Friday, 17 June 2011

Quirky Dresden

I don't know quite what I expected from Dresden, Germany, which I'm visiting as a short side-trip from my Lonely Planet gig in Poland.

I knew it had been burnt to the ground by a massive British and American bombing campaign very late in World War II, a dark episode believed by many to constitute a war crime. And I knew after that it was part of the Deutsche Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) for nearly a half-century after that.

So between knowledge of the massive war damage of the 1940s and my experiences of architecture elsewhere in the former communist bloc, I wasn't expecting much. Some hideous DDR architecture and maybe even some remaining derelict areas, perhaps, in addition to the numerous museums I'd already heard of.

Which made the reality a pleasant surprise. The communist-era buildings have been given effective facelifts and aren't that noticeable, and there's been an astonishing amount of thoughtful reconstruction and restoration over the past two decades since German reunification.

Though to be honest, sometimes the tourist hub of the Altstadt (Old Town) seems too neatly arranged and a touch sterile. For example, next to my hotel is a laneway full of pubs and restaurants, Weisse Gasse. Each business within it has its name mounted on the buildings in a similar style, and many of these signs are in very familiar fonts (even Comic Sans); which makes the whole set-up seem too generic. Maybe it needs time to wear with age.

Having said that, there's also plenty that's unconventional and distinctive about Dresden, especially within its fantastically earthy and vibrant bar district in Äussere Neustadt across the River Elbe from the Old Town.

Here are some quirky elements I've noticed around the city...

1. Within the Weisse Gasse, here's a statue of a man apparently nicking a goose:


2. One of those busking statues, but this time with a bit of an Old Masters vibe. Can anyone identify the pictorial reference?


3. The amazing Albertinum building, whose courtyard has been covered over to create this foyer for its multiple museums:


4. A section of one of the few overt reminders of the DDR, a big 'striving for socialism' mural on the side of the communist-era Kulturpalast:


5. A curious watery sculpure on a wall within the Kunsthof Passage, a complex of arty shops and restaurants in Äussere Neustadt:


6. This bookish statue at Albertplatz devoted to local boy and famous writer Erich Kästner, best known for his poetry and children's works:


7. And finally, another set of human sculptures. Yeah, I know, this whole living statue thing is old hat, but I really like the way these particular guys looked - like a pair of plaster figurines on a larger scale:


Dresden - it's fun. Next stop - Leipzig!