Germany: Dresden & The Far East

They call it the Parade of Nobles or furstenzug in German. It’s longer than a football field, this gigantic mural made from 24,000 porcelain tiles, depicting 700 years of Saxon royalty created by some genius with far more talent and time than I will ever possess. Its creator, Willhem Walther — who has cleverly snuck his portrait into the end of the mural in a quest for immortality— obviously did not have a one and a half year old to mind.

Most striking of all was the complete lack of females in the picture, save for a single girl child pitifully wedged among all the testosterone. Maybe Mr. Walther just really liked men. Whatever the reason, the Wettin Dynasty was — not surprisingly — doomed to fail.

Eh.

This single piece of depressing art aside, it was undeniable that Dresden is a good looker. Like Frankfurt, it was firebombed by American and British pilots during World War 2. Many historic buildings were obliterated.

But unlike Frankfurt, they didn’t lose their f*cking minds and turn Dresden into a fugly, soul-sucking business centre and transportation hub. And thank God for that, because Dresden’s architecture is friggin’ awesome sauce. Built to shock and awe, the dark Baroque buildings — which has turned sooty due to natural oxidization over the years — are best seen on an angry, cloudy day while you’re listening to Verdi’s Requiem at maximum volume.

Because, well…drama.

Unfortunately, we checked into Aparthotel Neumarkt on a bright, sunny afternoon. Located in a historic core of Dresden and just right behind Dresden’s icon, the Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, so we are treated to or harassed by the constant sound of tolling bells — depending on the time of day.

Even the baby is impressed.

Still, there was no better place to stay. The square in front of this church would turn into an impromptu theatre come evening time, as tourists and locals gather to hear amateur opera singers belt out their favorite tunes. Mika was enchanted. We spent a good half hour there each night as he danced and yelled “Bravo!” to show his appreciation.

The real opera house, Semperoper, is located just a couple of minutes walk away from our acommodation, in Theatreplatz. Operas by the two Richards — Wagner and Strauss — premiered here. But our days of spending three hours of our vacation time watching Verdi is over the moment Mika was born (much to le hubby’s great relief).

The Zwinger is of course the piece de resistance of Dresden’s architectural sights, and it is so breathtaking it was used as a spot for over-the-top celebrations by Saxony’s royal elite.

Pictures can’t quite capture the majesty of the place.

There’s a huge, beautifully landscaped courtyard complete with fountains that no doubt spewed champagne in its heyday and orange trees in Chinese porcelain pots. All they need is porcelain bells that chime a delightful melody every 15 minutes…oh wait, they have about 40 of these and it’s called the glockenspielpavillion.

The Zwinger houses several fine museums today, including the Mathematics-Physics Salon, a nerd paradise featuring all manner of scientific gadgets from the 19th century, but yeah, this bimbo preferred to loll around and listen to the tinkling of porcelain bells.

That night, we thought it would be fun to dine with our little one at Sophienkeller, a 470-seat themed restaurant (yeah, the things you do for your children). I was set on this restaurant the moment I laid eyes on its carousel table with suspended swing chairs — because there was no space for a baby seat however, we were banished to a regular table in the main hall instead. #ohwell

Just a plain ol’ table for us.

The restaurant is designed in the style of the 18th century, when Polish King Augustus the Strong was the Reigning Monarch of Saxony. It was admittedly a slow night at the restaurant, so the King himself was missing from the lineup. We were however entertained by his strolling magician — whose tricks captivated and confused our one and a half year old — as we shoveled in mouthfuls of traditional dumplings, cabbage and meat served by court maidens.

Mika pointing to his source of confusion.

The food was surprisingly decent for a 470-seat eatery, but I would expect the quality to suffer a little when the place operates at full or even half capacity.

Feel free to dig in with your hands for a more immersive experience.

As the evening wore on, we were treated to a free entertainment courtesy of a group of beer-swigging German men singing oompah songs beside us. ’Twas great fun; I was tempted to break out my dirndl and start doing the polka before I remembered I’d be the craziest looking Asian around.

Not that there were many Asians while we were there. If hell was other people, Dresden is the place to escape to. It seemed like we were the only tourists around on our three days there. It felt like we had the Bruhische Terrasse, or “The Balcony of Europe”, to ourselves.

Oh so photogenic.

We loved to spend evenings on this elevated terrace — once a defensive rampart and now a delightful promenade filled with linden trees — overlooking the River Elbe, watching the sun’s pink rays melt away as night falls.

And I can’t think of better people to admire the view with.

On our last day, we decided to go on a day trip to Saxon Switzerland National Park. The Weather Gods weren’t with us. A storm was brewing — it was windy as heck and autumn leaves were whirling in the air carried by mini tornados. But we decided to forge on and, as a result, had a bit of heart-palpitating fun as we trekked from car park to the heart of this scenic park, trying not to get blown away like a fart in the thunderstorm.

But man, was it all worth it.

Perched dramatically above the forest, the Bastei Bridge offered sweeping views of the trees below and the gray sandstone sentries — the same one used to build Dresden’s remarkable landmarks — that rise from it like the petrified fingers of giants.

Wunderbar.

We explored a little — one gets around using stairs and bridges — hoping to spot a rock climber for two as it is said this was where the sport was invented (but apparently only weirdos like us would head out in this weather). We soon found ourselves standing on a narrow ledge of Felsenberg Neurathen, the crumbling remains of a citadel hanging precipitously on a cliffside, where we exercised our vocal cords by howling into the distance.

There was no one else about for miles. Not a single soul in sight.

But maybe we’ve scared them all away. Which was just as well.

STAY

Aparthotel Neumarkt, Dresden Incredibly spacious apartments strategically located on a pedestrian street in the old town. No a/c but portable fans can be requested. Occasional noise from church bells. $$

TIPS

  • The historic core of Dresden can be seen in a single day but I recommend staying at least a night to soak in wonderful atmosphere of both the old and new towns.
  • Try to allocate half a day for Saxon-Switzerland National Park. We took a day trip there and did not regret it! Baby carrier is advised as you would have to navigate some steps to and from the bridge.

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