So It Goes: Dresden, Germany

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I’m incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to visit Dresden with a group of friends last autumn. On the quest to visit the town where my friend was born, we had quite the adventure as a group wandering the streets (and festival foods) of Dresden.

Embracing my inner book (and history) nerd, Dresden has always been one of the cities I hoped to visit while in Europe. Get ready for #allthethings Kurt Vonnegut and WWII debates (or just keep scrolling).

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Me while packing my bag for the trip.

Where are we?

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Dresden is the capital of Saxony, a state in Eastern Germany. The first settlement in the area is thought to have been established in 7500 BC by Slavic people, then grew due to the an influx of Germanic populations. The name Dresden (Drežďany) is Old Sorbian and translates to “people of the forest”.

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The landscape and population of the city drastically changed during WWII. From 1935-1945, the Jewish community fell from over 6,000 to 41 due to Nazi persecution and migration. Yeah, you read that correctly: 41. By the time of the US and UK bombing in 1945, the city housed over 600,000 refugees, nearly half their population.

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Between February 13th and 15th 1945, British and American forces dropped 1,181 tons of incendiary bombs and 1,477 tons of high explosive bombs on the civilian city of Dresden. The combination of the bombs both damaged the city’s buildings while also burning their wooden structures; the historic inner city was destroyed and scholars estimate that 25,000-35,000 civilians were killed:

“Victor Gregg, a British para captured at Arnhem, was a prisoner of war in Dresden that night who was ordered to help with the clear up. In a 2014 BBC interview he recalled the hunt for survivors after the apocalyptic firestorm. In one incident, it took his team seven hours to get into a 1,000-person air-raid shelter in the Altstadt. Once inside, they found no survivors or corpses: just a green-brown liquid with bones sticking out of it. The cowering people had all melted. In areas further from the town centre there were legions of adults shrivelled to three feet in length. Children under the age of three had simply been vaporised.”

Even today, seventy years after the bombing, many argue whether the event constitutes a war crime by the Allies: the city held no military significance, caused thousands of civilian casualties, and had no real impact on the war. Kurt Vonnegut, an American POW who survived the bombing and later based the novel Slaughterhouse Five on his experience stated in an interview:

“VONNEGUT: . . . Only one person on the entire planet benefited from the raid, which must have cost tens of millions of dollars. The raid didn’t shorten the war by half a second, didn’t weaken a German defense or attack anywhere, didn’t free a single person from a death camp. Only one person ‘benefited’ — not two or five or ten. Just one.

INTERVIEWER: And who was that?

VONNEGUT: Me, I got three dollard for each person killed. Imagine that.”

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A digital composite image of the Theaterplatz Square in 1946 and in 2015 (via The Atlantic)

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The city center in 1945 and 2015 (via The Atlantic).

Regardless of how you align in the debate, the bombing did impact the way we define “legitimate use of violence” in war. The history, culture, and rebuilding of Dresden are truly incredible. Our few days wasn’t nearly enough to explore everything.

The Sites: 

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Dresden Frauenkirche has one of the largest domes in Europe. Originally built as a symbol for remaining Protestant under a Catholic rule, it is now a sign of reconciliation between the two religions.

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The church was destroyed during the bombing and the ruins served as a war memorial until the reunification of Germany. From 1994-2004 the church underwent reconstruction.

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Dresden Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) is the largest church building in the Free State of Saxony. The southeastern corner existed as far back as 1168.

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The interior of the building was destroyed in 1897 and again suffered fire damage during the bombing of Dresden.

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One of the oldest buildings in the city, construction on Dresden castle began in 1533 (!!). The castle has now been connected to the Dresden Cathedral.

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Katholische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral) is one of Dresden’s most important landmarks. The church was founded in 1739 and was rebuilt after the bombing of Dresden and further restored in the 1980s and early 2000s.

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Dresden Castle

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Kunsthofpassage was one of my favorite spots! The pipes on the outer wall “sing” when it rains. A location outside of the historic part of the city, but definitely worth the short tram ride. Also the site of an AMAZING craft beer shop on the first floor. 

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The five courtyards are now an art experiment known as the Ginkgo Project and are filled with adorable shops and art installations.

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The Panometer is an absolute must visit! This display is held in an old telescopic gas holder (built in 1879) and is 89 feet high and 344 feet around.

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There are two displays: Baroque Dresden (which depicts how Dresden may have looked in 1756) and Dresden 1945 (showing the city after the bombing).

(via Panometer)

The Food:

Dresden Farmers Market:

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We stumbled on this gorgeous farmers market our first day in Dresden. There was a ton of amazing cheese, meat, and vegetables for sale.

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Technically not food, obviously, but how adorable are these?

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Happiest Ashlyn is post-farmers market (via Kristin Ariel Photography)

Cafe Toscana:

Brunch at Cafe Toscana was amazing and the perfect way to start our trip to Bayreuth. I ordered an omelet with homemade vegipan, a seeded bread that is perfect with butter and coffee. Thankfully, a friend and I went halfsies on porridge and it was one of the best ones yet.

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Cutest coffee timer EVER.

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The most gorgeous porridge on the planet.

German and Hungarian Festival:

How lucky are we that a German and Hungarian fall food festival was taking place while we were visiting? We ate here at least twice and the food was amazing.

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So cute! (via Kirstin Ariel Photography)

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Hi, I’d like all the potatoes and mushrooms you have. Extra garlic sauce please. The woman who served me definitely remembered us the next day when we stopped by for breakfast.

Slaughterhouse Five:

Technically this should be listed under “sites” and it certainly is, but my love of the book requires me to give Vonnegut his own section. Slaughterhouse Five inspired me to study history and political science.

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I first read the novel in middle school and was immediately enthralled with the structure and writing of the story. The life of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier during WWII, is described by the narrator non-linearly, jumping back and forth in time (and space as Pilgrim is abducted by aliens). Pilgrim (and Vonnegut) survive the bombing of Dresden by taking cover in Schlachthof-fünf, or Slaughterhouse Five, an underground meat locker.

The first description is described as:

“The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon. The boxcar doors were opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.”

I can second the loveliness of Dresden. The landscape and buildings are absolutely gorgeous to the point where you can imagine the cast of a Disney movie stepping onto the stone walkways. Pilgrim later emerges from the locker and found the previously “heavenly” skyline to look like “the surface of the moon… the entire city was gone.”

Today, there is a small Google Maps marker for the location of Vonnegut’s shelter. Completely destroyed during the bombing, the site is now a sports complex on top of the former underground meat locker.  The basement houses a small memorial to Vonnegut.

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Unused nearby building.

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Miraculously, the statue of the bull survived the bombing. The sports complex (back) now sits on top of the old underground meat locker.

Slaughterhouse Five is a novel and very much so. The point of the book isn’t the number of bombs dropped on the city or the number of people who died. The point is that the destruction of Dresden is just another massacre. It’s not the first, it certainly wasn’t going to be the last. One of the greatest aspects of the novel is simply the humanity of it.

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(via Kristin Ariel Photography)

Currently:

Reading: The Souls of Yellow Folks (Wesley Yang)Ashlyn (2)

Watching: Outlander Season 2 (Netflix)

 

Check out my girl Kristin’s beautiful photography (so many photos featured here!) on her site.

Further Reading:

Overy, Richard. 2006. “The Post-War Debate.” in Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945. (editors: Paul Addison and Jeremy A. Craig). Ivan R. Dee: Chicago. 123-142.

Taylor, Ann. 2015. “Remembering Dresden: 70 Years After the Firebombing.” The Atlantic. Available here.

 

One thought on “So It Goes: Dresden, Germany

  1. Barbara Orr says:

    I must read Slaughterhouse Five! Your report on your trip was fascinating.
    I loved the building with the singing pipes……..and the potatoes and mushrooms.
    I’m waiting to hear from Caitlin and two big snow storms!

    Muchas gracias, mi amor,
    Bamma

    Like

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