Last week I wrote about Berlin and some of the adventures my family and I had while visiting friends there during the Christmas holidays. Berlin is a fascinating city. So big. So diverse. Extraordinary museums and monuments. History everywhere you look. Change. Edge. But Berlin is not Germany!
What most people expect when they think of Germany is cuckoo clocks, streets so clean you can eat off them, Octoberfest 24/7, and lederhosen. In some neighborhoods of Berlin the streets can be dirty. I did not see one cuckoo clock. We drank some beer but also enjoyed the complete variety of drinks you can find in any cosmopolitan city and there was no one wearing lederhosen. We had to go a few hours south to find “quaint Germany” in Dresden and Weimar.
Dresden was nearly completely obliterated at the end of WWII. Even though the war was nearly over and Dresden played a very small part in the war, the British and American Air Forces bombed it to smithereens. The bombing was undertaken to crush the morale of the German people and force a surrender. I do not plan to go into the politics or morality of bombing a whole city of residents (as we did in Hiroshima), but to see a city that was so devastated, now almost completely restored to its original beauty, is quite a testament to the resilience of humanity.
Since I only got to know Dresden about ten years ago, I cannot compare the city now to what it might have been pre-WWII. I can say that the restoration has been undertaken so carefully that one has the illusion of being in a very old city that has been well preserved. Of course there are some signs of restoration, such as the blend of old and new stones in the restored Frauenkirche (one of its major cathedrals) and the continuation of the restoration of Zwinger Palace including its absolutely gorgeous statuary seen below. The overall impression of Dresden today is of a very historic, pristine, gorgeous city.
Of course we were given the insider’s tour of Dresden by our relatives (my second cousins) which made our visit very special. We were treated to an evening at the Dresden Philharmonic, a Christmas Eve service in Kreuzkirche (one of the oldest churches in Dresden) delivered entirely in German and punctuated by the angelic voices of a boys’ choir, the sonorous, pealing bells of Kreuzkirche following the service that we could feel reverberating in our bones; and the Dresdener Striezelmarkt, nearly 600 years old and still going strong. Remember gluhwein from the Berlin Weinachtsmarkts? We drank even more gluhwein in Dresden and here’s a photo to prove it!
I could go on for pages about the wonders of Dresden, but I want to include the family experience we had while we were there. My plan was to spend the actual Christmas holiday in Dresden so we could experience a traditional Christmas in Germany. Well, the plan worked and we were treated to a Christmas goose and all the accompanying dishes including kartoffel kloesse, a potato ball that seems to be a staple of southern Germany.
My cousin began braising the goose the night before and the smells were so good they nearly drove us crazy. Christmas dinner “schmeckt mir gut!”…tasted so good!
When we arrived in my cousins’ home we were amazed how she had turned it into a winter wonderland. There were handcarved decorations throughout the house…and I do mean in every available space. She even had a glass-topped dining table with a winter scene of gnomes under the glass top.
We were treated to a real candle-lit Christmas tree which really is still a tradition, watched over carefully by her husband!
Presents were opened on Christmas Eve (as we used to do when I was young), followed by lots of eating (homemade cookies), drinking and merriment. I know it sounds so schmaltzy…(which comes from the word schmalz, or goose fat), but it was all so delightful. We had hoped to lighten our luggage by giving away the presents we had brought for everyone, but instead we ended up packing all the gifts we were given.
Christmas sightseeing and festivities over, it was time to move on to Weimar where my other cousin lives with her family. Next week: Celebrating my birthday in Weimar!