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amyb Sep 26th, 2012 10:40 AM

Berlin (with Dresden) Trip Report
<b>Where:</b> Berlin for 10 days, including two days in Dresden

<b>When:</b> September 2012

<b>Hotel-Pension Bregenz</b>
Located just off Ku’dam, this small hotel/pension is located on the fourth floor of a building on a quiet, leafy residential street. I spent 5 nights here and really felt like it became “my neighborhood”. There are several restaurants on the block and on Ku’dam but I didn’t partake in any of them, having researched restaurants on my own.

The hotel is run by Christian and his family and they have created a wonderful hotel experience. From the outset, Christian is very welcoming and helpful. He has maps and transit passes for purchase right there, which is a great help. Check in was fast and easy and he continued to offer suggestions during my stay.

All rooms are on one floor of the building. There is a small elevator that brings you from street level right to the floor of the pension. My room was right off the elevator and reception area, but I never heard any noise from either within my room. There is a good internal door system so things stay fairly quiet. The only noise I heard was from neighbors using the inner courtyard, but they quieted down as the night wore on. The room was comfortable, clean and good-sized, as was the bathroom. I felt completely at home and was comfortable spending time in the room at night.

Breakfast is wonderful and has many offerings. I never had trouble getting a spot for breakfast and found the other guests friendly.

There is a corner store which sells water, soda and snacks right at the top of the street. Several restaurants are nearby and Ku'dam is about a 3 minute walk. My only complaint was not related to the hotel but to the fact that it took a couple U-bahn lines to get to some sights, which was tough at the end of a long day heading back to the hotel for the night, having to walk back down Ku'dam to the hotel from the nearest U-bahn or S-bahn, which are several blocks away. But that can happen in any big city.

Probably the best part of the hotel was the room rate, which was 60 euro a night, including breakfast. I think he could easily charge more, as he offers far better accommodations than the price indicates. It is really a steal.

<b>Swissotel Dresden</b>
I booked my trip just before this opened, so got a fabulous rate including breakfast, and then was upgraded to a grand room at check-in. This was 125 euro a night, but worth every penny of my two night stay. I don’t ordinarily stay in such posh digs, but this spoiled me crazy. Turn down service (including a daily Sudoku and Toblerone), waterfall shower, pillow menu, “fill your own mini-bar”, iPod docking station, free wifi, king bed, view out over Alte Markt. The best part truly is the location. Frauenkirche is about 4 minutes on foot in one direction. The Zwinger is about 6 minutes in another direction. One of the entrances to the Green Vault is about 12 paces out the front door! This location made it easy to pop back to the hotel to use the loo, stop and put up my feet for a half hour or so, drop off belongings, etc. But do not be mistaken, the uber-central location did not mean a lot of noise. I slept with windows open both nights and only heard church bells. No traffic, no fellow guests.

Service was exceptional. On both my calls for the pillow choice and mini-bar, they were at my door within 5 minutes. Breakfast was wonderful, but maybe overpriced if it wasn’t included already.

I enjoyed this so much that I’d stay in the Swissotel in my home town for a weekend getaway. Seriously!

I ended my stay with two nights in Ackselhaus. As I’d spent the first 5 nights in former West Berlin, and two nights in Dresden, I wanted some contrast so I chose to stay in Prenzlauer Berg to experience a different neighborhood. For location, it's excellent. There are more incredible restaurants so nearby that I'd need to stay a month to try them all. And it was so easy to get to Museum Island and other sights in that part of the city.

My room was on the 5th floor, so that required the elevator to the 4th floor, then walking up a flight of stairs with luggage to the room. I had the golf-themed room, which was more masculine than my tastes but it was tastefully decorated. I wish now I had requested a particular room as they were portrayed on the website. The room was spacious, the bed was large and the bathroom good sized. Everything was very clean. The room had hardwood floors, so it made it a bit creaky and it felt cold to me. I also heard a good deal of comings and goings from other guests, as the outdoors doors and floors are creaky too. I loved having sofas and a table to use though. Free wifi was great as well.

There was some street noise as there was a pub or something nearby that lent itself to rowdy passersby, so closed the window both nights to sleep.

I am not a fan of having to go outside and down the street for breakfast, because the breakfast café is shared with another property owned by the same people, that was just a minor inconvenience. The offerings were excellent though and the staff was friendly enough.

There seems to be some confusion about whether credit cards are accepted or not both on Trip Advisor and at the hotel itself. I initially declined the reservation when told it was cash-only, but the manager reversed that decision via email to me, so I accepted. On check-out, the desk staff needed to be told that the manager said credit card was ok, and after some difficulty, the credit card charge was processed (not Visa though, only MC). I would suggest ironing out that policy one way or the other.

Ultimately, I'm not sure whether this was good value for the price for me. While I loved the location and the restaurants nearby, I stayed in two other hotels that I enjoyed much more, with lower rates and better over value that same week.

Next up: Restaurants

amyb Sep 26th, 2012 10:56 AM


My most expensive meal was 41 euro. Other than that, I ate for about 25-35 euro at each meal, but almost always had appetizer, entrée, glass of wine and dessert.

<b>Dirke Wirtin’s</b>
I’d seen this recommended in a few places I read and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s located off a pretty little square called Savignyplatz and it was a pub style restaurant serving “Berlin specialities.” I had potato soup, the wienerschnitzel over warm potato salad with a mixed green salad and a glass of Reisling and a shot of their homemade cherry brandy it was 28 euro and delicious. The schnitzel were two patties each about the size of a dinner plate and just yummy. I could only manage to eat one though! The soup was nice, with a light creamy broth and big chunks of potato, carrot and sausage floating about.

The weekend before I left home I’d called Marjellchen, which had been highly reviewed on Trip Advisor and on certain other forums I’d read. I knew Marjellchen was going to be golden. And it was. This restaurant has been run by the same women for 27 years. They’re older now and look like your typical Prussian grandmother. They run the 12 indoor tables and 6 outdoor tables in sneakers. One seems to work the bar, another chats up the diners and asks “Do you like a toothpick now?” when you’re done with your main course. The décor is old and dark, the music a best of eastern European hits.

The food is incredible. It’s meant to be Prussian family specialties that the owner’s grandmother passed down. It was so freaking good, I nearly passed out. I started with borscht (beet soup with sour cream and beef in it). It was just as good as what I had in Russia, if not more so with the beef in it! It arrives at the table in that violent orangey reddish pink with the sour cream melted through it and smells amazing. My main course was a pork chop stuffed with prunes, apples and rye bread. I am not exaggerating when I say it should be criminal to make stuffing that good. I ate every ounce of it. The chop had a sauce over it which the server “warned” me had cinnamon in it (who doesn’t like cinnamon?) but I thought it pulled it all together so well. It came with potato dumplings (basically big balls of mashed potato) and boiled cabbage. Unreal. I paired it with a German red wine that was stunning and I wished I remembered what it was. For dessert, apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream. Utter perfection.

Zillemarkt is located right under the S-bahn tracks in Savignyplatz. It is a cute little biergarten that the trains run right over, but it is surprisingly not annoying (or dangerous). I had the potato soup to start (a Berlin speciality, allegedly) and then cabbage stuffed with pork with a ham sauce over it, which was enormous and very hearty. I managed to squeeze in a delicious slice of apple strudel with vanilla sauce. And I had yet another delicious glass of white wine, I just wish I remembered to write them down. Who knew I’d like them all that much!

As Berlin has a substantial Turkish population, I decided to eat Turkish once. I went to a place in Hackesher Markt called Hasan. There I had an appetizer of fried eggplant, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes with a yogurt sauce. I was really craving veggies and that seemed to hit the spot. My main dish was a kebab medley of lamb, beef and some form of sausage with a tomato sauce and more garlicky yogurt dip. Both were really very tasty and I was pleased with my choices. I did not have dessert here, as I spied an Amorino gelato stand, of the Paris Amorino variety, down the street. I had a small cup with caramel, mascarpone and milk-free chocolate gelatos.

<b>PulverTurm, Dresden</b>
This was a sort of “theme” restaurant in a cellar right on the square around the Frauenkirche. The staff wear period costumes and there are roving musicians playing German folk songs and at one point, the Irish drinking song Wild Rover. I had the potato soup with sausage, veal medallions with tomato and goat cheese over herbed baby potatoes and a cherry parfait with what the menu said was avocado and cherry ice cream, but I can’t be convinced that was avocado, I just couldn’t tell what it was. Overall the appetizer and entrée were excellent. I’d pick something else for the dessert next time. I had a glass of goldenriesling with the meal which was tasty.

<b>Augustiner an de Frauenkirche, Dresden</b>
Another restaurant right on the square around the church. This was decorated like a beer cellar and the wait staff again in traditional dress. I have to say I think I liked this meal better. I had for a starter the sausage salad. This was thinly sliced sausage with chopped red onion and gherkin pickles. I think it was in the brine of the pickles, if I’m not mistaken. To die for. It’d be a fabulous cookout side dish! My main course was Munich style schnitzel, which meant it was stuffed with ham and cheese, cordon bleu style! The side was potato cucumber (which really meant pickle) salad. I had a glass of German white (Elbling, I remembered to write it down tonight) with it. I was totally stuffed and couldn’t finish the entrée, so did not have dessert.

My first night in Prenzlauer Berg, I chose Guglehof, an Alsatian restaurant. I figured I like German food and I like French food, bringing them together can only be a good thing. And I was right.

The restaurant is warm and almost pub-like. This meal may go down in history. It was wonderful. I started with a pumpkin cream soup with something elderberry drizzled over the surface in a lovely heart pattern. As a pumpkin lover, I found it very well done. Very creamy and filling and a nice subtle pumpkin flavor. My main dish was chocuterie Gugelhof, which was one large blood sausage, two links of regular sausage and three cured pork cutlets served over sauerkraut and with three boiled potatoes and two types of grainy spicy mustard. Holy mother of you’ll-be-thirsty-as-hell-later. I think even Anthony Bourdain would have been happy with this all pig meal. I know many are not, but I am a fan of blood sausage and this was amazing, just barely holding together when I cut into it. Yowza. The sausage links were excellent, but I have had more than my share of sausage this week. The cured cutlets were a cross between thick Canadian bacon and a great spiral cut ham. All sorts of awesomeness that I devoured. I left the potatoes, those were unnecessary but I haven’t yet had a meal here without potato.

I needed something sweet to finish the meal with but nothing heavy. I had deep red raspberry sorbet floating in a pool of sparkling white wine. What a nice way to end the meal. All in, I think this was about 35 euro

On my last night, my dinner choice was up in the air. I had several ideas but wanted to be near my hotel for an early night. Tarek, the Insider Tours guide, had drawn on my map four restaurants in my neighborhood. I headed toward a Russian café and found this right next door. I assumed the café and restaurant were related, and Pasternak seemed familiar to me from my research, so I asked for a table. I should say that both nights I ate in Prenzlauer Berg, I think going early (6 p.m.-ish) was the only reason I got tables. It seems that these restaurants all book up for later times. I lucked out and got the last non-reserved inside table.

Having not had Russian food since I was in Russia 2 years ago, I was in heaven. They had set menus as well as a la carte. Usually I go a la carte, but I saw a four course set menu of salmon caviar on eggs, a cured meat soup, beef stroganoff and blini with sour cherries. I was in heaven. I haven’t eaten this since Russia in 2010! The caviar was delightful, even if it was only barely 2 teaspoons. The sweet salty bubbles were incredible. The soup was good, a beef broth with various slices of meat, sausage and potato. The beef stroganoff with two potato pancakes was excellent indeed and the Dornfelder red wine I picked worked perfectly with it. And the blinis topped the meal off perfectly. My waiter laughed at me when he asked if I wanted coffee too, I said “no but a shot of vodka would be nice.” I think that surprised him and he laughed and asked “100 grams, no?” That would have put me in the ground, so I said just the 50 grams. He presented it with a smile and a “na zdorovie.” Indeed a nice way to cap off an evening and a brilliant week. Total here was 41 euro.

<b>Currywurst 36</b>
The one I frequented is out front of Zoo Station. This, my local friend told me, is the best there is, as recently voted by Berliners. I fell hard for currywurst and tried quite a few, but came back here for lunch a few times. Cheap, hot, good, what more can you want?

amyb Sep 26th, 2012 12:21 PM

Sights coming soon...trying to catch up at work while generating a trip report!

kfusto Sep 26th, 2012 01:28 PM

I am so enjoying your trip report! Loving the details and the FOOD. Anxiously awaiting the next installment.

We are headed to Berlin in 11 weeks and are always on the lookout for new spots to try. It is truly one of our favorite cities in Europe and it sounds as if you had a great trip!

Pegontheroad Sep 26th, 2012 03:16 PM

I really like the Hotel Pension Bregenz. I've stayed there twice and found it comfortable and quiet. I plan on staying there again on my next visit to Berlin. I've eaten at the little Italian restaurant down the street--I think it's called "La Vigna" but I could be wrong.

amyb Sep 27th, 2012 09:20 AM

<b>Sights -- Berlin</b>

<b>Welcome Berlin card</b>
As I was in Berlin for 5 days at the start of the trip, I bought this, which entitled me to discounts at many attractions, as well as discounts on the Insider Tours, and limitless travel on public transportation. I stopped counting when my savings exceeded the cost of the card, which happened on day two. For me, very well worth the price. I was on U-Bahn and S-bahn 4-7 times a day and that alone paid off.

<b>Insider Tours</b>
On my first full day, I wanted to do a basic walk to show me the big sights and give me the opportunity to learn the lay of the land while getting more than what a guidebook had to offer. I am a European history buff, and especially interested in Berlin from 1960s onward, and the Famous Walk was perfect for me. It was 12 euros (discounted to 9 with the Welcome Berlin card) and while it was billed as being 4 hours, was nearly 5 ½, not including the ½ hour for lunch we took. It was insanely good, chock full of stories, anecdotes, history, trivia. I cannot tell you how much territory we covered, but we walked for miles, surely. Most of the sights you’d want to see on Day One were visited and explained, except for the museums. I started making lists of places I wanted to return to and writing down recommendations from our guide: everything from museums to restaurants to books and movies. Tarek, our guide, was incredibly passionate about Berlin, knowledgeable about just everything and more than generous with his time. Some folks dropped out as the tour continued on, but I stayed with it for the whole thing and found it great value. I’ve taken other overview tours in other cities for three times the money and they weren’t this good.

On my last full day, I had a few things in mind but ultimately decided to do the Insider Tour to Sachenhausen with their guide Mike. This was 15 euros (discounted to 12 with the Welcome Berlin card). I was amazed that Mike was just as well-versed, passionate and knowledgeable about his subject matter as Tarek was. How do they find these guides? I’ll cover Sachenhausen in depth a bit further on, but I wanted to share how incredibly well I thought Mike handled a very difficult topic. There were no histrionics or unnecessary drama. He delivered the story of Sachenhausen and what happened there with skill, tact and with his solid knowledge of history behind it. This trip lasted nearly 7 hours including travel time but it was top notch all the way.

<b>Reichstag Tour</b>
Earlier this summer I’d applied for a time to get a guided tour of inside the Parliament building here. There was a fair amount of formality, and security was tight going in (passport check, two security checks). But all this was totally worth it. Our guide was engaging and entertaining, and the tour had the right mix of history, politics and trivia. It ended at the entrance to the glass dome that is on the roof. Skip the next few paragraphs if you don’t want to learn anything about German politics.

Parliament is the lower house. Members get elected either by a majority vote of the constituency or if they rank high enough on their party’s list. Members get fined 40 euro for every mandatory vote they miss. Roll call votes are done either by show of hands, electronic card voting (red, blue, white cards with bar codes on them) or by walking out one of three doors which say either Yes, No or Abstain. The guide pointed out where Angela Merkel sits, and explains that the party whips sit in the first couple of rows of seats, but after that it’s first come first serve for the seats. It behooves members to be there early to get closer to the front so they get more tv face time, especially close to election season. Each member gets 8000 euro a month (about $10,600) plus living expenses. The aforementioned fines would come directly out of that stipend.

The Reichstag was burned by the Nazis in 1933. Tarek, the Insider Tour Guide, said that the Nazis burned it in order to put citizens in a panic and get them to more easily accept the Nazis in an election that week. The guide in the Reichstag says that no one knows exactly who burned it, but that the Nazis blamed the Soviets and that the hunt is still on for who did it. Hmmm.

We got access to the Parliamentary chamber, then one of the party antechambers where bargaining for majorities goes on. The guide let us out on the front balcony so we could look out over the big lawn and see the other nearby government buildings. On the way up to the dome, he pointed out in the hallways the graffiti in Russian that was left from when the Soviets occupied the building. The architect who rebuilt the Reichstag in 1999 wanted to preserve the graffiti, so it’s been left in place and sealed so that it won’t fade further.

As today was one of those warm, bright, sunny days, the view from the dome was unlimited. You can see just about everything from up there, and the dual ramps (one for up, one for down) make it easy to get to the very top with very little effort. There is a free audio guide that changes the track as you walk around the dome so that it is always describing what you are facing.

<b>Jewish Museum</b>
The Jewish Museum, which deals specifically with the Jewish experience in Germany which, yes, goes far beyond the Holocaust years. The architecture of the building is something to behold, with an almost palazzo-like main building a steel lightning bolt of an edifice next to it. There is no visible bridge between them, as you enter the permanent exhibit in the newer building from a tunnel. The tunnel has three axes (axises?): Axis of the Holocaust, Axis of Exile and Axis of Continuity. The first two deal with exactly what they say. The Holocaust axis ends in a tower which is unheated and darkened and lit only by natural light from the very top; the sensory deprivation of it, being able to just see light and just hear noise from outdoors is meant to represent the void in life from the loss of so many Jews. The Exile axis ends in a small square garden with tall pillars in it. As I walked on the uneven ground and lost myself in the maze of pillars, that was meant to represent the uncertainty and unsettled feeling those who moved in exile felt in their new lands. Ok, so far, I was hooked. Along each axis were mementos from various victims of the Holocaust or stories of those who were exiled.

The Axis of Continuity led to the rest of the permanent exhibit, which walked through the entire Jewish experience in Germany, starting in the Middle Ages. Since I’m not shy about saying when I learn something and how ignorant I feel not to know what I probably should, I’ll say it again here. I learned so much it was almost embarrassing. As I wound my way through the Middle Ages to the age of Enlightment (when, for a brief period before the Nazis came to power, Jews were equal to all other Germans) and even learning about the faith and its customs, I realized there was so much more to learn and understand. Of course this museum too spent a significant portion of the exhibit covering the stages of the Holocaust, from Kristalnacht to the various laws passed against Jews to moving to the camps, but then it also gave fair play to the return of Jews who survived the camps and how many ended up leaving, feeling that they could not stay in a place where something so violent happened.

One particularly interesting space was the Memory Void, which was another cold and seemingly empty space, except there were 10,000 steel faces piled on to the floor. They were larger than dinner plates and hard to move. They represented the void left by those lost to us and walking over them (which you were meant to do) you could not walk easily over them or move them out of your way, the resilience of the large plates as they clanged and refused to move was chilling.

I think that as much as I’ve made it sound sort of somber or morose, I also saw dozens of representations of how Jews contributed to society here and more than made their mark. There was a great section on innovation and famous German Jews (hello, Einstein and the Mendelsohns to name a few). This was one of the most thorough and positively navigable museums I’ve been to on any one subject. It’s definitely not to be missed.

Gemaldegalerie, or Painting Gallery. This museum houses many old European masters in the 13th-18th centuries. The museum is only one floor, and organized regionally and then by century within regions. I exercised restraint and paid homage in the Flemish and German galleries before I ran for the Dutch section at the far end of the building. I had read that this museum has one of the largest collections of Rembrandt outside of Holland. I was not disappointed. There were 19 that I counted, and some wonderful ones at that. There were portraits of both of Rembrandt’s loves, Saskia and Hendrijke. There were a few religious works unlike any I’d ever seen by him, like the Moses holding the tablet overhead. The mythical Rape of Persephone was just gorgeous, with Persphone being spotlit in the center of the painting and Jupiter and goddesses fighting over her between them, but barely seen. The golden work on her dress was gorgeous. There was a Christ profile which I wonder if I saw in Philly last year. There was a gorgeous holy family scene in a tiny frame that was just beautiful. I was smitten. And if that was not enough, there was a Vermeer around the corner. The Glass of Wine was on view, the other Berlin Vermeer is in Tokyo. Not that first time that’s happened to me, I’ll just have to come back! The Glass of Wine is pretty typical Vermeer, I think. I enjoyed seeing it, but it is not one of my favorites.

The Italian section had a wonderful Caravaggio a Botticelli’s Venus and a Rafael Holy Family tondo. That was all pretty impressive, but I was drawn back to that Rembrandt room more times than I remember.

<b>Berlin Wall Memorial</b>
This memorial is in a neighborhood that was literally split right up the middle when the wall went up in 1961. In fact, in some locations, the house was in the east but the sidewalk in front of it was in the west, so residents would jump out the windows to escape. That is before the Nazis came along and bricked up all the windows.

Really, when you think about it, there were some unexpected logistics to walling off West Berlin from East Berlin. Like the U-Bahn and S-Bahn (the subways). Some ran through East Berlin neighborhoods as the line progressed from one part of West Berlin to another. So the Nazis had to come up with security to ensure that no one could sneak into Western stations along the tracks. They also closed the Eastern stations and they became “ghost stations” where no one got on or off and armed guards patrolled the platforms. In some cases the above-ground stops would disappear entirely, to eliminate any chance of people using them as an escape route. The Nordbanhof stop, where I got off to visit the memorial, has a lot of photos and captions (in English even!) showing how the stations were just closed up and left until the 90s when they reopened. That explains why some of those stations look trapped in the 60s, because they are!

There are two information centers along the walk that covers the memorial. The walk is organized into four sections, and I had the energy left at the end of the day to cover two of the four sections (about 25 minutes of walking, up and back). The literature and two short films (free at the information center) explain how the walls and security were set up, with dead man’s land, trip wires, beds of nails, guard houses, dogs, mobile units and the like. They left nothing to chance, folks were not going to escape alive over these walls. And the initial propaganda trying to convince East Berliners that this was a good thing was incredible. There was a temporary exhibit on what they were told and how things changed immediately (lots and lots of meetings at work and going to a 6-day work week can’t actually be interpreted as positive, I wouldn’t think!)

In this particular neighborhood, where the Nazis determined the wall should be cut right along a cemetery and right over a church. Initially congregants were allowed to enter the no man’s land for church, but that came to an end pretty quickly. Eventually the Nazis dug up graves and moved bodies to expand the border zone and at the same time they demolished the church entirely because it prevented them from having an unobstructed view of the no man’s land. Indeed, nothing was sacred.

Throughout the area between the east and west walls, there are stations with more information about what happened at a particular spot (say, a mass grave, an escape attempt, etc.) so as I walked, I learned things at each spot. I would say that this is an extremely well done presentation of a challenging subject. They’ve managed to maintain the importance of history while not threatening (at least noticeably) the balance in the neighborhood.

While I wasn’t even a figment of anyone’s imagination when this wall went up, I remember clearly when it came down. With this trip, I learned more about the politics behind it, how it came about that it came down. I bought a book in the shop that is a photo documentary of the wall coming down. To me, now that I’ve been here and seen all the sights for myself, to look at photos of them with the wall around them is just so hard to believe.

<b>Berlin Zoo</b>
I’m really a sucker for zoos, and especially big cats and baby animals. I had hoped to see the zoo’s panda Bao Bao, the last living gifted (rather than leased) panda from China to any other country. But alas, Bao Bao passed away at the age of 34 just a month ago. He’d been quite ill, so I’m glad he didn’t hold on for me.

I really enjoyed this zoo. I’ve never seen so many species in one place, and there were animals I’d never seen before at any zoo at home (sand cat, anyone?) With no panda in residence, I headed immediately to the big cats. I found they were all inside. The indoor enclosures here are not glassed in but rather just barred, and the animals are quite close, so I got to see exactly what I’m missing at home with my own cat, a whole lot of sleeping cats.

I had one other goal of this visit to the zoo and that was to see the polar bears who lived with (and one mothered) Knut, the famous polar bear cub who died in early 2011. On my way there, however, I went by the elephants and found a 5 week old baby elephant. She was absolutely gorgeous and a joy to watch. I spent a whole chunk of time watching her and taking a zillion photos (testing out the camera for safari, you know!). She really is a cutie and her mom takes such good care of her. I would return here a few times before I left.

I found the polar bears, who seemed so far away in their enclosure but I got to zoom right in with the camera. I also stumbled upon a few leopards in my travels (next time I see those will be in Africa, none at the zoos at home!) as well as the hippos who were swimming and coming up for air on the odd occasion. Before I knew it, it was almost noontime and I had to move on for my 1:00 appointment at the Reichstag.

<b>DDR Museum</b>
There is some discussion over whether this is a worthwhile stop or not, but I think the DDR Museum was actually a great find. I liken it to a discovery museum for adults. Adults in the “strong historical content” sense, not the “explicit material” sense. All of the exhibits were meant to be experienced by touching, listening, viewing. Most of it was interactive. I’d never been to a museum like it before. The first half of the exhibit covered daily life in the DDR (this was East Germany) after the wall went up. There was a Trabant car to sit in, a model kitchen and living room to walk through, a model Stasi prison cell. When you opened certain drawers or cabinets, you’d learn more about things like “Women’s Day” (when all men did all the housework for one day) or what foods were available and not available at the time. There is a very thorough account of schooling, right through college and to the first job. The children were raised to be good socialists with the expectations of becoming good workers. In college, students went through all the course work together in the same group. When they graduated they were expected to work right away.

There was a surplus of jobs and not enough workers. Because of the low tech nature of most of the work, a lot of people didn’t want to do a lot of the available jobs. However, those found to be “work shy” or not actively working on a regular basis, were imprisoned because they did not follow the standards set for citizens to follow. In some jobs, a person could be put into a work team and the expectation was that the team would not only work together, but also socialize outside of work all the time too. Promoting this type of brotherhood seemed to be the norm.

Vacations weren’t very common because you couldn’t go too far outside of East Germany or other communist block nations. Many people went to lakes nearby and oddly enough, nude sunbathing became the norm. From what I could gather, it was the one thing they could do that wasn’t regulated to death. But when the country merged in 1989, the first thing the government did at these beaches was make the “clothing optional” beaches “clothing required” and vice versa. Sort of switching the balance between clothed and unclothed without making anything outright illegal.

Another tidbit I learned was that under DDR health care, every female was given oral contraceptives. It became so widespread that cases of veneral diseases increased drastically because no one used condoms any longer.

The back half of the exhibit was more about the politics of the time, the military service required for men, how interrogations went when the Stasi called you in. The informant culture was vast. People either volunteered, were pressured into informing or paid for doing it. Citizens would inform on just about anyone to get ahead and stay ahead. The Stasi listened, read and watched just about everyone do everything. Files were kept on everyone in Stasi archives. After the country united, they could go and request to read their file and learn why things had happened to them in life; why they’d gotten a job or been refused, why people around them disappeared, why just about anything happened to them while they were being watched. Sometimes things only became clear after they read their files, sometimes things only got worse if they found out who was informing on them. No one could be trusted.

Initially after the wall went up, no one could travel between east and west. After a time, Westerners could travel into the east periodically to visit family. After a bit more time, Easterners could petition for visits in the west for special circumstances. It seems to me that all this gradual loosening of restrictions led to the eventual uprising in the Eastern Bloc nations. They kept getting more and more bites of freedom until finally it was too much to bear.

I could go on for ages about this. I’ve read a lot of books on life in the DDR, so this gelled well with what I’d been reading to prepare for the trip.

<b>Berlin Boat Ride</b>
I was blessed with exceptionally warm (low to mid 70s) and sunny weather, so one afternoon I took advantage of the boat ride behind Berliner Dom. It was just really an out and back ride, but seeing the Dom, Reichstag and some of the government buildings from that viewpoint was interesting. And it was a nice day to just kick back and put my feet up and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

<b>Museum Island</b>
There are five museums on the island, the two most prominent of which are the Pergamon and the Neues. There is a combined ticket for 14 euro that gets you into all 5 in a day (with others for multiple days). As today is Thursday, arriving back into Berlin at 11:30 wasn’t so much of a day eater as these museums are open until 8 or 10 on Thursdays. Everything I’d read said that I would need to book a specific time window for both the Pergamon and the Neues museums. It turns out that was completely unnecessary. I walked into both with no crowds whatsoever.

The first museum I went to was the <b>Pergamon</b>, which is named for its centerpiece, the Pergamon altar. I’d read that this museum makes the British Museum look like a cake walk, and I’d say while the altar was similar to and bigger than the Elgin Marbles, it was not as vast an overall collection as the British Museum has. The Pergamon altar was pillaged (sorry, I’m bitter about ancient ruins being taken elsewhere) from Turkey and reconstructed to the same scale in this museum. Same with the Miletus Market gate and the Ishtar Gate. They were each very different from the other, as they came from different eras and different parts of the region. While each was beautiful on its own (and in the case of the Ishtar Gate, particularly stunning I thought), I couldn’t help but think these should be on display in their countries of origin.

The next museum I visited was the <b>Neues Museum</b>, with the showpiece being the bust of Nefertiti. I was stunned that this was 3000 years old. The colors are nearly pristine and if accurate, Nefertiti was a stunning woman. I appreciated the fine lines around her eyes. A little age looks good on her. There was also a very impressive statue of Helios on the other side of the building. He is so large that when the museum was rebuilt after the war, he had to be lowered through a hole in the roof. The rest of the museum was all Greek, Roman and Middle East antiquities. Given that my attention span for that is about 4 minutes and it was approximately 115 degrees in that museum, I cut the visit short.

The last of the Museum Island museums I visited was the <b>National Gallery</b>, which focused primarily on German painting, although there was a random room of French Impressionists (collected before the Nazis said that it was dangerous art and forbidden). I seem to enjoy looking at art when I have no idea who the artists are, as was the case in Russia’s national art museum. Here, I could at least guess at the genre of the painting because they tended to be similar to what I’m used to seeing from French, Italian and Dutch artists. They tended to focus a lot on Romanticism and Realism. The German Impressionists weren’t many but they gave it a good shot.

The room of French Impressionists had a cast of Rodin’s The Thinker, four Monets and two Reniors and a very interesting Manet. One Monet was an early one, of the back of the St. Germain church in Paris. The others were pretty typical for Monet, grassy field scenes. The Manet was a man and woman sitting on a bench, but what made it interesting for me was the symbolism and interpretation the audio guide pointed out. All in all, this was a good experience if only to wander and look at art by artists you may not have heard of. This was really the best Germany had to offer.

<b>German History Museum</b>
I hadn’t planned on going here, but one day near Museum Island I had about an hour left before it closed and decided to pop in because one of the Insider Tour guides said it is fabulous. This was not covered by the Museum Island ticket, so it was separate entry. It did not take me long to learn the error of my ways. This ended up being THE museum to go to for everything I am interested in. The museum breaks German history down into sections from prehistoric times through 1994. I only had an hour to see what I could the first day I visited. Had I researched this better (and admittedly life got in the way and really pulled me away from properly researching this trip) I would have realized how gosh darn amazing this is.

I decided to focus on the time periods that interest me and see how much I could get through. So I started in 1918, wandered through the crazy 20s and came through the Third Reich, the Nazis, the concentration camps, allied occupation and reunification. I did not give it nearly the attention I wished I could, but I felt like what I saw was quality. This is a very fine balance between text to be read (never more than a few short paragraphs) with visual aids. Either uniforms or letters or video or signs or slabs of the Wall or photographs, thousands of photographs, newspaper front pages. It was endless and it deserved hours, not just the 70 minutes I had for it. And there were 2000 years before this I didn’t get to. Damn.

I could try to itemize things I saw to illustrate how amazing this was, but I’d go on forever. But a quick list: Nazi SS uniforms, Helmut Kohl’s briefcase, a Jewish star, a concentration camp outfit, front pages after Hitler’s death, photos from the Churchill/Stalin/Truman meetings, signs from protests, markers used to mark the border between east and west, endless video of Hitler, video of the announcement of the opening of the border. It was just insane how much there was to look at and take in. It was incredible.

I managed to go back on my last day in Berlin and took in the excellent “Fokus DDR” special exhibit. What that ended up being is an exposition on all the many dozens of GDR acronyms, what they really meant, what they produced or what their role was in the GDR (east german republic) and what their ultimate outcome was. It was interesting and mind numbing. They do like their acronyms, that’s for sure. Some were familiar to me, but many many more were new to me.

<b>Sachenhausen Concentration Camp</b>
Let me just stop here and state the obvious. For me this was not sightseeing. There were some on the tour who were acting like this was a sideshow at a carnival. For me, it was exploring history for myself, gathering details that I can in order to become a less ignorant, more thoughtful traveler and citizen of the world. I am debating with myself whether to share the photos I took, because I don’t want it to seem like it was in the same category as some of the less serious adventures I had on the trip. But I also feel that if I can share them with those who’ll never get to go, perhaps I can educate them in the same way. Public service announcement over.

The tour started from Haeckescher Markt. We took the S-bahn about 45 minutes north to the town of Oranienburg, where the camp is. From the S-bahn station it was a 2.2 km walk, the same train ride and walk that prisoners would have made on their way there.

Mike, our guide, spent most of the ride to Oranienburg bringing us up to speed on how Germany got to the point of using camps in the 1940s. It was German History 101 in about 40 minutes, but he presented it so well and logically that you’d have to be not listening at all if you didn’t learn anything. Once we got to the camp, he really enlightened us on how the prisoners were processed as they arrived, the structure of the camp system, how and why Sachenhausen was considered a “model camp” and how it was no longer considered such when additional barracks were built when it started taking in Jews, how prisoners were made to work and how that differed from how they were punished. No detail was spared, but as I said earlier, this was all presented with no drama. Indeed, no drama was needed. In many cases, the facts stood for themselves. I was left with a lot to think about and wonder how such a thing could have happened from the top down. How the uppermost members of the Third Reich could have felt that any of this was ok right down to the guards who were doing the killings, performing the autopsies and the cremations. Mike left us to our own thoughts on the way home, which I appreciated. It was a lot to process and further discussion or instruction seemed totally unnecessary.

<b>Topography of Terrors</b>
This was built on the bombed out remnants of the Nazi Reich Security Main Office (home of the SS, SD and Gestapo). Remnants of the wall line one side and the “museum”, if you can call it that, is made up of an indoor and an outdoor exhibit. Outdoors presents the story of Hitler’s regime in Berlin. Inside presents the entire story: affected victims, countries, organization, rise and fall. This took me nearly 2 hours to comb through. The combination of text to read and photos and artifacts to look at was impressive.

<b>Checkpoint Charlie and Checkpoint Charlie Museum</b>
I went here on the day I landed. I had read mixed reviews but confirmed for myself that the checkpoint is a circus sideshow. Once I learned that none of it is original and the witnessed the ridiculous photo opps and "passport stamping" I had pretty much checked out. I went into the museum because it was covered by the Welcome Berlin card, and didn't last too long. There is <i>too much writing to read</i>! Floor to ceiling text with some photos mixed in. It was just too much for my jetlagged brain to stand there and try to read so much in order to learn anything. I had hoped for more displays and photos. I think in the end I learned more from everything else I visited during the week.

amyb Sep 27th, 2012 09:32 AM

<b>Sights – Dresden</b>

<b>Historic and New Green Vaults</b>
I had a 10:00 reservation for the Green Vault, and I had literally a 15 second walk across the street and into the courtyard of the castle. That was easy. The tricky part was having to check everything I brought with me. Apparently nothing but your person is allowed into the Green Vault. I wish I’d know that or I would have left everything in my own personal bag check known as my hotel room, which was free and not 50 cents to use. Understandably, once I got inside it made sense, as some of the objects are (unwisely) not behind glass, so one idiot with an oversized backpack could turn and knock something. But poor layout if that’s the case. But they didn’t ask me.

So in order to keep all these precious antiquities in tip top condition, only 100 people are let in every hour (I think it’s hour…) and those 100 people have to go through some hermetically sealed snuffer that blows all spare dust off of them before they go in. It was sort of a cross between having Scotty beam me up and getting the full body scan at the airport. It wasn’t intrusive but it did take a year and a day to get 25 people through it, as you have to go through individually. Sigh.

The Historic Green Vault is, essentially, all the cool presents and treasures that Augustus the Strong and his descendants collected, sans the paintings and most sculpture. The reason it is called the Green Vault is that the rooms that originally held all this royal collection were painted a medium green. The layout of the collection is such that each room is a theme: amber cabinet, jewel room, bronze room, gilded room, ivory/pearl/shell room. You get the picture. For me, the amber cabinet was interesting because of what I learned and like about amber from going to Russia. I also love the jewel room because it’s not often you can see crazy amounts of gemstones in different mounts and just plain old raw. But among the collection was just about anything you can think of made in some precious material. Silverware, jewelry boxes, cups, bowls, jewelry, bric a brac. Actually that is really what it was: royal bric a brac. I took the audio tour and every so often the narrator would say something like “this knife was not meant to be for every day use, it would never withstand the wear and tear.” So they had knives and things that were never used, just looked at.

One thing that just blew me away was this Augustus Colossus, that was an obelisk created for Augustus that had just about every type of bric a brac in or on or surrounding it. It was overwhelming. But the whole exhibit was overwhelming. It was total visual overindulgence. Room after room after room...there were 9 rooms in total, and I’ll tell you, by room 7 I wasn’t listening to any more of the optional audio tracks. I just wanted air. Except...

Upstairs was the “New Green Vault”. New as opposed to Historic. Basically it was everything else in the collection that didn’t fit downstairs. I skipped through this, looking only for the one and only green diamond. The story behind this is interesting in that no one knows exactly how this diamond made its way from India to Germany, but they DO know exactly how much it cost. Something smells funny there. It was a very fine diamond though. At a whopping 41 karats, I’d probably have it reset into a pendant. I don’t need the 411 diamondettes surrounding it.

This gallery is spread out amongst 2 floors and arranged by region. From the name of the museum, it should be no surprise that all the work is old, like 1200-1700. All the big names are here, but my eye was for Rembrandt and two resident Vermeers, both of which chose not to run from me to the Tokyo exhibition like that one in Berlin did. But alas, like a good museum-goer eager to learn, I followed the Baedeker’s Dresden guide suggestions and found all the works of note. First was the Sistine Madonna by Raphael (named such after Pope Sixtus, not the Sistine Chapel), and like any really good Raphael, it got me swooning early on.

I really liked Giorgione’s languid Sleeping Venus and appreciated how the audio guide pointed out the artistic differences between that and another Sleeping Venus in the same room.

But I won’t kid you here, it took a lot of control to walk through Italian and French masters before getting to the Dutch. I wondered who I would come upon first, and it turned out it was Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. At first I wasn’t terribly moved either way, but the more I looked at it, the more I thought about it, the more attracted to it I became. The mossy green of her dress and the curtain that is pulled back between us and her is different from Vermeers I’ve seen before and I liked it. For the uninitiated, Vermeer is know for his mundane, daily life interiors. Usually though, the painting is loaded with symbolism or hints as to what it’s about. I couldn’t come up with any of those hints myself, and it was tough judging from the girl’s face how she was reacting to what she was reading. Flipping through the guide in the gift shop, I learned that this would be considered ordinary daily living as folks in Holland then had a penchant for letter writing. But the guide also pointed out that x-ray had revealed that Vermeer had painted over a painting behind her on the wall that would have clearly symbolized that the letter was all about love. I sort of liked wondering myself.

And only those with a serious interest would want to know that on either side of the Vermeer were four Metsus, and a Dou. Interesting choice. Seeing Metsu and Vermeer side by side was interesting because as much as they say they are cut from the same cloth, the excellence of Vermeer really stands out when it’s the jewel in the crown

The other Vermeer was hard for me to swallow that it was a Vermeer. I think experts may have gone back and forth over whether it is or not. There are only 35 known Vermeers, and the majority are the daily life scenes, so this Procuress (basically a whore being bought) seems unlike him. And the visages and staging of it don’t seem like him. And it is HUGE. I think maybe only the larger paintings of his in the Hague may be equal or bigger. So I’m not convinced.

So after all that with Vermeer, I rounded the next corner to find myself in the Rembrandt room. Ten in all. None of them struck me like the Rape of Persephone did back in Berlin, but there’s no such thing as a bad Rembrandt. There were two portraits of Saskia, and again I noticed how tenderly he always seemed to paint her. One though, I’d been looking forward to seeing was a painting of Rembrandt with Saskia on his lap. It appears to be them in roles from the Return of the Prodigal Son, but it just felt all wrong. The positions were anatomically impossible (unless Saskia could spin her head 180) and the faces looked more Frans Hals than they did Rembrandt. The audio guide said that the painting was originally horizontal and parts of the canvas got lopped off and other parts of the scene painted over, so who knows what he really meant to do with this.

I also sought out the Spanish masters there, as I am a sucker for Velazquez and El Greco. Neither were breathtaking, but I did look.

This is the large church that was destroyed in a bombing raid on February 13, 1944. Well, basically all of historic Dresden was destroyed in the bombing raid. Some of the buildings though weren’t destroyed by the bombs as much as by the intense heat from the fires that burned long after. There is a large chunk of the original church outside the rebuilt one. The loss and rebuilding of the church is really a testament to the will of the citizens. In the 60s the DDR declared the ruins a national memorial and the attempts to rebuild needed to wait until the wall fell. In 1990 funding began and in 1994 building began. 43% of the church now is from the remains of the first church. In a somewhat fitting tribute, the cross on the top was a gift from England and made by the son of one of the English bomber pilots from that raid. The church wasn’t dedicated until 2005, so what I see today is so relatively new, even by US standards.

The interior was beautiful, with a Baroque alter and lots of gilt everywhere. It was like being in a jewel box, almost. I’m glad I visited and got to appreciate what Dresden did by pulling together and remembering what is important. Their pride in the church is obvious. I feel blessed to have been able to visit it, and I don’t say things like that often.

Outside, I found myself coming back to it again and again, at different times of day and night to see how it changes with the light. I took more photos than is probably normal, but it really blew me away.

Another art museum, this one focusing on more recent art. I had my eye on the French Impressionism room, but was fully aware that there was a whole lot of modern and contemporary art there too. Not that that’s bad, but it’s just not my thing. I managed to make it through a lot of rooms’ worth of it, and even picked a Klimt off a wall from a room away. So I’m getting somewhat better.

One very strange part of this museum were these cabinet rooms, which were essentially just cases of shelves of all sorts of sculpture that didn’t have a home anywhere else in the museum. Essentially, public storage. It was disconcerting to see a shelf chock full and then notice one’s a Rodin, one’s a Canova. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that.anywhere else. There were some Rodins on view off the lobby, as well as one Canova, but I would consider them lesser works or plaster copies of originals (The Thinker, for one).

I can’t say that for the one Monet and one Van Gogh (still life of pears) that the trip was worth it. There was, however, a Degas of two ballerinas that I swooned over. It was very similar to the one at the Pushkin in Moscow that I loved. This one was done all in vibrant orange with his jewel tone blue highlights. Must look that one up at home, it is frame worthy.

<b>Opera House Tour</b>
The tour was pretty good. The guide explained that this was actually the third opera house on or near this site. The first burned down in the late 1800s. Workers cleaning left perfume scented candles going to take care of the smell from cleaning and managed to burn the place down. But opera is such an important part of German life that they rebuilt it in just 6 weeks (granted, it looked like Noah’s ark). That’s the one that was destroyed by the firestorm in 1944. I wouldn’t expect a wooden structure like that to withstand much of anything, let alone a firestorm.

The guide explained that opera in Germany is still very accessible and not yet overpriced like it is in other cities. This house has 300 performances a year and a full, diverse program. Stauss debuted 15 operas in this building (well, not THIS building but one of the opera houses on this site).

The tour took us through the halls and the guide explained that almost all the materials in there are cheaper, man-made materials rather than real granite or marble. Finally we got to see the venue itself and it was pretty. It is not exquisite like Paris’ is, but it is pretty. The stage is grand and the theater itself holds 3300 people, I believe he said.

<b>Dresden Zoo</b>
I’d seen on Facebook that the zoo’s lion had recently had cubs, so I hopped on the tram #9 which had a “Zoo” stop on it and four stops later (less than 10 minutes) I was at Dresden Zoo. Map in hand, I headed straight for the lion enclosure. At first I saw just a male and a female, but rounded the corner and found an enclosure with two little lion cubs in it, a male and a female. I stood there longer than I care to admit and took way too many photos, but got to see them sleep, play, eat meat (or play with it, I doubt they’re on meat yet) and interact with their parents. When Dad came in, you could tell he rules the roost and that they bow down to him. It was really impressive. I am glad I went, just for the cubs, but the zoo itself is nice, compact and well kept. They have a nice (but small) collection of animals, but if you weren’t standing there watching cubs for over an hour, you could probably see the whole thing in about 45 minutes.

amyb Sep 27th, 2012 09:38 AM

In conclusion
What is really comical (ironic?) is that when I first started planning this trip, I was wondering if 10 days was too much. Indeed, I even asked this on this forum! It turns out I wanted at least one more day in Berlin and one more day in Dresden. I have no idea how people visit Dresden on a day trip from Berlin and do it any justice. I didn't even get to New Town!

I had hoped to get to the Stasi prison Hohenschoenhausen, but the owner of the Bregenz really talked me out of it. Too far, hard to find, not worth the trip. I knew this would happen, but I followed his advice and now wish I'd gone. Next time, I will. Next time.

There were a bunch of places I saw that I didn't cover above, just due to there not being much to say that hasn't already been said: Brandenburg Gate, Memorial To Murdered Jews, Victory Column (yes, I climbed it!), Berliner Dom, Potsdamer Platz, walk down Unter den Linden, Neue Wache (which is stunning).

amyb Sep 27th, 2012 10:08 AM

Two typos: restaurant names are Dicke Wirtin's and Hasir. Jetlag has taken over my brain.

mr_go Sep 27th, 2012 10:11 AM

Excellent report, amyb! Both of these towns are on our radar for a future visit, and this is exactly the sort of information we find helpful and useful. Nicely done.

J62 Sep 27th, 2012 10:21 AM

Love the report amyb! Will look into the Swiss Hotel next trip there.

Did you get to ride while you were in Dresden? I'm fortunate in that I have some friends there who will take me out on long rides with them through the countryside or up the river towards the Czech republic.

You picked two good restaurants to try - one very touristy. Somewhat hokey in my experience but fun nonetheless, and the traditional beer garten. Not necessarily gourmet but great location, and part of the Dresden experience.

Ingo Sep 27th, 2012 10:52 AM

Enjoyed your trip report a lot. You really got an excellent deal for the Swissotel. I agree, the location is not to beat, and I am glad the service is very good. Had several meals there and it was excellent each time.

Looks like you mixed up some things on the opera house tour, but nothing important.

HA - I haven't had time to watch the lion babies so far. Will try soon!

billbarr Sep 27th, 2012 02:58 PM

amyb I echo what others have said. This is a terrific trip report.

Over the years I've walked the road from Oranienburg station to Sachenhausen a good few times. I look at the charming houses on that road, particularly closer to the camp, that are pre-WW2 and wonder what the folks who lived in them thought as prisoners to the camp were marched past. Sachenhausen is a chilling place which should be and continue to be visited.

alison Sep 27th, 2012 04:56 PM

WOW. I wish I'd read your trip report before my recent trip to Berlin. It is so beautifully-written and thoughtful. Thanks. Yes, it is interesting that we had similar length of time at about the same time. I was very glad to read your comments about the Jewish museum and especially the Memory Void, or Fallen Leaves. As you recall, I, too, discussed it in my trip report. It still resonates. I think you had a better experience to Sachenhuasen than the tour I took. However, we were fortunate to have a small and serious group -- none of whom looked at it as a show of any time and all of whom were touched by it. thanks for the lovely report. It helped me re-live Berlin -- and I was just there!
Now i'm busy on the Italy board planning a trip to Naples and Sicily.

huckleberryFinn Sep 27th, 2012 07:06 PM

Thanks for the very thorough report, but nazis and the Berlin Wall? Something seems amiss.

lavandula Sep 27th, 2012 07:11 PM

Hi amyb, what a stunning report - so informative and action-packed!


Cali Sep 27th, 2012 10:31 PM

Wonderful trip report. Wish I had read it before we went to Berlin. We missed a few places you mentioned.

irishface Sep 28th, 2012 05:33 AM

Amy, terrific report! I enjoyed reading your thoughtful take on all the things you saw. Like Huck, I wondered about the Wall and Nazis, but chalked it up to jet lag. I would love to have you as a tourguide in the art museums. You know so much and can compare artists. I learn something every time that I visit an art museum, but am far behind you in knowledge! I too am a sucker for zoos. I know the whole zoo thing is controversial, but I still visit them when given the opportunity.

Thanks for sharing! Any chance of seeing some of your pictures?

amyb Sep 28th, 2012 06:10 AM

Yes, you're right...I wrote all this as it happened, and the Berlin Wall was day two. I of course know the Nazis were long gone by the 60s. Sorry! Wish there was an edit function!

JJ, I did not ride. I use vacations as forced "no workout" periods. I wish I'd gotten out of the larger cities to enjoy places to ride though!

billbar, our guide told us that most of those houses surrounding the camp were guards' and police quarters at that time. He said one day this summer he was telling a group that, and a woman came flying out of one of the houses and started yelling at him, telling him that all the other houses were for Nazi guards, but not HER house, she'd NEVER live in a house that a Nazi would have lived in. So my guess is there weren't a lot of ordinary folks living around the camp at that time. Except for her house, of course! ;-)

Ingo, feel free to correct any details the tour guide in the opera house gave us. If he's misinforming, it'd be nice to set the records straight.

I haven't yet parsed through nearly 800 photos, as I just got home Saturday night. That's on my agenda for this cold, rainy weekend. I'll post a link when they're up!

Thanks all for reading. I didn't find as much on Germany when I was researching, so I hope this helps others out!

Ingo Sep 28th, 2012 08:04 AM

Ok Amy, I'll set a few things straight. Firstly, the firestorm was in 1945, not in 1944, only 3 months before WWII ended.

The first opera house at this place burnt down in 1869. Right away they erected a wooden structure, called "Bretterbude" (shack) but 1871 - 78 they built another opera house, which was destroyed by the firestorm in 1945, originally reconstructed 1977 - 85. So the one destroyed in 1945 looked exactly like the present one, it was not a wooden structure. Richard Strauss wrote 15 operas, 9 of them had world premieres in Dresden. The auditorium only has a capacity of about 1,300. While much of the material is stucco lustro, it is much more expensive than the marble or granite - the process of manufacturing is a real work of art and takes endless time (and craftmanship).

A few words on the Green Vault(s): I totally understand you were 'museumed-out' after half of the rooms in the Historic Green Vault. I was, too. The obeliscus Augustalis is pretty amazing, eh? My favourite piece there. The thing is that the best pieces are upstairs in the New Green Vault. That's the concept: The Historic Green vault as a whole is a work of art, with the rooms/interior and the precious things, but the New Green Vault is about the single pieces, you can walk around them and watch the details. Like the "Court of Delhi on the birthday of Grand-Mogul Aureng-Zeb". The Green Diamond was bought on the Leipzig Fair from Dutch diamond trader Delles in 1741 or 1742, the diamond can be traced back to London in 1722.

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