Published: May 27th 2009May 25th 2009
I don't like to end my Germany leg of this trip on a not-so-wonderful note, as the entire trip has been, well, like a triple scoop of homemade icecream in a Danish waffle cone. But, I cannot deny you the truth and so it must be done. I should tell you a bit about Dresden.
First thing you should know is that it lays in the former DDR, or former East Germany. Second thing you should know is that it has about 500,000 residents - not big, not small. Third thing you are going to know whether you like it or not is my impression of it.
Mum keeps saying, "It wouldn't be like this in Germany. This would be different in Germany" before we all gauk at each other and laugh stupidly. We are of course in Germany and her running commentary is, aside from being politically incorrect, meant without any intolerance, hate or mean feeling. It is a simple mistake, made because her knowledge is being overrun by her impression. But her remarks are on the money all the same; the place just doesn't quiet feel like the Germany we know.
Its a beautiful city, don't get me wrong. Dresden celebrated its 800th birthday last year, so you can imagine which kind of whopping great churches, castles and buildings line the Altstadt, the old city, and the river Elbe. Sometimes, as you walk through the Altstadt, you can turn a 360 on your heel and see nothing but grand, ancient old stone buildings. And there hasn't been much modernisation or integration of the old with the new - it remains largely as it was a long, long time ago.
But, but - something is missing, something is lacking. At first I think it is just the state of the city, largely restored since 1989 when the wall came down, but still in enormous need of attention. Graffiti everywhere, vacant apartment blocks and houses at just about every corner (turn of the century ones too, not just 60s/70s build), and a general unkeptness. It reminds me more of Prag or Budapest than Munich or Stuttgart.
But there's also still a heavy lingering feeling in the air. What I found in Berlin, I cannot find here. Of course, Dresden is much much smaller and that must be taken into account, but even after I work my mathematical discounting formula, it still doesn't stack up. The streets are more or less emtpy on a Sunday, and the people are different.
I'm amazed at this. I mean, its been 20 years since the wall came down. That means 20 years of integration, of open country, no borders, massive monetary injections into reconstruction projects. It puzzles me somewhat as I expected to find the same thing here in Dresden as I find all around the places I grew up, from north to south.
I'd recommend a visit to the city, nevertheless. The landscape around it is breathtaking, the people are friendly, and its history breathtaking. But when you go, don't make the mistake I made and have expectations. Leave them behind in whichever place you are coming from, and take Dresden for what it is.