Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dresden, Part One: Coffee and Cake Town

I went to Dresden because a well-traveled friend said that if she could live anywhere in Europe, she would live in Dresden. Also, I wanted proof that it still existed. “You can’t possibly be referring to the Dresden that was completely decimated by British bombs in World War II. Isn’t it just ruins?” I wondered. She asked what made me think it was just a pile of rubble. “Kurt Vonnegut,” I responded.

I am happy to report that the bus did not drop me off at a pile of ruins and a vitamin syrup factory, but in a fully functional city with buildings in their vertical positions. After getting myself lost in my customary way, I eventually came to my hostel, Lollis Homestay, which seemed to have a bolted gate and a sign that directed me to go through it and take a right. I was rather annoyed that they hadn’t emailed me about how I would have to break the chains with my teeth before I could sleep there. (I eventually got in through an entrance on another street that I hadn’t noticed before, and I stayed in an all-female room full of Orlando Bloom posters and middle school lockers.)

With my duffle bag slung over my bruising shoulder, I decided to explore the New Town. I wandered aimlessly into an alley called “Kunsthofpassage.” I discovered a courtyard of modern architecture. A bright yellow building seemed to have little ribbons peeling off of it. Across from it a blue building was covered in a marble track system of metal pipes that turned into a fountain at the bottom. One building had a stone giraffe lifting its head to some monkeys dangling from the wicker balconies. Inside of the buildings were some very colorful craft shops. Neustadt won my heart after all.

The next day I went to a flea market. I’ve never seen so many creepy naked dolls in one place. If I had been on a search for wooden trees and German language books, I would have been in luck.
The Old Town was next on my agenda, but it got dark quickly after I arrived. This part of the city looked gloomy in the gray weather. The buildings were reconstructed after nineteen eighty-nine and many of them are still black from the bombing. The Church of Our Lady, which was completely decimated, was built with a mixture of black and white bricks. The rest of the architecture is looks new and clean, and the Communist buildings look rather bleak as always, but some of them are painted in rainbow pastels to make up for it. Dresden has done a lot of work putting itself together in the past twenty years.

I spent a good part of the evening searching for a public restroom. I was eventually directed to a mall, but when I finally spotted the restroom sign hanging from the ceiling, its arrow cruelly pointed me into a café.

The Germans call Dresden a cake and coffee city because it’s more relaxed than Berlin or Munich and people laze around eating cake and drinking coffee. This is a culture that I adapted to with remarkable ease. The first night I had a cake that was filled with cream and had a raspberry jelly on its crust. Some Germans at the hostel informed me that the cake was actually Dutch. Naturally, I had to give it another go. The next night I walked into a café and asked the woman at the counter what her favorite cake was. She mumbled something in German about not understanding, so for the next ten or fifteen minutes I tried to mime my question to her with elaborate gestures to avoid making the decision myself. Eventually she gave me a cake with some sort of coffee mousse inside. I ate it with hot chocolate and it was very un-Dresdenly of me.

That night I went out for cake with two new friends from Australia. I vowed to eat no more cake that day, but I did have a little bite of lava cake. After the café we moved onto a club where I coolly sipped my fizzy water until I was too tired to socialize. On my last day in Dresden, we also spent some time eating cake in other cafes. I’m noticing some predictable patterns in this trip, mostly involving cake.

After all that cake nonsense, we hit up the Hygiene Museum...

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