All this travelling and I haven’t yet mentioned food. Why? Because it is a sore point. Thanks to my treacherous gut, the over 3000 wonderful types of bread and the innummerable types of cakes produced in Germany have been verboten since 2018 because of their gluten content. (It’s the bread that hurts the most.) I do attempt gluten-free variants, but it’s very much hit and miss even with adapted recipes. I was particularly pleased, as was everyone else that tasted it, with a recent Zwetschgenpuddingstreuselkuchen (plum custard crumble cake – don’t you just love German compound nouns) and I can produce a reasonable Swabian onion tart (no pictures, we’d eat it before it comes out of the oven, if we could), but I’ve yet to crack the Saxon speciality, Sächsische Quarkkeulchen (Saxon Quark Balls – actually a kind of potato pancake). I know they should be simple but mine are always too sloppy. I ate the ones pictured in Dresden. It was the best meal of the holiday! Below them is a piece of Dresdener Eierschecke, reputably Erich Kästner’s favourite cake.
Bake-off diversions aside, my first associations with Dresden are always – even after I’ve been there – of the firebombing 75 years ago. I won’t dwell on it here, because there will more on how that subject is represented in literature later in GLM X. What I will say is that the damage was so extensive that only selected landmarks were rebuilt as per the originals during the GDR years. In fact, the restoration of the Frauenkirche wasn’t completed until 2005. However, when I visited in 2015, August the Strong’s city, once known as The Florence of the Elbe, was exuding plenty of her baroque majesty.
The wealth of Saxony during the times of August the Strong (1670-1733) is displayed in Dresden’s Green Vault and it is breathtaking. Room after room after room of priceless Meissen porcellain, jewels, statues; it is a veritable Aladdin’s cave. Take a look here and be amazed. Johann Melchior Dinglinger’s diorama of “The Throne of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb”, with its 4,909 diamonds, 164 emeralds, 160 rubies, a sapphire, 16 pearls and two cameos, is without doubt the most stunning museum artifact I am ever likely to see.
For obvious reasons the Green Vault, which claims to be the oldest museum in Europe (a claim disputed by the Vatican), is very well secured. And yet there was a heist – suspected to be an inside job – in November 2019. Four sets of jewellery were stolen. They, alone, are worth $1 billion. What value the whole collection?
From the Green Vault to the Albertinum and its art collection from Romanticism to the Present Day. Of particular interest to those, like me, with an interest Caspar David Friedrich.
For literature lovers, a visit to the quirky Erich Kästner museum is a must, and if you have time, a visit via the cable car to Loschwitz which featured prominently it Uwe Tellkamp’s German Book Prize winning novel, The Tower. The area is probably of greater interest to contemporary tourists for its beautiful villas and magnificent views over the Elbe.
More stunning views of the Elbe are available in Saxon Switzerland and if you do have time when in Dresden take a day trip. The one I enjoyed immensely took me to the Königstein Fortress and The Bastei. As beautiful and grandiose as Dresden is, the natural landscape in Saxon Switzerland wins the day.
I took a second trip to Saxony in 2017 to the Leipzig Book Fair, which I wrote about in detail here. It was exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. Even now I feel the need for refreshment. Let’s go for dinner to the second oldest restaurant in Leipzig, where the food is excellent, though the company somewhat Faustian!
Recommended (?) reads from Saxony
I’d categorise the two books written by Dresdeners, Uwe Tellkamp and Erich Kästner, as important rather than recommended. The Tower recreates the last 5 years of the GDR and Going To The Dogs, the louche excesses of the Weimar Republic. “Recommended” implies undiluted pleasure, which I wasn’t expecting at all from Leipzig-born Clemens Meyer’s short story collection but received in spades. Expect Dark Satellites to feature in my best of 2020.