Sunday, July 8, 2018

On the Road: Dresden

Frauenkirche, Dresden
Only one corner of the building
survived the Allied bombing in 1945
I had planned to do much more in Dresden than I ended up doing. I needed a break from walking. I ended up spending most of my time resting in caf├ęs and walking about the town only a little. I did, however, see the Frauenkirche, eventually reconstructed after it was almost entirely destroyed in 1945 and left in ruins during the Communist period. What stands today, although entirely faithful to the original design, is essentially a brand new church. Only a small section of one corner of the building and random stones here and there were salvageable. Because the old stones were not cleaned, it's easy to see what's old and what's new. If you've ever seen fragments of an ancient pottery vessel with its missing sections filled in with synthetic material in a museum case, you know what the Frauenkirche looks like. Perhaps in a couple hundred years it will all look old again. The inside of the church appears entirely new. All the columns are plain stone painted to look like marble. I wonder if the old church was marble inside or originally done in this way.

I also enjoyed a good dinner in the new section of town at a place called Lila Sosse, in a courtyard decorated with mosaics of imaginary beasts. On my way back to my hotel, I stopped at a wine bar called Barceloneta, and had a conversation about wine with the owner. I had a cheese and sausage plate while tasting some modern German wines. Since I last spent much time with German wine, they seem to have got the trocken style right finally. Trocken (dry) German wines once tended to be rather thin and acidic. These were more like their counterparts from Alsace—quite dry but with some character and without the sharp acidic bite I remember.

A medallion showing the
famous Habsburg lip
I did have a quick look at the Green Vault, but this house of treasures would take a week to see properly. What isn't here? There are rooms full of armor and weapons, rooms full of things made of ivory, rooms full of things made of amber, rooms full of things made of silver and gold, rooms full of Turkish treasures—rugs and other textiles, more weapons, jeweled daggers, a Janissary cauldron—, rooms full of medals and decorations, rooms full of gems, rooms full of coins.... I could have spent a day in the coin rooms alone, which include coins from all over the world and from antiquity to the present day—but much more than that. Every aspect of coin making is covered. There are minting presses, examples of engraving tools and dies, samples of ores of the metals coins are made from and examples of coins made from metals unusual for coinage, such as aluminum and titanium. There is even a section on counterfeiting with examples of counterfeit coins from antiquity to the present day alongside the real coins they copy. It was overwhelming really.

Parade armor made for
King Erik XIV of Sweden, 1563
Years ago, I saw the collection of armor at Les Invalides, in Paris. The armor in the Green Vault is just as impressive. The collection is rich in fancy parade armor (as opposed to armor intended for actual combat). To take just one example, the armor I've shown here was made in connection with King Erik XIV of Sweden's suit for the hand of England's Queen Elizabeth I. The decoration in gold was commissioned in 1563 from a goldsmith in Antwerp and done on a suit of semi-finished armor that had been made in Sweden and sent to Antwerp. Apparently, the finished work never made it back to King Erik, having been captured by Danish troops and sent to Copenhagen. The decoration shows scenes from the legend of Hercules and the Trojan War. There were many pieces like this.

Maurice, Elector of Saxony
and his Wife Agnes
Lucas Cranach the Younger 1559
At the very end of my stay I found a room full of paintings, many by Lukas Cranach the Younger, that I would have liked to have seen in more detail, including a number of interesting portraits and an Adam and Eve that's well known.

I left early, but, as noted in my previous post, I missed my train to Prague nevertheless. I had to wait nearly two hours for the next train—time I wish I had had at the Green Vault.

The first third of the journey followed the course of a river—the Elbe, I assume. At some unmarked point we left Germany and entered the Czech Republic. There was no checkpoint or even an indication of the border. The transition was apparent only because the names of the stations we passed through were suddenly in a script I don't know how to pronounce.

Scenery along the Elbe, south and east of Dresden
It was pretty countryside, the river valley flanked by sheer bluffs of blackened stone that looked very much like the sandstone so common in the buildings—a sandy beige where fractured and a new surface is visible. As we left the river, the landscape flattened into farmland, mostly wheat again, but also something that looked like corn (but wasn't corn) and occasionally hops. After arriving in Prague, I had a hard time finding my lodgings again, this time because the one direct subway line to my destination is under construction for the three days I'll be in Prague. There is a bus link in operation, but I couldn't find the stop anywhere. I finally had to take an Uber, which left me near to my destination but lost again with a phone about to lose power.... I did eventually make it.

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