Dresden, a bridge between the old and new city

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I’ve been to Dresden several times in the last years, but never had enough time to spend a full day exploring the city. This autumn, I decided that I should hurry up to find some sunny day for spending more time outdoors and for some quality time in the city. Apparently, I had enough luck to took the pictures of the places that were either covered by snow or by the dark during my last visit in February. But I also had a couple of surprises. For instance, the building of what I first thought it must be a mosque. Once I come closer and made my way to the building, I found out that, in fact, there is the building of a local cigarettes factory, Yenidze, hosted in a building whose architecture was aimed to remind Turkey, the main provider of tobacco at the time. Built between 1907-1909, nowadays it only hosts various local offices. It also has a restaurant with a stained glass dome and almost 600 windows framed in various styles.

??????????From the unusual presence of the former cigarette company, I kept walking the Ostallee, passing near the Pressehaus and the headquarters of the Morgenpost, straight away till I arrived at one of the most important destinations of my trip for the day: the rococo-style of Zwinger. The name refers in German to the enclosed ground near the castle, filled with water right now reflecting the beautiful geometry of the place. The only danger is to come closer and want to jump into the water to reach faster through the castle’s gates.

??????????I followed the usual way and decided to spend more than one hour going up and down to the stairs of the smoked stone building. Every corner was revealing new spectacular geometry and windows to a delicate world: the Porcelain permanent exhibition, that reminded me that I’m only less than one hour away from the Meissen porcelain factory; the Old Master’s Gallery  with its Tintoretto, Cranach and Tizian, Vermeer and Rembrands, or The Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments.

??????????Before entering the exhibition rooms, I am doing my best to do not look too much at the tempting gardens. After my cultural hunger is calmed, I am back on the terraces, trying to figure out the secret meanings of the garden’s geography. I’m glad to enjoy the pleasant presence of the carefully manicured green lanes that were completely out of sight covered by snow the last winter.

??????????From the large perspectives of the gardens, the sight is forced to focus on small interior yards, with fountains hosted within the stone limits of symmetrical shapes, guarded by exuberant statues that look like ready to go out of their corners in any moment.

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Such a passionate outburst of passion, hard to believe that can be encountered in a place surrounded by stones keeps inspiring artists that moved their workshop here.

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Leaving the Zwinger with a heavy heart, only the huge statues of scary fighters helped me to forget my sadness thinking that I have no idea when will be able to spend my day admiring such a green view.

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In the Market area, it was the time for the Autumn Market, that was open till the beginning of October. It seems that the winter markets are that successful that people do need some intermediate seasonal entertainment to keep the festive mood.

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With almost half of the to-do-list done, I reward myself with a vegetarian meal at Capetown’s Restaurant, my first full South-African menu. Finding a vegetarian selection out of a long list including crocodile, zebra, ostrich and kangaroo was not easy. My Zulu potatoes with pesto were simple with good concentration of oil and pepper. The veggie burger with cheddar cheese, and an onion and tomato salad were not the biggest culinary achievement though, as the tastes simply did not match or maybe because they were not warm enough to melt together successfully. The chilli honey sauce re-established the balance and almost saved the meal.

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With fresh forces, I am heading in the different, not yet explored part of the city, where the old communist kind of apartments are predominant. The local authorities were smart enough to repaint them in a very colourful combination of colours that gave them a more modern look. The ones in Strasburgerplatz kept my eyes entertained while waiting for the tram.

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I haven’t visited a zoo for a long time, and it seems that the welcome at the one in Dresden was a subliminal message that I should keep my contact with the animal world: tram stations with bamboo sticks and a background noise of birds. Once inside, I preferred to observe the Mandrill Monkeys at Afrika Haus. They were not bothered by the curious eyes of the visitors and kept playing or check their fur.

??????????Australia is well represented, especially by the happy kangaroos jumping one near the other around the yard. More time was spent photographing the snow leopard, the North American porcupine or the Humbold penguins. The Zoo also has a very colourful collection of season’s flowers, among which the beautiful autumn dahlia.

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From the Zoo, I headed to a completely new area for me: the Neustadt, the new part of the city, that was turned into a huge workshop of street art, local handworks, ethnic restaurants and a lot of meeting points for the young people of the new Dresden.

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Lloyd’s coffee, with its yellow leather couches, purple wallpapers and fresh flowers on the table, it’s also offering afternoon tea for the Brits-in-the-making locals. Too busy to wait for around 40 minutes till the tea would be ready, I chose an Ayurveda herbs and ginger tea: deep herbal perfumes added to the wake-up call of the ginger.

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All over the streets, but especially on Bohmischestrasse, there is a lot of street art – different styles and messages, from the world of the video games to the abstract paintings. The English bookstore on Rothenburgerstrasse – Beyond the Pond – also sells various products Made in the USA. So bad that not enough time to check properly the jongleria shop, on the same street, or the fashion atelier Sumeria.

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The highest concentration of creativity is in the Artists’ Court – Kunsthofpassage: from various ateliers of local artists to shops selling handmade jewellery or clothes. So much concentration of creativity left colourful and ingenious footprints on the walls, yards and almost every corner of the buildings.

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After diminishing my thirst for art and interesting things in general in the creative ambiance of the Neustadt, I’m back in the historical area where creativity, although from a different area, keep surprising the visitor with unclear artistic messages.

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The early autumn dark reminds me that it’s time to leave again Dresden. But this time, I was finally able to carefully document its old and new faces, two equally interesting sides of a city able to balance both its future and past. If you ask me, I dream to go back and properly explore the life of Neustadt. Maybe a next time.

For more insights from Dresden, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/dresden/

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An uneventful discovery of Gera

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One of the many advantages of working hard to finish my project 100 Places to See in Germany is that I can discover German regions quietly, city by city. This summer, besides my love for Harz, I went more and more interested by Thuringia. Erfurt and Weimar are my two favourite cities and the discoveries I made there gave me inspiration for finding another destinations. What about Gera? A city that I did not know too much about can be a reason enough to spend one full Sunday there. The entrance by bus into the city did not impress me too much, with too many ugly communist looking buildings, but the neo-Renaissance style of the main train station challenged that first impression. And the mood kept changing, once arrived in the front of the imposing theatre, with the small local lion mascot in the front.  Built at the beginning of the 20th century, it has a capacity of over 600 places, which means that there are at least that many people interested to attend artist performances.

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More refreshed by the cultural news I just got, I moved forward to the Orangerie, surrounded by a French garden, with an impressive art collection, that due to various constructions cannot be visited till the beginning of the next year. Anyway, the weather was good enough for more trips outdoors. Nearby, the Hofwiesenpark, with long alleys bordered by chestnut trees and flowers of all colours.

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An art installation aiming to expose the representation of myths brought an intellectual note to the otherwise joyous and carefree ambiance.

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As I would find out more later on during my solitary explorations, Gera is a city of beautiful villas, a testimony of the rich industrial past of the city. At Villa Jahn, situated in the middle of a large garden, the sober architecture grew up near the long green alleys and luxuriant bushes of flowers.

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I could not resist to take the forest road and spend even more time walking in the middle of the forest, crossing paths sometimes with speedy bikes and ladies walking their big dogs.

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As usual, adding a pinch of culture to the nature is a welcomed encounter, and for the next hour, I decided to give more attention to the arts. First, a short stop at the Hof- und Kammergut, a 18th century building turned into an art space, gathering different art styles.

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I continued with the Otto Dix Museum, a city brand, where besides the reconstruction of old rooms from the time of the artist’s first years of life, there were also some rooms dedicated to the works of the artists that learned, among others, with Oskar Kokoschka.

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In the neighbourhood, a mixture of different architectural styles reminded the long history of the city and the relative wealth of its brave citizens.

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But another unbeaten forest path tempted me and I was in the right mood for more walking.

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My destination was Osterstein Castle, but as I was explained by a very well informed lady working at the art gallery in the yard, only one part of the wall belongs to what once used to be the castle. The rest was destroyed during the WWII bombings, and as usual in such cases, there are various variants of the reasons why the castle was targeted: either some high-ranking officials were hiding here, either by accident or simply because the Allies just detonated the bombs here as they were not allowed to bring the ammunition back home. As for now, I just listened to the various variants and kept my opinions for myself.

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Back to the central area of the city, I got out of the war stories mood, by simply looking around at the surprising art on the streets.

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More arts and nature continued in the area near the Puppentheater.

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My passion for architecture was rewarded while walking the streets near the central area: Leipzigerstrasse, Laasenerstrasse, Lessingstrasse. As it was a Sunday, almost everything was closed, but I may guess correctly that on a normal working day there will be many shopping opportunities for all kind of budgets too.

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The central square, with the classical Pharmacy in the corner – the Stadtapotheke – added a new and different perspective over the city. It was almost empty at this time of the week, the perfect moment for some Segway training introduction, before starting the tour in the city.

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Most coffees and restaurants around, including the tempting Pegasus Literary Coffeehouse, were closed or about to be open, so finding a good place to eat was not an easy task. However, a little tour around the square, guarded by the old city hall tower was an opportunity to get connected to the architectural geography of the place.

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When I finally set up for the lunch menu, it was the Markt restaurant, inside the city hall. The service was relatively slow, but the limette non-alcoholic cocktail kept me a fresh company till the rest of the order arrived. The fresh dough of the egg handmade tagliatelle matched the grilled salmon and the fresh vegetables. The creme brulée was a kind of deep disappointment though, too much sugar and artificial flavours for my expectations.

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Well feed, I continued to look for more Gera’s secrets. Behind the city hall, I arrived at the former corn market, once the Jewish street.

??????????The city used to have around 5 towers, out of them only one was relatively well maintained till nowadays. On the other side of the old wall, some industrial constructions convinced me that I better go back near the main square.

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There, I was very curious to have a look at the city from the top of the city hall tower, and after quite a difficult stairs climbing – blame the good food, maybe – I succeeded to reach the top of it. As usual, it is interesting to have a wide perspective of the different architectural and historical layers of the city, and Gera is no exception to the general rule of urban development in the former communist Germany: some chore historical area was maintained, while anonymous block-houses expanded in the outskirts.

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I was curious to learn out more about the city, and the Stadtmuseum was one of the places where such knowledge can be obtained, but unfortunately, I arrived there shortly before closing time, so the historical introduction was not possible. Instead, I did find more hidden statues near the green bushes.

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Visiting a city without noticing its street art is almost impossible, but this time, the encounter was not planned at all, as I simply stumbled upon some creative corners created by local street artists at the ground level of the UCI Kino.

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The typical motives and mosaiques from the communist era from the walls of the apartments on Heinrichstrasse reminded again of the weight of the recent history into the present and future of the city, at least at the level of the visible architecture. The time I spent in Gera, just helped me to understand much better the city, while discovering a new interesting German destination.

For more insights from Gera, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/gera/