Travel Post: Germany, with Dresden, Opera and a trip on the Elba

Thursday dawned atrociously hot again.  We started the day with a quick cherub poll, before heading out to meet with another of A’s friends near the statue of Friedrich August der Starker (who we suspect fathered all those cherubs – he apparently fathered quite a few non-cherub people, and his statue is suspiciously gold, so it’s plausible.)

We had breakfast outside and in the shade, and talked rather too much about Australian politics and refugee policy, which apparently the German right likes to hold up as an example of what to do (ugh).  Then we talked about German politics.  Apparently, we had chosen a good time of the week to come to Dresden – Mondays are when the neo-nazis like to protest outside the Opera House.  Lovely.  The Opera House has struck back at this by putting up huge banners saying ‘Offnen Augen, Offnen Herzen, Offnen Grenzen’.  So now every photo of the protesters is effectively surtitled with the slogan ‘open eyes, open hearts, open borders’.  Nice one, Dresden Opera House.

A’s friend grew up in the DDR and used to be the principal flautist in one of their top orchestras.  When A shared our conerns regarding the cherubs of Dresden, he immediately started coming up with theories about hidden cameras and microphones, which was both unsettling and illustrative of the kind of imagination living much of one’s life in the DDR endows one with…

It really was dreadfully hot and sticky, but we wanted to visit the rebuilt Frauenkirche.  This was burned to the ground during the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and was only restored in the last decade or so.

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They tried to replicate the old building as far as possible, and even used some of the bricks that survived, putting them back in their original locations on the building.  You can see them quite easily, as they are burned black, while the new bricks are white.

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Incidentally, Dresden and Coventry are now sister cities, which I thought was nice.

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Inside the Frauenkirche it was beautifully cool and also pseudo=baroque, with fake marble in Easter egg colours – pink, yellow, green and blue – with lots of gold leaf and the inevitable cherubs.  The balconies look almost Escheresque in their design.  I actually liked the effect – apparently I prefer pseudo-baroque architecture to the real thing.

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The view from the top of the Frauenkirche is said to be spectacular, but we were dubious about climbing so many stairs in the heat.  No problem, we were told – there is a lift that takes you halfway up, and then there are only a few stairs.

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And indeed there is – it takes you to the first level of the cupola, after which you climb about 65 steps, and then march uphill in a long spiral covering several floors, and then finally climb about 70 more steps and a ladder, looking down into the church the whole while, until suddenly you are above it all, and before you lies the whole long valley that is Dresden, with the Elba at its heart.

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It’s rather lovely.  Even the cherubs look harmless and ornamental from this vantage.

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And there was a breeze, too.

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But we had a boat to catch – our chief defense against the heat of the day – and so after a brief promenade it was time to dash down the stairs and the spiral corridor and the rest of the stairs, and then yet more stairs since the lift only goes upward (why?), and then race across the cobblestones and under the bridge and across the road and finally down the gangplank to be the very last passengers to board the boat to Pillnitz Castle – the one our room was named for.

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There were no seats left, but we found a shady spot near the front of the ship, and sat down contentedly on the deck to enjoy the breeze and watch Dresden go by.

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There are a number of castles that can be seen along the riverbank.

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Also one flautist friend of A’s, who lives about halfway to Pillnitz – we dashed over to the starboard side of the boat to wave at him as we passed his house, and he waved back.

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Pillnitz itself is less cherub-infested than one might think.

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It does, however, have a lot of Chinoiserie – Chinese art and architecture as interpreted by Germans who had never been anywhere near China.

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Pretty, but not exactly authentic.

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We didn’t have a lot of time, so we walked through the shady groves and gardens, to the ferry which would take us back across the Elba.  We then completed our tour of the public transport of Dresden by catching a bus and a train (we had caught a tram the day before) back to Cherub Central so that we could change into our opera attire.

We had a quick but lovely dinner at Cafe Schinkelwache, opposite Semperoper Dresden, and then raced across to the Semperoper and climbed our way up and up and up to the very top, very last row of the Semperoper.

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(Which, incidentally, has cherubs in the chandeliers.)

We were seeing The Marriage of Figaro, which was an absolutely necessary opera for us to see, as the last time A and I were together, we saw The Barber of Seville, and The Marriage of Figaro is in fact its sequel, though it is composed by Mozart rather than Rossini.  Both operas are based on plays by Beaumarchais.  And it was great, and really fun to see from such a birds-eye viewpoint.

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The opera was sung in Italian with German subtitles, and within about ten minutes I was completely immersed in a terrible case of language soup.  My German is… OK.  It’s not fluent by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s reasonably usable for conversational purposes.  My Italian is… basically French.  Which is to say, my French is good enough that I can follow Italian quite well, but I don’t really speak very much Italian at all.  Neither of these languages is really good enough for me to follow an opera in them.  On the other hand, I have, at various points, sung both of Cherubino’s arias, and several of Susanna’s and the Contessa’s, and also one of the duets and the quintet.  So I know the meaning of those ones.

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But attempting to follow the plot was a bit of a challenge, to say the least (it doesn’t help that the plot is actually fairly nonsensical to start with).  I’d start by listening and trying to understand the Italian, would give up, move to the German subtitles, and then be distracted by the fact that my brain would flick a language switch and start translating the Italian into French for me, which is great except for the fact that this entirely switches off my German.  And about half the singers had really good Italian accents, while the other half had quite strong German accents and I couldn’t understand them at all.  By interval, I had at least figured out which singers I should listen to for the words and which ones required me to use the subtitles, but I was also having trouble remembering how to speak English by this point, which didn’t help.

So that was amusing.

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In terms of the singers, Cherubino was my absolute favourite, though after watching him in action, I had to explain to A what I meant by calling him an octopus.  Which he really was.  Rosina, Figaro and Susanna were my other favourites, though everyone was good.  Marcellina was very funny, and I liked the orchestra’s little musical jokes – every time Barbara came in, for example, the violins would start playing Edith Piaf’s ‘La vie en rose’, which was a nice touch, even if it sent my brain directly into French mode.  I also liked the way the opera made it very, very clear that basically the problem was that the Count could not keep his trousers buttoned and that this was causing disasters for everyone in every direction.

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We walked out of the opera into a much subdued Dresden evening – there was no soccer, and the cafés were beginning to close – in search of dessert.  Which was interesting.  Only in Germany would you order a quark strudel and have it come with a mountain of whipped cream…

As we went, we were reminded of the other glories that Dresden’s muscial scene had to offer.

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And then we drove home, tired and sunburned but musically uplifted, to get out of our finery and to sleep under the uncanny gaze of the cherubs.

Friday dawned hot and with ill omen – we woke up to the news of Brexit.  It was so strange getting this news while in Germany – I’d been in England just a few weeks ago, and the expectation had been that it wouldn’t happen, but that if it did, it would be terrible.  And then, it was odd because I could see all my friends in Australia reacting to the news, because the vote had happened overnight for Europe but during the day for Australia, but my British friends, who were an hour behind Germany, had not yet woken up and heard the news at all, though they were the ones most nearly affected by it.  Such a strange effect of the 24-hour news cycle, that totally unrelated people know your fate before you do.

In a sombre mood, we packed up the car for the trip back to Mainz.

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This is a long drive – A would normally take the train, but Montalbane is not a train-friendly destination.  It was brutally hot when we left – we had to stop to buy sunscreen because we were getting sunburn on our sunburn even through the car windows.

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We stopped for lunch, and met with M, who had come to share the driving.

Outside the cafe were these wonderful postcards.

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They are German idioms translated into English.

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Some of them are pretty clear in their meaning, but others are a little more obscure.  (You go me animally on the cookie?) (further investigation yields the translation ‘you are getting on my nerves’.  The best explanation I can think of is that this was coined by someone whose cat decided to take a stroll across the table while she was rolling out biscuit dough…)

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And then the cool change approached – or rather, we approached it.

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I was a little concerned by the mushroom cloud, personally.

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By the time we reached Mainz, we had driven through driving rain, and the temperature had dropped to a level that was very nearly civilised.  A headed off to her seminar, and I stayed at home to throw all our sweaty clothing in the watch, and to start baking a cake, because I had been set a challenge…

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One response to “Travel Post: Germany, with Dresden, Opera and a trip on the Elba

  1. The Frauenkirche is amazing. 😀

    Love the postcards!

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