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Phespirit goes to Germany
Dresden     July 2008

After long and pricey peregrinations around Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Latvia, Phespirit needed a break that would be quick, simple and inexpensive. After trawling for cheap-flight destinations he narrowed his choice down to one of Holland or Germany. Research into a trip from Eindhoven to Amsterdam, via Maastricht and Utrecht, arrived at no satisfactory conclusion so he borrowed a book on Germany from his local library. As he leafed from cover to cover he was surprised to see that, after Berlin and Munich, the city of Dresden looked the most interesting. Cheap flights were available, as was a good value hotel room, so off he went.

Phespirit's flight touched down at Dresden airport just before half-three local time, about twenty minutes late. This threw into jeopardy his chances of catching the 15:48 train into the city centre. Happily - and this is a first in all his travels - Phespirit's holdall was the first item out on the baggage conveyor. With some fast moving he cleared customs, ran to the airport station, found the train already waiting, bought his ticket and jumped on board with less than a minute to spare. It only saved a half an hour's hanging around, but it was good for the soul.

Dresden's very existence is good for the soul. On 13th February 1945, a vengeful Allied Bomber Command ordered horrific devastation to be wrought upon the city. The morality of this act is still debated, but Phespirit won't condemn the decisions of his grandparents' generation until he too has spent five years on the receiving end. There's nothing good about war, of course; witness the slaughter in Georgia less than ten weeks since Phespirits departure. At least the near-immaculate restoration of Dresden's historic centre can be admired as a triumph of human will and resiliance. Among much to be admired, the following stand out:

  1. Zwinger - Augustus the Strong's Palace.

    The palace and gardens built for Augustus the Strong from 1711 to 1728 became an enclosed complex of museums with the addition of a final gallery wing between 1847 and 1855. It was largely destroyed in 1945, but is now superbly restored. Strolling around the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), the Rüstkammer (Armoury) and the Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection), not to mention the grounds and walls, occupied four pleasant hours for Phespirit. It was worth coming to Dresden for the Old Masters Gallery alone. Not only can it boast two Vermeers [1,2] out of just thirty-five in existence, but it has Titian's 'Sleeping Venus' and Raphael's 'Sistine Madonna', and a whole lot more from the top drawer of world art history.

  2. Grünes Gewölbe - the Green Vaults.

    The Green Vaults in Dresden's Residenzschloss contain the largest collection of treasures in Europe. There is a Neues (New) Grünes Gewölbe and a Historisches (Historic) Grünes Gewölbe. The latter is the more famous and requires advanced booking for entrance. Phespirit ordered his ticket more than two and half months in advance, and even then could count himself lucky as all but a small number of time slots were sold out. The combination of priceless treasures, richly ornamental display rooms and space-age security makes the Historic vault special, but Phespirit confesses he preferred the exquisite pieces in the New vault. Such deviations from conventional taste probably expose him as a Philistine, but there it is.

  3. Frauenkirche - the Church of Our Lady.

    Phespirit can't recall seeing a church designed quite like Dresden's iconic Frauenkirche. Inside there are four tiers of balconies that curve around the barrel of its walls from the floor up to the base of its dome. Whereas the outside walls are peppered with dark original stones, the interior is toothpaste-fresh all over. The decor makes use of pastel pinks, greens, yellows and blues, with baroque and marbling effects, pale frescoes in the dome and pale wood for the seating. If the crowds of visitors are any guide, this has been a popular and successful recovery from its firebombing, burn-out and collapse - total annihilation - in 1945.

Meißen is just a thirty-minute S-Bahn train ride from Dresden, at the western end of the S2 line. When Phespirit visits a major city he often looks for a nearby picturesque historic town to provide a break within a break. Unfortunately these optimistic behavioural patterns are rarely aided by local weather patterns. Just like his November trip to Toledo from Madrid and his Urbino excursion from Cattolica the previous May, his picturesque day out in Meißen was dampened by rain. At least Phespirit now knows he should always pack a small umbrella. And he did.

That, then, was Dresden. Not the first place everyone would rush to in continental Europe, nor even the first place in the Federal Republic of Germany, but an interesting place nonetheless. It is history in the re-making.

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