Friday, August 16, 2013

Dresden Day Trip

Living in the U.S. it is difficult to take a day trip to another country. Sure if you live up north by Canada it's not a problem and if you live down south by Mexico, it's pretty easy too. Sadly, most of your Mexican day trip will be consumed by you waiting in line to drive back across the border and telling little kids, "no quero chicklets" every 20 seconds. The secret is to park in the U.S. and walk across. The line to get back is much shorter. Either way, you're going to need a passport; not that it's any different in Europe.
I've been trying to find the time to check out Dresden for a few months now and had never gotten around to it. So, I looked into the pricing and saw how cheap it was and went for it. This really was a trip to explore the city and see what it was like. I hardly went in to any buildings. I figure I'll go back with some more money and check out a few museums, namely the military history museum.
So I plunked down the 40 Euros for a round-trip train ticket, conned my German-speaking Australian/British flatmate into going with me and headed out at 06:29 on a Saturday morning.
The train ride takes a little over two hours; it's only like 90 miles for Christ's sake; and was scenic, relaxing and afforded much more leg room that a bus ticket of the same price. Sure the bus is a bit faster, but I'm tall. I had plenty of leg room, but the "head" rests only came up to my shoulders. Fortunately, they are side head rests and didn't bother me at all.
I didn't run up to the window on the outward journey and snap photos because some Czech guy and his INSANELY excited ten year-old daughter had taken the window seats. I didn't mind, kids always get the window seats in my book. I didn't even mind the little girl's incessant rambling because her enunciation was quite good and I was actually able to understand some of her Czech. That's how I was able to find out how old she was: She took some time to tell her father in Czech and German that she was ten and spoke Czech, German and English. I don't know why she did this, but I understood it and was impressed with myself. I'm guessing this was a big deal trip for her and she was über stoked.
The train follows two rivers pretty much the whole way: The Vlatva out of Prague and the Elbe (or Labe in Czech) the rest of the way into Germany, they meet somewhere in the Czech Republic and I've been told where, but I forgot. I didn't see the change in the rivers until I looked at the water and could tell it was moving much faster that the Vlatava. We passed some large locks and a pretty big shipping terminal, but I can't tell you which river they were on. What I can tell you is that at the border there was an abandoned checkpoint along the tracks and a drastic change in architecture. Oh yeah, and all the signs were in German.
We rolled into Dresden a little after 08:30 and started making our way to the center. It's a straight shot down Prager Straße through a shopping plaza called, he he, Wiener Platz. I know, I know, it's "Vienna Place" but mentally I'm like 13 on a good day and I'm pretty sure I didn't make a single dick joke in any of my Vienna posts. My self restraint is tapped out. It was interesting to travel two hours from Prague to end up on Prague Street.
We made it a few hundred meters through the shopping plaza and came to something I hope is uniquely German: A set of stairs leading to part of the sewer with a glass window in it so everyone could see the majesty and perfection that is a German sewer. It was a nice sewer as far as I can tell, I don't know for sure I don't really frequent sewers. It smelled remotely better that the Slovak outhouse.
A few meters after that we were met with something that reminded me that we were in what used to be East Germany. It's been so long, I really forgot there was once a difference.

This testament to the power of the worker remains on the side of a building in Kulturplatz. When I saw this I woke up and said, "oh yeah this used to be East Germany." It's a pretty nice mosaic and I have to say I liked it. My exposure to overt communist propaganda art has been pretty limited up to this point. So far, I've really only seen posters and stuff. I suppose this is the equivalent of a giant Uncle Sam.
From here we ended up at the Zwinger Gardens and it was early and not very crowded at all. The light was totally fantastic and there was a guy painting en plein air taking advantage of the incredible light. From the look of what he was working on he was pretty good.

This is one of my favorite photos from the whole trip. The light is great, this dude has a wicked tan and the statue on the left of the frame is peeking over to check out the painting. A few clouds in the sky would have made it that much better.
I decided that I would experiment a bit more with some HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. For those of you who don't know, you take several photos of the same thing all with different exposures then put them all together with the computer. I knew I'd get better dynamic range, duh, but I was suprised to find that there is generally a better level of detail to the images. You're going to see a lot of them and I'm still finding the best way to do the process but I was impressed with what I've been able to do so far. There is no way I would have wanted to take the time to make all these photos look the same way by processing one RAW file. Ideally, this is done better if you use a tripod to keep the camera still, but whatever. Also, there are some pretty cool "ghosts" or moving people that I think I know how to deal with now. Alright, enough nerding out over HDR.

Zwinger carillon, Zwinger, Dresden

This the the carillon at one end of the Zwinger, and some pretty impressive lens flare. Point your camera at the sun and it's what happens. The carillon goes off on the quarter hour and plays a happy little tune. It plays the same tune every time, fun once but if you're expecting something different you're in for a letdown.

Zwinger, Dresden

Here we have a view from the passageway under the carillon. Yup, it's some pretty serious HDR toning, but hey I'm still learning and I think it looks cool, so there. The writing on the wall describes the history of the place. It was once a residence and I assume they had some pretty zwinging parties there. After spending about and hour at the Zwinger it was time for some breakfast. Oh yeah, the Zwinger even has a moat -- kind of, it doesn't go all the way around.

Zwinger, Dresden

After breakfast we wandered into this plaza, I have no idea what it is called. The wall on the right is like some kind of outdoor hunting lodge with all manner of mounted heads. They looked to be iron and some of them had what appeared to be real antlers in them. The antlers might have been resin or something, but they looked real enough to me.

I don't care what country you're in, that's a nice rack. I'd be happy to bag just one deer like that in my life. There were at least five of similar quality.
What trip to Dresden would be complete without seeing the Frauenkirche? If you have forgotten your history; the Allied forces turned most of the city center into a giant parking lot on 13 February 1945. Kurt Vonnegut wrote a book about it, kind of. Anyway this church was leveled in the bombing and left as an anti-war memorial until 1995. It was finished in 2005 and the construction was funded entirely by private donations. Some American even donated his entire million-dollar reward for winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine to the project. Read the Wikipedia link, it's informative. Anyway, they didn't have all the old bricks, so they made new ones. When you look at the photo all the dark bricks are original and the light ones are new. Yes, only a German could achieve the insane precision to turn a fifty year-old pile of bricks back into the structure it once was. Maybe a Swiss person could do it, but this ain't no watch.

 Frauenkirche, Dresden

As you can see we blowed it up good. Notice the left side which has a lot more original bricks. All the "old" buildings around the center have this look of old and new bricks since the Germans really liked them just fine before the B-17 powered urban-renewal project. So, they put it back the way it was. It's really a more impressive feat than the demolition was. Of course it took 80 years to undo a few days worth of work, but what else are bored communists going to do?
Now, I'll admit here that I don't know the names of all these buildings I photographed. I was really just wandering around and seeing what the city was like.

I know that's Frauenkirche on the left and the glass dome is really cool. I think it's a museum.


Basically, after wandering around the city center for a few hours we made out way to Neustad or New Town. It's across the river and we were drawn by the Drei Königs Kirche Turm. It's the tower on another church that was destroyed in the bombing. The church was pretty much a complete loss, but the tower was pretty salvageable. It looks strange with an old tower on a brand-new church. But I digress and will get to the tower shortly. The next photo is from a bridge over the Elbe.


As you can see we got further and further away from the center. Then we were at the tower. As I've said before I'm a sucker for a clock-tower climb and this was no different. It was 2 Euros, why not? The only miscalculation was that, being eager to climb the tower, I took no notice of the time. The clock struck noon right when we got to the bells. Guess what. THEY ARE LOUD. On the bright side, after I got over my tinititus-induced paralysis, I realized I was able to photograph the bells in a position not many people will dare to duplicate.

This bell only rings for a few minutes, your ears will ring for a while after. There were three of them.

After the bells you get to the clock chamber. There are four faces. Notice the rods on the beams through the frame. They synchronize all the clocks and as you stand there you can see the whole thing work. Granted, it's not pretty but it's really efficient and effective. Should have called the Swiss.

Once you get to the top, you are treated to an amazing view of the whole city. I made a panoramic photo and it really doesn't do the place justice.

After we alighted from the tower we realized the climb had made us a bit peckish and we should endeavor to seek sustenance in due course. Yep, I've been reading Jules Verne. Anyway, when you're in Germany what do you have a hankering for? And some Faulkner. Nothing but sauerkraut and sausage will do. We were on a mission. Sadly, not one our limited knowledge of Neustad could satisfy. So we continued to wander and make our way back to the city center. If you want to find stereotypical cuisine, head toward a tourist mecca. On the way we discovered another church, Protestant of course. That Martin Luther fellow really did a number on the Catholic population in Germany.

Behind this church is the first foreign (to me) World War I memorial I've ever seen. It just says "Our Fallen" with the dates. The kneeling man once held a sword as far as I can tell. I suppose when you lose a war your memorials aren't quite so braggardly built. I like the subtlety though.
Coming up goose eggs on our bratwurst and sauerkraut hunt we crossed the river again, but were a ways up from the center, so we walked back toward it along the river.

We spied this impressive structure commanding the landscape. I don't know what it is, but it was cool so I took a photo.
After a trip through a tourist alley, which I refused to stay in, we actually found a nice traditional restaurant with what we were looking for and wheat beer. Success tastes divine. Every bit of it was delicious.
Then we passed by another cool building I can't identify. I took a photo.

You can really see the HDR ghosting with the carriage. Then we came to another church that had been destroyed in the bombing and rebuilt. Nope, I don't know the name and I didn't photograph the outside. The thing that is striking about this church is that they decided not to repaint the inside and just leave it white. The Allied bombing marked the fifth time in this church's history that it had been destroyed and they decided to leave the walls bare this time. Also, very solemn.

After this place it was getting late and about time to head back to the Bahnhoff and stop off and have a beer on the way. It's Germany, you gotta do it.
As we made our way back through the Wiener Platz it was much more crowded and the crazy Sputnik fountain was on.

Sometimes you wanna play around a fountain and not get wet. Sure.
So we had a few beers and got to the station with time to spare where I stopped to snap a photo of one of the biggest differences between Dresden and Prague, other than a welcome lack of pigeons, bicycles -- everywhere.

This really is a small sample of how many bikes you'll see around the town.
So back on the train and cruising though the German and Czech countrysides we were. Actually, I only took photos of the German countryside. There's a nice one of the Elbe and then we were treated to a pretty spectacular rainbow. After that what is there to do but put your feet up and enjoy the ride watching the sunset out the window in a compartment with only two people in it?

While we lay in repose in the train cabin our rest was abruptly interrupted for some official business. It was time for the dreaded German border check. Having escaped such scrutiny on the outward journey I was hopeful to repeat such luck. The compartment door opened and I expected to find myself in a scene from The Great Escape: You know, jackbooted no-nonsense German ball busters devoid of anything resembling a sense of humor. Well, turns out jackboots are a bit gauche in Germany and the police most definitely will not wear them. Imagine my surprise when I saw what is most likely the second-most beautiful police officer I have ever seen (the disaffected Czech border-control officer at the Prague airport takes the cake). I did still expect to hear, "papers please" in some gruff German accent. Instead she asked "sprechen zie Deutch?" My companion of course replied with something they could understand and I busted out with "Ich spreche Bahnhoff." The blonde amazon officer replied that she also spoke train station, that makes her a perfect match for me in my book -- speaking the same language and all. Then she and my friend made some jokes at my expense, in German of course, she and her partner checked out passports and she walked out of my life forever. So, it turns out Germans have a sense of humor after all. Maybe I'll run into her on my next trip to the das Vaterland. All I know is she can check my papers anytime.

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