Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In the shadows of wars and kings

Our first stop in Germany was Dresden. Dresden was largely destroyed by a huge British and US air force attack at the end of WW2. So in a lot of ways this place was interesting in that I could compare how they recovered from near total destruction to how Hiroshima recovered, and initially I was underwhelmed. It came across as a patchwork quilt of old and new without the beauty, sense of peace and tranquility of Hiroshima. But luckily I had 3 nights (our new minimum for most places now), to discover that Dresden had a different, but equally profound, way to rebuild.

We arrived at our hostel and headed straight out to...McDonald's for dinner (hey we were hungry) but then we headed for the old section to have a quick look around so that we could prioritise the next few days. One of the first things we found was 'The Zwinger', built by Augustus the Strong to be something spectacular that he could use to look flash in during special events, with large gardens and balconies to address the minions. While wandering around this large enclosed area we found some stairs that led to an impressive area of statues and views.

We had another quick look around to familiarise ourselves with where everything was and got back before it was too dark. The next day we started by dropping into the The Museum of Man (or the hygiene museum) to have a quick look, and we ended up staying about 4 hours + (sorry, no photos were allowed). This was like the human body on steroids, it had different areas for every conceivable aspect of humans. Birth, death, sexuality, mind (complete with mind games and experiments), motion (complete with activites of strength, flexibility, balance etc) and more. Really cool were the see through life size man and woman constructions. Be warned though, even with English audio guides, a lot of stuff was written in German only.

In the end it was not until the next day that we got into the part of the city that showed its character. We went into the old section and visited Dresden Castle and climbed up Hausmanns Tower (there is always a tower with stairs somewhere) to get 360 degree views around the old section. Here you could see that the patchwork quilt of most buildings was done deliberately to keep the scars of WW2 and show the destruction that war can bring. What they have done is to keep all the damage when rebuilding, if they found a piece and could work out where it came from they would put it back and not clean it. The effect is quite a disturbing contrast between burnt and old parts of buildings with the new materials and statues. It sent a shiver up my spine to realise how much was destroyed and what buildings burnt and blackened by bombing look like. Very eerie.

Afterwards we went and saw the Frauenkirche (Church of our lady), also completely destroyed, and rebuilt over 11 years with mostly public money and support. It is a bit of a shock after the look of the outside to go inside. Outside you have the patchwork quilt effect with re-used blackened sections, but inside it was one of the lightest, brightest, newest looking churches we had ever seen, absolutely stunning. It also had many areas to the side where you could go down into the catacombs with prayer and meditation areas and monuments dedicated to peace and hope.

Our hostel called this the 'church with pomp' and next we went to the Kreuzkirche (Church of the holy cross), referred to as the 'church without pomp'. Similarly rebuilt after being destroyed but very plain and light inside and just as beautiful. Preferring a clean non showy look to remember its past.

Finally in this city, that has much more than at first glance, we went to the VW glassy car factory. This is a purpose built, one of a kind, built in glass factory to build a single model of car, the luxury class 'Phaeton'. Every single car built in this factory is presold with a 6 month waiting list, and the owner is then invited to come and watch his/her car being built when its time has come (it takes about 3 days to build). They can even install the steering wheel so that the special bond between (wo)man and machine is created (I kid you not). It was really cool to tour this amazing factory and it's really cheap, only 5 euros for an hour long tour. Unfortunately we were only here on the weekend and did not see it in action. Come during the week and you can actually see the cars being made.

Then for something completely different we hopped on a train and headed to the tiny, beautiful and scenic Bavarian town of Hohenschwangau, home of the castle of King Ludwig that the Disneyland castle is modelled after. We broke our 3 night rule for a flying 2 night visit just to see the castle, only to find out that the side facing the town was covered in scaffolding for renovations. I was destined never to see the uncovered castle. Just like King Ludwig, whose need for perfection meant that after 17 years he still hadn't finished his castle, never saw it without scaffolding and only lived in it for less than 6 months.

Left window
Our Hotel
After hostel accommodation at the last couple of places we decided to splurge in this most luscious and beautiful of areas. I found a special on the internet that provided 2 nights accommodation, 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners and tickets to both castles and the museum. It ended up being good value as we did not have to spend on anything else. The hotel and room was amazing. Second floor corner suite with a window on each corner, one window facing Neuschwanstein Castle (King Ludwig's) and the other facing Hohenschwangau Castle (his dad's).
Right window

The day we were there was cloudy with intermittent rain but that did not stop us from packing in a whole day, including a visit to both castles, the museum, walking up to the bridge with castle views on the other (non covered ) side as well as up the mountain and completely around the lake. We barely got to the fancy restaurant in time to receive our 6 course meal that had us bursting. Talk about living in the shadows of a king.

Poor old Ludwig reminded me of Michael Jackson, never really growing up, uninterested in affairs of finance and government all he really wanted to do was build castles. But he was such a perfectionist he only finished one. In the end he was spending all the royal money and was committed and put away by a doctor that hadn't even examined him. He apparently died the next day in mysterious circumstances found drowned in the lake with his doctor. Yep that sounds really mysterious, personally I think it went something like this...
'I am not crazy and you know it you quack'
'Let go of me or I will call the guards'
'I will kill you if you don't let me finish my castle'
'Let go or we will both go over...'
'aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa' splash!
Case closed.

The morning we were leaving was a beautiful sunny day, damn me breaking the rules, we really should have spent 3 nights here. Living in the shadows of a king is a lifestyle I could really get used to.


  1. I'm not sold on your prospects as a homicide investigator...

    1. I challenge you to come up with a better explanation!

  2. Apparently it was an escape attempt and they both died of hypothermia