Friday 30th August – Dresden
Before arriving I knew very little about Dresden itself other than it had all but been destroyed by allied bombing during World War II and that it is known for its particularly fine, hand painted, porcelain. My mum was a collector of Dresden Porcelain having grown up with, and inherited, a dinning set from her mother. But more about this later.
Walking through the heart of the old town it is hard to believe that after the war many of the historic buildings you are looking at were burnt out shells, or in the case of the Dresden Frauenkirche, just a pile of rubble.
We walked through the entrance to Dresden Castle (or Royal Palace), which is now a museum and home to many collections of fine artworks. During the renovations this central courtyard had been given a glass roof which really allowed the cleaned stone to shine. All though full of the treasures collected from around Saxony through out its rich history, not having a huge amount of time, we didn’t attempt to look at everything the castle had to offer, just enjoyed the formidable architecture of the place.
From here we wondered through the grounds of the Zwinger, which like so many of the buildings in the city and surrounding countryside, owes a debt to Augustus II, the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, who either had them built, or renovated, to create the spectacular palaces we see today.
Finally, after taking a stroll down by the river – which seems to have been very badly affected by the extended warm weather experienced across Europe this summer, we went to the Dresden Frauenkirche, Church of our Lady, which was all but destroyed by the applied bombing and had been left as a pile of rubble as a memorable. Only after German reunification was the money raised to recreate the church. In the picture to the right the darker stone is original, where as all the lighter stone is new. As you can see there wasn’t a great deal left after bombs had fallen and the firestorm had ripped through the city.
This overlay picture shows the church before and after it was rebuilt which gives another indication of just how extensive the damage had been.
The new gilded orb and cross on top of the dome was forged by Grant Macdonald Silversmiths in London using the original 18th-century techniques as much as possible. It was constructed by Alan Smith, a British goldsmith from London whose father, Frank, was a member of one of the aircrews who took part in the bombing of Dresden.
While exploring through Dresden’s Altstadt, or old town, we came across this military band playing in one of the main squares. As the Saxony elections were being held we wondered if it had something to do with that as there were a number of dignitaries inspecting them while they were standing to attention. They also fired a salute which, while we were expecting it, was considerably louder than anticipated!
Bombing of Dresden
During World War II, Allied bombing raids on February 13–15, 1945, almost completely destroyed the city of Dresden. The raids became a symbol of the “terror bombing” campaign against Germany, which was one of the most controversial Allied actions of the war.
Before World War II, Dresden was called “Florence on the Elbe” and was considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities because of its architecture and art treasures. On the night of February 13, the British Bomber Command hit Dresden with an 800-bomber air raid, dropping some 2,700 tons of bombs, including large numbers of incendiaries. Aided by weather conditions, a firestorm developed, incinerating tens of thousands of people. The U.S. Eighth Air Force followed the next day with another 400 tons of bombs and carried out yet another raid by 210 bombers on February 15. It is thought that some 25,000–35,000 civilians died in Dresden in the air attacks, though some estimates are as high as 250,000, given the influx of undocumented refugees that had fled to Dresden from the Eastern Front. Most of the victims were women, children, and the elderly.
After the war, German and Soviet authorities considered levelling the Dresden ruins to make way for new construction. But local leaders forced a compromise for rebuilding part of the city centre and placing the modern construction outside—in effect, encircling old Dresden with a newer city. After reunification in 1990, Germany undertook the extensive reconstruction of the inner city as a moral and political objective, unveiling new works at various stages with much fanfare in an effort still ongoing in the 21st century. Dresden has returned to much of its former grandeur as a centre for art and culture.
The bombing of Dresden was a historic benchmark that demonstrated the power of strategic bombing. Critics say that the military value of the bombing did not justify Dresden’s near destruction and that the city could have been spared, like Rome, Paris and Kyoto.
For the full article see Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Dresden bombing with footage of Allied assault on Pforzheim and Cologne (4:59)
- Firestorm bombing over Dresden (1:17:34)
- World War II: The Blitz on Dresden (54:06)
Saturday 31st August – Dresden
When I was a kid there was a television series about a prisoner of war camp called Colditz. It was a castle perched high on a mountain top and said to be escape proof. As I enjoy visiting places that I have read about, or have memories of, and as it was only an hour outside Dresden, it seemed that we needed to go.
While the war time story of Colditz Castle would be known to most British people, especially over a certain age, neither Katja or her parents had heard of it, even though they lived so close. It was only while visiting the museum did it become apparent that it is a very British legend.
The castle was principally used to house senior officers, and particularly those who had tried to escape before. It became known as the “Escape School” by both sides due to the number of escape attempts from the castle itself. If an escape was successful then the prisoners learnt what worked; when it failed they learnt what not to do and the guards what to look out for in future. Plans included tunnels, simply making a run for it during exercise in the adjoining park, and a glider (Colditz Cock) which was constructed in the attic space – this was only discovered after the camp was liberated!
There were even a couple of dummies made to mislead the German guards during daily roll calls. “Moritz” and “Max” were made of plaster and used during the successful escape attempt by Lieutenants Hans Larive and Franz Steinmetz, both of the Royal Netherlands Navy, on 15th August 1941.
Among the more notable inmates were British fighter ace Douglas Bader; Pat Reid, the man who brought Colditz to public attention with his post war books; Airey Neave, the first British officer to escape from Colditz and later a British Member of Parliament; New Zealand Army Captain Charles Upham, the only combat soldier ever to receive the Victoria Cross twice; and Sir David Stirling, founder of the wartime Special Air Service.
Before the war the castle was used as a sanatorium, generally reserved for the wealthy and nobility of Germany. During the later part of this time it became home to both psychiatric and tuberculosis patients, 912 of whom died of malnutrition. The authorities adopted a form of forced euthanasia keeping people heavily sedated until they died; often in the most horrendous conditions.
After the cold of the castle it was great to get back out into the sunshine, have lunch and then enjoy the rest of our day.
Sunday 1st September – UK
Unfortunately, due to unexpected circumstances, Lauren was no longer able to join us in Venice at the end of our holiday as planned and so a quick trip back to the UK was arranged. Fortunately British Airways had a very special offer for their flights from Berlin to London Heathrow and so I booked myself on to the 07:05. Up at 03:30 and on the road for the two and a half hour drive from Dresden, I was in London with Lauren about 08:30 UK time. It was a long journey but well worth it.
We had breakfast at a cafe in Chalfont St Peter before heading back to her flat.
Having parked the the car at the doctors surgery where she works, we walked down into the village. On the way we passed a small cemetery which included six war graves created, and managed, by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. While I know the village reasonably well, it was where I went to school, I had no idea these graves existed.
- SAUNDERS, Archibald George Henry : Private, The Queen’s Royal Regiment
- BATTLE, Donald Francis : Gunner, Royal Artillery
- DRUMMOND, Geoffrey Heneage : Second Hand, Royal Naval Patrol Service
- MANBEY, Basil Keble : Volunteer, Home Guard
- BISGROVE, Charles : Pioneer, Royal Engineers
- CRAFT, E : Rifleman, Rifle Brigade
The following details are given in the London Gazette of August 28th, 1918
On the night of May 9th-10th, 1918, Lieut. G. H. Drummond, in command of M.L. 254, although severely wounded by a shell which burst on board, remained on the bridge and navigated his badly damaged vessel into Ostend Harbour. He placed her alongside Vindictive and took off two officers and thirty-eight men, some of whom were killed and many wounded while embarking. Not until there was no one left alive on the Vindictive did he back his vessel clear of the piers before sinking exhausted from his wounds. It was due to the indomitable courage of this very gallant officer that the majority of the crew of the Vindictive were rescued.
Click HERE to open/download a PDF of the “Second Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 27th of August, 1918” in which the full citation and Kings approval for the award of the Victoria Cross were published.
No trip back to the UK can be complete without catching up with my wonderful Kip. I very much miss the old fella; it was lovely to see him looking so well.
Lauren and I rounded off our day together with a late lunch at the Jolly Woodman pub in Burnham, a lovely traditional pub out in the English countryside. I used to visit regularly when I was much younger and also more recently when I worked nearby, partly due to the magnificent pies they served up. Unfortunately the pies are no longer on the menu but the food was just as good. Being a lovely day we sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine.
And so, all too quickly, it was back to the airport to catch the last flight, 19:20, to Berlin.
Rather than head all the way back to Dresden I booked in to a hotel for the night not too far from the airport. My day ended about 23:30.
A very long day, but well worth it.
Monday 2nd September – Dresden
A much lazier day was in order having only got back to Dresden at about 11. Katja’s sister, Peggy, had arrived the previous day and joined us for lunch.
There were a number of places Katja had said about visiting and as Mortizburg Castle is only a short drive it seemed an ideal place to go for fresh air and to stretch our legs.
It’s also very important to visit a castle at every possible opportunity.
The current castle was created from 1723 when major works began to convert it from a Renaissance building into a Baroque hunting and pleasure palace. Here, the Elector Augustus the Strong wanted to celebrate his excessive feasts and hunts. He had further ponds and animal enclosures created; the pheasant-breeding area east of the castle is testimony to this fact. The best Saxon craftsmen and artists collaborated in providing the interior in the seven halls and more than 200 rooms. After the death of Augustus the Strong, the conversion remained unfinished.
During our visit there was an exhibition explaining how the leather wall covers were created. A long, elaborate and expensive process.
Tuesday 3rd September – Dresden
Today is Katja’s mums birthday – Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
Lunch and dinner were being delivered from the local butchers later in the morning, but we had the job of going to get cake.
Apparently the only place to buy cake is Cafe Positano in Freital. It certainly had an amazing selection and everything we bought home tasted wonderful. Some cakes I knew, such as Black Forest Gateau, others I didn’t so I made certainty try them all!
I mentioned earlier there were two things I knew about Dresden; the wartime bombing and porcelain. It turns out that not only does Freital have an excellent bakery, it is also home, since 1872, to Sächsische Porzellanmanufaktur Dresden (Saxon Porcelain Manufactory in Dresden), often known in English simply as Dresden Porcelain.
Freital was also where Katja grew up as a child. It is truly a small world!
Nearby in Cunnersdorf, Katja’s parents own a 1000sq.m. garden which was originally purchased by her grandad in 1946 for a couple of sacks of hops. It is surrounded by other parcels of land of the same size and while they have some buildings on them, you aren’t allowed to construct a house, which has ensured the area is a quite haven into which both humans and wildlife can escape. Katja has fond memories of camping and playing with her sister in the garden, accompanied by her grand parents. When we got home, her dad even sent us a couple of photo’s of her as a child playing in the water collection tank.
While in the past the garden was worked for fruit and vegetables, these days Frank keeps it more natural to attract birds – there are feeders and nesting boxes all over – so that he can take pictures; photography being a big hobby of his.
Wednesday 4th September – Dresden
It was our last full day in Dresden so we decided to take a short drive out to Saxon Switzerland National Park. There were a couple of places we wanted to see, but we were also keen to get back and spend the evening with Katja’s parents.
Pillnitz Palace and Park was another of the places either built, renovated or drastically improved by Augustus the Strong, this time as a venue for weddings and festivities, but also as the home for his mistress, Anna Constantia von Cosel, to whom he left the property upon his death.
In one corner of the grounds is the English Pavilion and ornamental lake. It was a lovely little building but with the design based on a similar structure in Rome I wasn’t too sure what made it “English”. (Reference: The Tempietto, San Pietro in Montorio)
The Bastei is the rock formation into which Neurathen Castle was constructed, which was once the largest rock castle in the region. The bridge was constructed in 1851 to allow visitors into the rocks to see the remains of the castle which are little more than “rooms” linked by modern metal bridges.
It was a fascinating and unique place to visit on our last full day in Germany.
Thursday 5th September – Dresden to Treffen (Austria) via Salzburg
It was sad to be leaving Dresden. I had really enjoyed meeting Katja’s family, who all made me feel so welcome, and seeing the sights of the old town and surrounding areas, as well as places from her childhood.
Now we are heading back south to a place I last visited as a kid…