If you travel enough around Europe, you start to get a sense for the different ways the 20th century has left its mark. Most of Eastern Europe is still struggling in one form or another from the aftermath of two wars, either from the results of heavy bombing or communism or both. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go to Eastern Europe - it just means a totally different visual experience after seeing cities like Paris or London, which faced the same wars with totally different recovery experiences.
Dresden, then, is a very unique city. The capital of Saxony, Dresden has a long history as a royal residence and city of culture. The city is particularly well known for its production of porcelain, something it continues to do today. During the early part of World War II, Dresden was a hub of Nazi activity. Some 6-7,000 Jews (or accused Jews) were evacuated from the city. More than a thousand “undesirables” of multiple kinds were executed in the center of town. It’s position on the eastern edge of Germany made it an important defense against the Russians, and it became a major communications and manufacturing center for the Axis. As the war came to an end, Dresden became home to hundreds of thousands of refugees.
To help pressure the Axis surrender, the RAF and American Air Force conducted a three day blitz on the city that killed somewhere between 18,000-25,000 people in addition to essentially flattening the central part of the city. The city once known as the “Jewel Box” was reduced to rubble, and being part of the Eastern Bloc led to a slow recovery.
You wouldn’t guess it to look at Dresden now. Dresden as a city has been lovingly and carefully restored so that it maintains the charm and beauty it was known for for so many years. Perhaps the most easily recognizable restoration project was the Frauenkirche. This once great Lutheran church was considered a monument to the war for more than fifty years; left as a pile of rubble in the center of the city. It wasn’t until 1994 that the city had the funds with which to restore the church, and in 2005 it was finished.
Now, Dresden is known as “Silicon Saxony” and is once again at the center of technological development in Germany. There is a museum dedicated to different types of vehicles, for example. Another for the military. We spent our time, however, in the more traditional art museum. It’s a small collection (that looks like it will expand significantly in 2018 when they are finished restoring part of the old castle the art is stored in), but the collection was good. The more art I see the more I find myself drawn to the Dutch and Italian artists, though turn of the century Spanish art is fascinating to me (Guernica is on my list of paintings I need to see before I die.)
There were several paintings I really liked, but I think my favorite one was about the Holy Family fleeing Egypt. What was so interesting to me about the piece was how hidden that moment was. The focus of the painting is mostly on a normal pastoral scene with people going about their business (in what definitely isn’t anywhere near Egypt). Hidden in the shadows off to the left are Mary and Jesus on a horse (donkey?) and Joseph leading them. I’d never have known it was meant to be a religious painting at all if I hadn’t looked at the title. Usually religious art from the period is so much more obvious - the evil are grotesquely ugly, the saintly are white faced and looking toward heaven. To see this significant moment in the Savior’s childhood displayed like an Eye-Spy book fascinated me and reminded me of how important it is to watch for holy things. We are asked to seek after anything that is virtuous, lovely, etc. If we don’t actively look for it, we may not find it.
We visited two churches today, the Frauenkirche (where everyone takes pictures even though you are asked not to - the workers in the building make no effort to stop anyone so I joined in without feeling too badly) and the Catholic Church (Die Katholische Hofkirche). This building was also destroyed during the war, and has been rebuilt beautifully. Ultimately today for me was a chance to reflect on the many ways in which people express and explore their faith. Even when some of these expressions feel foreign to me, I am in awe of those who dedicate their time and efforts toward honoring things they feel are sacred. So often I think we dismiss expressions of faith that don’t live in the schema we are used to as demonstrations of ignorance or foolishness at best and selfishness or greed at worst. And I’m sure there are many examples that could justify ignorance, foolishness, greed, etc. But when so many masses of people across so many generations willingly dedicate themselves to a belief - I have to believe that there is something there that is of great value that I can learn from. Today I saw the value in comparing ancient scripture to the modern day in the museum. I saw demonstrations of hope and healing in Christ in both the Catholic and Lutheran churches. I looked around Dresden and saw a testament to the power of people working hard for a common good. It was a good day.
Of course, the day would not be complete until after we visited the Chocolate store we walked by. I didn’t know such a thing even existed in Dresden, but as soon as we walked by I insisted on stopping back later on. About ten minutes and twenty euros later, I left with six new bars to try - the first in a collection that will undoubtedly be ridiculous by the time I board my plane back to the states. Ridiculous or perfect. Potayto potahto.
Tomorrow we leave the Neumanns for the lovely city of Salzburg. I will miss the time we’ve had with the Neumanns. They have been unfailingly generous and kind hosts. They’ve fed us amazing meals and treated us like family much closer in relation than we are in reality. I love them and their family and hope to see them again soon.