested that road users react more quickly to symbols than to the written word stop and go.
That’s the end of this post. I enjoyed researching and writing it and I hope you enjoyed reading about one of the most interesting cities in the world. The next post, Out and About Dresden Part 2 will relate to some of the Dresden unusual, our meeting with a kindred soul and, sadly, the loss of Tbear.