Saxony is back to reclaiming the 1000 years of its history that was lost to the world after World War II. Text and photos by Melanie P. Kumar
After the peaceful reunification of Germany in 1990, Saxony is back to reclaiming the 1000 years of its history that was lost to the world after World War II. Its capital, Dresden, was carpet-bombed as was the music city of Leipzig. The huge effort to rebuild these cities and move on is what makes Saxony special.
1. A walking tour of Dresden
A guided tour of the historical city centre provided me an overview of its important historical buildings like the 18th century baroque construction, the Zwinger, the Semper Opera House, the Royal Palace, the Academy of Arts and the Albertinum, formerly the royal stables. The Church of Our Lady is iconic in bearing testimony to the rebuilding of Dresden and post-war reconciliation. A walk past the Procession of Princes held my interest with its symbolism, as also the employment of 25,000 ceramic tiles from the State Porcelain Manufactory, for its recreation.
2. The Panometer
The several flights of steps, though tiring, seemed worthwhile to get a 360 degree panoramic view of “Dresden 1756”. The artist, Yadegar Assisi, was inspired by the paintings of Canaletto to create this breathtaking view. The old Gasometer building and the panoramic view offered, combine to give the place its name. The shifting lights from day to night offer enchantingly different perspectives.
3. Konigstein Fortress
This mountain Fortress has a 750 year-old history and impressively combines late Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and 19th century architecture. Located in Saxon Switzerland, above the town of Konigstein, it afforded me a charming view of the River Elbe in a shape called Konigsnasse or the ‘King’s Nose’. The three huge wine casks kept in Magdalene’s Castle simulate what was there during the time of Augustus the Strong, one of Saxony’s most powerful rulers. It was believed that this fortress could not be breached and hence provided a safe haven for the Saxon monarchs and their treasures.
4. The Dresden State Art Museums
These collections comprise twelve museums, many of which are housed in the city’s famous landmark buildings. Of these, the Historic Green Vault and the New Green Vault comprise a mind-boggling treasure trove, by the acquisition of which Augustus the Strong realised his vision of a Baroque Gesamtkunstwerk, or synthesis of the arts. It is really hard to decide what to focus on, in this place. A visit to The Old Masters’ Picture Gallery with its Impressionist paintings, including Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, with its famous angels at the bottom of the painting, is a feast for the eyes. If one has to be selective about the Art Museums, this one is a must-do.
5. Steamboat Ride across the River Elbe
A steamboat ride on the River Elbe in Dresden provides a relaxed view of the city’s landscape as also the well-known castles and villas, some of which have been turned into hotels. I watched with curiosity the four-lane bridge, the Waldschlösschen, which resulted in the city losing the UNESCO World Heritage tag in 2009. It does appear a bit of an incongruity in the midst of all the heritage buildings!
6. The Bach Music Connection in Leipzig
Leipzig is the Music City of Saxony and I could sense the presence of Johann Sebastian Bach everywhere. The St. Thomas School where he was a teacher, the St. Thomas Church, where he served as Cantor, and the Bach Museum, told me much and helped me garner a lot of information about this great composer. The Church has a slab under which Bach’s remains are buried and it seemed like a bit of a mystery to locate the stained glass window which bears his likeness. The Museum displays his handwritten musical scores, his instruments and costumes of that period. I felt a thrill to tap pillars which burst forth with his compositions.
7. Auerbach’s Cellar
This second oldest restaurant in Leipzig dates back to being a wine bar in the 16th century. Goethe’s play, Faust, has contributed to its fame, as it is mentioned as the first place that Mephistopheles takes Dr. Faustus to, on their travels. Goethe himself is said to have visited this bar and so it was clear to me, how it figured in the play. The five historical dining rooms in this restaurant are surrounded with history and legend, and the paintings and sculptures helped me to unravel them. The food is good, and includes some decent vegetarian fare.
8. Visit to the wineries
When speaking of food, can wine be far behind? A visit to Saxony would be incomplete without a visit to the many wineries to see the process and indulge in some tickling of the palate, through wine-tasting! The Zimmerling Winery, the Wackerbarth Castle Saxon State Winery and the Vincent Richter restaurant provided me the opportunity, as the whole process became an art form. I was left amused, better educated and perhaps a little dizzy!
9. The Albrechtsburg Castle in Meissen
This castle built in the late-Gothic architectural style was the first in Germany to serve as a place of residence, rather than fortification. A picturesque view of the Elbe river valley and Meissen’s Old Town had me enthralled. The castle is now a museum and its imposing portraits and murals provided me the narrative for its history, including its importance as the first European porcelain manufactory, after the secret of porcelain-making was discovered in Dresden in 1708.
10. The State Porcelain Manufactory in Meissen
Porcelain, also called “white gold,” is such an important part of the history of Saxony. A visit to the manufactory provided a presentation on the subject, a viewing of the elaborate process and most exciting of all, a ‘Coffee, Tea and Hot Chocolate Ceremony’, where these are served in the most exquisite of porcelain ware (with each cup a different size for each beverage), which definitely seemed to enhance their taste. Looking at the dainty creations was a treat for the eyes. Worthy of mention is a porcelain organ, which I hoped to play on but was told that it is strictly forbidden, except as part of another ceremony!
Visa: A Schengen visa is necessary. Applications through the Germany Embassy, New Delhi for North India and through the German Consulate General, Chennai, for South India. Those in Bangalore need to apply through the Bangalore Consulate General. Appointments have to be booked online. Anybody with a valid Schengen visa, which says Estat Schengen, can also enter Germany from other EU countries.
Flights: Lufthansa has flights which connect from all the major cities in India to Frankfurt. From Frankfurt, there are Lufthansa flights to Dresden, the capital of Saxony, and to Leipzig as well.
Stay: Swissotel, Dresden, is a comfortable place to stay in Dresden, as the staff speak English. Holiday Inn Express Dresden City Centre, Kim Hotel Dresden and the Gastehaus einfach schon are also good.
Commute: A one-day ticket is valid for use on tram and bus any number of times till 04:00 hours of the following day. Higher tariff zone tickets also permit use of special means of transport like the Dresden cable cars.