It was Friday evening when the bus dropped me next to the train station in Dresden. The sun was setting behind unruly clouds, which had intermittently been dumping buckets of rain throughout the day. I shouldered my backpack, stepped off the bus and looked around. The wide street wasn’t busy and it only took a moment to spot Anne. She was standing beside her car, waving with her free arm while the other supported baby Carl. At her feet Martha was staring up at Mom, watching her wave, and then she turned to me and waved too.
The day was getting late so we hopped in the car and headed towards home along the wide, well manicured street passing over the Elbe River which proudly displayed the dramatic architecture of the city center. It’s renovated old buildings creating a distinctively European skyline. Outside the center it’s easy to forget Dresden is a city of half a million as thick forests line the roads.
Anne lives in Hellerau, Germany’s first “garden city,” which may make it a UNESCO site shortly. She and Frank live in the middle floor of a three story building with Martha (3) and Carl (6mo), above a small square filled with shops and businesses surrounded by forest. It’s something like living in a village within a city. The neighboring streets are split between long blocks of tiny, three-story, single-family homes connected in a long row, each with a (minuscule) garden in front and another in back; and larger, more lavish homes on separate plots insulated by lush gardens overflowing in June with greenery and flowers.
Since it was late we didn’t do anything that evening but catch up over a light dinner. Martha just turned three and she’s talking up a storm, in German, yet despite the language barrier we found many ways to play together – her favorite being swatting my hands as they advanced like spiders over the dinner table. Carl is a happy little bug whose bright blue eyes can waver between frowning concern and beaming joy.
Saturday morning we woke up early and dallied over a brunch consisting of a variety of cheeses (goat, cow, and sheep; hard and soft; plained or studded with seeds; and one particularly interesting pecorino with a lingering aftertaste of pears); cured meats, including a pate, some meat aspec, and the best roast beef I’ve had since last August; a variety of homemade jams, marmelades and spreads; butter; and most importanyl, a collection of fresh rolls from the bakery downstairs.
The bakery seems to be a fixture of their lives, the place where Frank or Anne are greeted as neighbors when they take their orange knit bread basket each morning to choose from the delicious selections of rolls piled high. The coolest thing in the shop, aside from the delicious rolls and the beautiful fruit covered cakes, was the row of cane shaped loaves hanging from a bar over the counter like so many doughy candy-canes.
After brunch was finished, our teeth were brushed and the kids were properly bundled we headed off to the National Park on the Czech. The park itself is huge, but we just concerned ourselves with the most dSaxon Switzerlandramatic bit. Overlooking the Elbe river there are massive sandstone cliffs that drop down several hundred feet. All among these cliffs are towers of the same stone jutting up from the forest floor. Unfortunately there were tons of tourists and the day was quite cold, but we spent the morning wandering along paths set into the cliffs.
After a veal ragout and an Austrian beer we drove back into Dresden, pausing for an hour or so to have a traditional German afternoon snack of coffee and cake at a restaurant on a hill overlooking the city. It offered a view of the entire city, church spires rising as the tallest buildings among this ridiculously green city, where some neighborhoods got lost under the cover of foliage. The cakes were amazing. Massive slices of ornate creations. I had something made of layers of chocolote cake dotted with brandy-soaked cherries seperated by layers of whipped cream covered in whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.
That evening we went back to Hellerau for dinner where the neighbors had organized a barbecue for the other tenants. They had set up tables in an “L” pattern big enough for 20 or 30 people. Each of the families brought a salad or two to share and meat for the grill. One guy had prepared an amazing German camp food: dough wrapped around a stick and cooked over an open fire. Anne and I pledged to bring this to America when next we were there. I spend most of the evening talking to a rather nice gentleman whose wife had had a baby a couple days earlier and a family of four whose father was American, and whose youngest daughter taught me a card game and some German words.
After dinner Frank and I went back into the city to see a concert Anne organized as part of the annual Dresdner Musikfestspiele. The concert took place in a newly rennovated church that had been destroyed during the war and rebuilt as close to the original as possible, including the murals on the ceiling and the decorations behind the alter. It’s crisp newness in such an old style gave me a feeling of being transported back in time to when the the original church was first built. An impression supported by the music.
The concert was wonderful. The first piece was Mozart and featured a duet between a violin and viola supported by the orchestra over three movements. Then there was a ludicrously short piece by Bach and another three movements of Mozart. The entire thing only last 75 minutes but by the end I was exhausted. It’d been a long day and I feel asleep a moment after I shut the light.
Sunday was more leisurely. We had breakfast around nine, lingering over the same assortment of cheese and meat with a fresh round of bread. Martha and Frank had a childrens concert at eleven so Anne and I took Carl to an exhibition of the Old Masters at one of the old Palaces in the city center. They had Rembrandt, Titian, Corregio, Raphael, and even two Vermeers, which had an angelic softness about them.
Afterwards we returned home for lunch, then cake and coffee, and then it was time for me to go. The bus ride home was long and uneventful, unlike the weekend.