June 12 – Dresden
A roaming day today. We took a day to explore Dresden, a city we’d wanted to visit because of its history and we took it slow. After the hectic days of train travel, we were ready for a slower pace, a more leisurely start and we roamed the streets of Dresden at a dawdle.
I started the day with a short run. I’ve been hanging out for a run for ages and have been holding off from having a trot because of a slight mishap. A little while ago, we were riding along a gravel path through a park and a little girl ran out in front of me. I hit the brakes to avoid hitting her, which on gravel sent the bike into a mega swerve, which with all its weight, sent the bike toppling over, with me underneath it. I hit the ground, the bike landed on top of me and pinned me down. It was at that point I discovered, to no great surprise, that I’m unable to bench press 45kg and I couldn’t lift the bike off me. I tried to drag my legs out from under it, which probably wasn’t very smart because I think that hurt things more and eventually a couple, who I think were the little girl’s parents, came over and rescued me and lifted the bike off me. Since then I’ve had a few twinges in my foot, shin and knee, on account of having the bike fall on them and probably me trying to pull myself out. I did do a run the next day and it hurt afterwards, so again, probably not too clever on my part. So, I’ve been waiting for the twinges to stop their twinge, erring on the side of caution, before I ran again. This morning I did an easy 5km with some walking mixed in to the running, just to ease things back in. It was good to be on the trot again though! No photo, but it did happen!
We took ourselves in to Dresden, a city that all we really knew of was that it had been horribly bombed during the war and was almost completely destroyed. It was a perfect day for a roam, it was sunny, clear skies and hot and the beautiful, old, historic buildings looked a picture on such a day. I say old and historic, but they really aren’t. The bombing on February 13, 1945 was so intense, it created its own firestorm that killed up to 35,000 civilians and all but razed the city to the ground, leaving ruins and rubble. The buildings have been reconstructed, so even though the original buildings may have been constructed in the 18th century, many of them are 20th century reconstructions.
The architecture in general in the city is really interesting. Dresden is in the former communist East Germany and the square, concrete tower blocks and office buildings of the Soviet era sit alongside the Baroque and beautiful architecture of the earlier centuries. So, strange as it is, those square, concrete buildings constructed post-war when Dresden was part of the GDR, are actually older than the Baroque architecture they sit alongside, because those have been reconstructed much more recently.
One of the most striking buildings in the city is the Frauenkirche and it has a story to tell. The foundation stone was laid in 1726 and the building was completed in 1743. Johan Sebastian Bach played the organ there in 1736, in the unfinished building and in 1843, Richard Wagner premiered and conducted one of his pieces for the chorus. In 1945 the gutted ruins finally collapsed two days after the bombing of Dresden. After the war, investigations began into its reconstruction, but the government of the GDR blocked any reconstruction and it remained rubble and ruins until 1993. The rubble began to be cleared then and in 1994 archaeological reconstruction began with the first stone being laid. It was completed in 2004, with the spire cross being gifted to the city from donations from the British people, making it something of a symbol of reconciliation. The black stones on it and other buildings in Dresden, are a reminder of what the city experienced during the war. The black stones are the original stones, charred from the fires and salvaged from the rubble to be used in the reconstruction.
We roamed around the Zwinger Palace, a Baroque palace built between 1710-1728, on the orders of Augustus the Strong and was home to Saxon royalty.
As we continued our leisurely dawdle, the heat turned it up a notch and the wind picked up. It was hot and blustery and if we’d been at home, we would have said, “It’s a bushfire day.”
Dresden was another of those cities that was easy to be in. Not busy (apart from the pedestrian tourist traffic), not hurried and didn’t feel like a bustling city at all. The pedestrian areas, cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, made it feel quiet and historic and another city that didn’t feel like a city.
Walking through the parks, neighbourhoods and different quarters of the city, I thought about what a difficult history the city had lived through and what its residents had endured. After the devastation of the bombing in 1945, they then lived under the eyes and hands of the Stasi for decades until Germany’s reunification. Knowing this was such recent history and that many of the residents today would have lived through that period, really gave me pause for thought.
Where we are staying is about 7km from the city, in Radebeul and it’s a lovely, quiet, peaceful, leafy little town. I commented to Steve to just imagine, in such a nice, sleepy little place, what it would have been like to live like that, to never know if your neighbour was an informant for the Secret Police, always having to be mindful of what you did and said. Being in places with such a history, always brings that history into sharper focus. It puts the facts, stories and images I might have seen, heard or read, into a stark reality.
We continued to roam the city, then over the bridge, crossing the River Elbe, where we saw another of the city’s famous monuments, the Golden Horseman. This was built from 1732-34 and shows Elector Friedrich August I, better known as Augustus the Strong, sitting on his horse. Did he win that title in an arm wrestling contest perhaps? This fella ruled over Saxony and I have to say, from the look on his face, he didn’t look too happy about it! The statue is covered in about 500g of gold leaf.
We then continued our roam, with the purpose of finding some memorials to the war. We did find them, as hidden and unassuming as they were. In a way, that made them even more powerful and moving.
We began our wander back to the station, to take us back to Radebeul, continuing to look up and around at the sights and scenes of this lovely city.
It was a great day, roaming a new place, at a leisurely dawdle of a pace and experiencing its culture, sights and stories. Dresden was a nice city to visit and I’m glad I can now put an image and a memory to the history and stories I had read and learned. It is certainly a phoenix of a city, rising from the ashes and enduring challenges for many years, before becoming this beautiful, newly historic place, with a beauty and grandeur that it has well and truly earned.
Tomorrow we ride on, following the River Elbe for a while on the Eurovelo 7 route, which is also called the Sun Route. A great name, but we shall see if our presence affects that in any way! We have left the rails behind us for now and we hit the pedals once again, continuing our way through Germany, now in a new part of the country with new adventures and new places to explore. On we go…power to the pedal…waiting to see what’s around the corner…
Distance ridden: 0 km
Distance roamed: 16.2 km
Distance run: 5 km
Weather: sunny, windy, hot, 32C – sensational!