Sunday, November 25, 2007

We'll meet again, Dresden

After our arrival in Dresden on Friday night, we met up with an old friend of ours from Boston. Like Damon, he's a postdoc here. They were PhDs in the same lab and finished the same year, and both ended up in Germany! From our hotel we walked into the heart of Neustadt, an ultra-hip neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, and DJ stores. Why haven't I found or heard of anything like this in Heidelberg!? (Analysis of this later.)

We ended up at a restaurant called Plan Wirtschaft. It was cozy and would fit right in in Cambridge (MA) or Seattle. Our waitress was the friendliest we've ever encountered in Germany - this became a theme in Dresden. It was so friendly! On top of that, she addressed us informally, which I have never heard in a restaurant before. The food was so much better than I expected based on the menu prices. Dresden = cheap!! At this point I was already wondering how I could make the move there. Afterward we had another drink at another cozy little bar in the Neustadt. I was a little annoyed by the smoke of icky cheap cigarettes from a nearby table, but the smoking bans will soon make it to Sachsen!

The following morning, we wandered over to the famous Dresden Saturday morning flea market along the Elbe. Our friend the previous evening had described finding all sorts of cool stuff there. I think it really was the best flea market I've ever seen. Damon couldn't help himself and walked away with a giant Krug with his family's name carved into it and two old geography schoolbooks from the Third Reich with some really crazy stuff in them (map of German races, anyone?!). I just tried to hang back to avoid wanting lots of stuff, especially since I have a typical American fascination with communist life and there was tons of old DDR stuff there. However, were I to go again, I would not dress like I did. I really felt overdressed in my long wool coat (and Damon in a black leather coat), and we probably got overcharged as a result. Dresden is super casual! I thought Heidelberg was, and it is, but Dresden is yet more so.

We dropped off our finds at the hotel and headed out to meet up with some other expatriate bloggers - the reason we braved the Deutsche Bahn on this particular weekend! It was pretty cool to see the bloggers I always read face-to-face. Kind of like meeting minor celebrities, in a way. (ie "OMGZ!!!!11 I just saw Ian from Letters Home to You in the hallway!!!!") Great write-ups on the personalities there were already done on some of these blogs - there are versions at Letters Home to You, Eurotrippen, and at Mausi's. After assembling in an Eis cafe, we took an afternoon cruise on the Elbe river, from which we could see lots of cool old castles and vast empty marshes, right in Dresden! Also, I learned that mistletoe grows in giant balls in trees. I had never even thought about where/how mistletoe grows before. I guess I assumed it was a tree of some kind. Photos are here:

Dresden Nov 07

After the cruise, we walked through Dresden's Altstadt, stopping near the Frauenkirche first. The Frauenkirche was, like most of Dresden, destroyed during WWII. The firestorm melted the stones and the dome collapsed, falling so hard it split the stone floor. It remained a grassy pile of ruins until German reunification in 1990. At that time the Dresdners decided to rebuild it. They sorted through the pile of rubble looking for usable stones and used the blueprints of the church (from the 1700s) to put the usable stones back where they originally were. It was completed with new stones from the same place as the originals and was finished about 2 years ago. Unfortunately, there was an event going on inside and we didn't get to go in! Still, just knowing the story and seeing the outside was very, very cool. We also saw the famous mural, which survived WWII, on the outside of the castle, the interestingly-shaped Catholic church, the famous Semperoper (opera house), and the awesome courtyard of the Zwinger, complete with more porcelain bells just like the ones we liked so much in Weimar. See all of this in the photo album!

The group split up for a break and Damon and I had the idea to take a look for Christmas gifts as long as we were in a town that was so darn cheap. But, we ended up at the mall, which was hell, and ran back out. We then rode back to the Neustadt, which looked like it had some really cool stores, but they were all closed already. So, we explored the Kunsthofpassage, the inside of a city block all painted and sculpted by local artists and filled with shops and eateries. This is right up my alley. Again, Dresden rules. We warmed up in another super-friendly, super-cozy cafe with some heisse Zitrone (hot lemon beverage), then headed out to meet up with the group again for dinner.

Dinner was in a restaurant called Mama Africa, featuring lots of live music and harrassment in a setting including fake trees, fake birds, and a video of gorillas projected on the wall nearby. I got to eat crocodile (poor Schnappi!), which tastes like chicken and feels like fish, for those wondering. Also, they had cider, and that is always a plus for me. Afterward we wandered off to another Neustadt bar to cap off the evening.

The next morning Damon and I tried to go back to the Frauenkirche to see if we could get in again. We couldn't, but we did get to see the area in a little bit more daylight than before, which was nice. We said goodbye to the group at brunch and ran off to catch our train back to the other side of Deutschland. We had tickets to the symphony that night in Mannheim so we couldn't miss it! The strike was thankfully over, and it only took us 5.5 hours, connecting in Fulda, to get to Mannheim for the show.

Then we were back in expensive old Heidelberg. That's one of my theories as to why HD is less cool than Dresden. Even though it's full of students, they can't afford to do much here. Everything costs more than elsewhere, including rent. Of course, it could be that there really is a cool place like Dresden's Neustadt somewhere in Heidelberg, but I know a lot of people and if there is one, I'm really surprised I haven't been there yet, or even heard any mention of it. Maybe there just isn't any place with low enough rents to put up these sorts of shops and cafes. Also, a neighborhood like Neustadt isn't fueled so much by college students as by 20- and 30-somethings, and maybe HD lacks a bit in that department because of the cost of living. I really don't know. Maybe other HDers can help me out with some more theories...or by telling me where our equivalent of the Neustadt is!

I was also really surprised and impressed at the informality and community feeling in Dresden, such as the waitress who called us du/euch (informal you) instead of Sie (formal you). The already super-cute Tschuss was transformed into the even-cuter Tschussi, which I've heard here, but only among friends. Our old Boston friend theorized it might be a leftover from the days of communist comraderie, but we didn't have the same experience in other former East German towns we've been in (if anything some were the total opposite - like the nasty treatment we all got in Wismar), so I'm not sure. In any case, it was really nice. I would love to work in another trip there!


  1. Hmm... i'm trying to think of a place like that in HD... and really can't come up with any other than the Eastern part of the Altstadt. Although that's overrun with teenagers of course, in particular the area around Marktplatz.

    There's a few "traditional" hip places for the 20/30 crowd - such as the Cave 54 in Krämergasse, a jazz/blues club. And of course the higher-priced "hip" stuff, like the "Deep Club" (beneath DHC), or that lounge in the Print Media building at HBf. Both not really all that suitable unless you're driving a Porsche though ,)

    And then there's always Weststadt, which has about a dozen small bars spread out through it, some of them suitable for the 20/30 crowd.

    Dunno really. I used to hang out more Mannheim before moving on to Frankfurt for that ;)

  2. Did you go see Kurt Vonnegut when he gave a talk at our college? Your trip to Dresden reminded me of it because of Slaughterhouse Five. Because of the Vonnegut association I had expected your post to be all about burned-out buildings (crazily, I expected nothing to have changed in the past 60+ years). It sounds like a great city.

  3. Glad you liked it here! After the meet-up and hearing everyone describe my city, I'm thinking we really lucked out moving here. I've seriously wondered when other bloggers describe rude, anti-social behavior because we almost never see it here... and after being here a year and a half I'd think we would have by now.

    And boy is it cheap compared to the rest of Germany... I'd get sticker shock if I moved anywhere else.

    Damon needs to transfer to DD!

  4. I'm studying in Freiburg right now, but before I came here I did a language course in Dresden. And I've been yearning to get back there practically since the day I left.... Interesting to read this, I was beginning to think that my memories of the friendliness and atmosphere were pure grass-is-greener phenomenon!

  5. Kato: There are a couple of cool places in the East part of the Altstadt. The whole area is mixed in with tourism, though, so it doesn't really have the right feel. It's true that there's no shortage of clubbing in HD but I prefer a little more variety...and the ritzy stuff is definitely not for me :/ Is Weststadt the area behind Bauhaus or so? I have been to a couple of places down there.

    Mary: I did see Vonnegut at U of C! I remember this quite clearly because Andy or somebody commented, "He's still alive?!" I'm ashamed to say, though, that I still haven't read Slaughterhouse Five. I really need to.

    B: We need more research on why Dresden is so friendly! Maybe the rest of the country could take a lesson from them :)

    K: So Freiburg isn't as friendly as Dresden either? I haven't been down there yet but really want to come soon!

  6. Yeah, Weststadt is pretty much the area south of the tram line between Bauhaus and HBf.
    Couple nice places along Römerstraße and Rohrbacherstraße (and inbetween), but mostly it's about as dead as Neuenheim at night.

    Clubs in Heidelberg tend to go into two categories - ritzy (like "Deep"), or ... more or less "bad areas" (SMC, "Villa", Halle_02, about every bar in the Altstadt). Or both of that ("Nachtschicht").

  7. One example - when I went to register my residence in Dresden I thought "Where do people get this image of grumpy awful German bureaucracy from?" They were extremely nice, helpful, patient with my crappy German, gave me a bag of free stuff, and when I asked about ummelden they assured me (without my asking) that it'd be no problem at all to move back to Dresden in the future. (Maybe they knew something I didn't, ha.) When I registered in Freiburg, I thought "Ohhhh. Right then."

    And like you said about Heidelberg, F'burg's got a ton of students but the youth/artsy vibe is missing, or at least well hidden.

    Still, I've heard Freiburg described as friendly a fair bit. I guess, as always, it comes down to your points of reference. And the town centre is lovely and definitely worth a visit. I'd offer my services as tour guide but I'm afraid it would a case of the blind leading the blind. :)


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