Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Day 4 - Berlin - Dresden - Prague
This morning we loaded our suitcases onto the bus and began our two hour drive to the town of Dresden. This would be the first time we stopped in Dresden, as in prior years we had traveled by train from Berlin to Prague. As we entered the city, Olaf told us that Dresden, which means “the people living next to the forest”, was a traditional medieval city, first mentioned in 1206, and was the capital of the principality of Saxonia, now the state of Saxony. Dresden has a population of about 500,000 and is famous for its Christmas market, the historic young men’s choir, Cross Choir, dating back to 1300, and is the city where the first European porcelain was manufactured. We learned that in February 1945, shortly before the end of the war, the Allies bombed Dresden reducing almost everything in the city to rubble, partly in retaliation for the German bombing of Coventry, but also, as Mr. Barmore would later tell us, to break the German spirit, inasmuch as the city was so symbolic to the Germans. After the war, the city of Dresden was rebuilt as closely as possible to what had existed before the bombing, including the historic buildings.
We had learned from Olaf that Germany now has 16 states, but Mr. Barmore said that in order to form the German nation, in the 19th century, it necessitated the unification of more than 400 ‘units’, such as Saxony (Dresden), Prussia (Berlin), and Bavaria (Munich). One of the main forces for unification of these units: there was one culture. As he said, culture cemented people before politics. Saxony became so important in the 17th and 18th centuries because it epitomized the Age of Baroque. The Baroque style of architecture was quite ‘busy’ he said and the Palace of Versailles in France became the standard against which all other buildings of this period were measured.
We walked through the courtyard of the magnificent Zwinger palace into a large square where we could view the Catholic Church of the Cross and the National Opera House. In this new nationalism of the 18th century, we were told, museums, theatre and opera, became institutions that expressed culture so that every country needed to have a national symphony or a national museum - by which the cultural identity could be expressed.
Our next stop was the New Green Vault, which houses one of the richest treasure chambers in the world: more than 1,000 examples of Baroque jewelry art. Mr. Barmore had told us that the Baroque period manifested itself in competition - demonstrations of wealth by various rulers – and that was definitely apparent in this exhibit, culminated by the exhibit of the precious green diamond, purchased by August III in 1742.
We ate lunch in a charming medieval-style restaurant, where we were joined by our Prague guide, Kamila who would be talking over for Olaf as we continued our journey. We walked around the town of Dresden for a short while, learning about the importance of processions during the period as we viewed the Furstenzug, a large mural of a mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony, and enjoying the beautiful market squares and surrounding buildings. We made a brief stop at the train station where we said goodbye to Olaf, our Berlin/Dresden guide and to Jeff, our security detail, and then headed south to Prague, following the course of the Elbe River, admiring the beautify scenery of the Czech Republic.
Arriving in Prague, we checked into our hotel, located in the center of the city, and then headed off to dinner at the Municipal House