Monday, May 30, 2011, Journal Excerpts
(The blog entry, Dany, occurs chronologically ahead of this entry, although it was posted to this blog earlier this year.)
I'm sitting in the sun on my friends' second story porch in Dresden, Germany. It is a gorgeous day. I took forever to get up: 9:45am. Woke a while before, but didn't roll out of bed right away. Started yoga and fell back to sleep. We stayed up late drinking again last night. We hit City Beach in Neustadt. What fun! More about that later. First, allow me to set the scene.
Incredible place, Dresden. Full of very old memories and very new ones—both vivid. The blackened side of buildings and the traces of rubble now made into rubble monuments—a reconciliation of sorts for what went before. The Altstadt is so dark, heavy, gloomy, eerie. Ghosts everywhere. I feel like I'm not supposed to be here. This is something I'm not part of. In addition to the old European feel of the place and the constant memorials (both formal and informal) to the devastation of World War II, the current social and economic structure of what was East Germany is also alien to me. It took 6 months for Dave and Lisa to get a car, and that's with active pestering. And by getting, I mean buying. My American can-do attitude makes me wonder: If they had done something—anything—differently, would they have gotten their car sooner? Did the owner of the car dealership or the government start a clock somewhere when my friends first approached a dealer to look at a car? I am not clear who was in charge. Someone has to be, right? “They don't know how to sell cars,” Dave says. The salespeople obviously don't, but what about the managers? The owners of the car dealerships? Doesn't show much business sense. Lisa says the government finally figured out that they needed to give the salesmen incentives to sell cars. Why had the owners of the companies not thought of it themselves before then? I don't understand, and it's not with the same non-understanding that I approach American politics or industry.
I feel like I understand the context in America, the forces at play, even if in simple terms: Politicians with red faces gesticulating and ranting about the ramifications of taking government money away from the oil industry and giving it to alternative energy companies, etc. Propped up by industry lobbyists, they are the “bad guys.” In the U.S. I'm am one of the “good guys,” and so are my family and friends. We are just trying to get by and be happy and not wreck the earth too much. And admittedly, I don't think about it all the time. But here I don't even understand the context. Here, where capitalism isn't the focus, it is too difficult for me to take a stand. No obvious good and bad guys, just confusion. How can I know if I'm a good guy if I can't figure out who the bad guys are?
Second cup of coffee. Feeling better and less melancholy. Had some OJ, but no breakfast in the house, so I'll be on my way after my shower to find something to eat. But no worries. I'm rarely hungry when I first get up and today is no exception. Clean breeze blowing and ruffling my shirt sleeves. Children laughing and playing – talking and yelling behind me across the street--probably at a nursery school or day care center. The fountain below in the courtyard spills water continuously. I can hear it below me. A small engine wines a block or so over. Someone is doing yard work. I move around the table as the sun moves.
The building where Lisa and Dave live is very old--18th century. It is in Neustadt or “new town.” It was once abandoned, dilapidated, with trees coming up from the foundation and growing out the roof above—just three or four years ago. The house next door is still in that shape, so I hope to get a picture of it later.
After World War II, the communists left the city district of Neustadt to crumble on its own. Cheaper, nondescript apartment buildings were built to create new, cinder block cities. The revitalization of Neustadt is slow, but happening with wonderful results: shiny supermarkets (Markthalle) and luxury apartments and homes. The river paths have been there for centuries, and now the biergartens and wine gardens are re-opened and bustling, and drawing tourists. It may not be the most popular spot to visit in Germany, but it should be one of them. (Editor's Note: Since I first wrote this, Dresden has become one of the most visited cities in Dresden. See Wikipedia.)
Altstadt or “old town” is the city center dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. In Altstadt after the war, the communists left the destruction and rubble to make a point—here's what the capitalists have done to your city. Seeing the original cross from the top of the Frauenkirche now resting beside the rebuilt altar was wrenching for me. Blackened, the edges and the metal curled into a surrealistic art piece. Within it the clutch of despair. I understand better where these art movements come from now. The surrealism. The dystopian vision. My generation in the U.S., in its current position of relative peace and wealth, does not have the impetus to create dark matter such as this. But the movement has come to us from Europe and other war torn places. American GIs returning from WWII had it by the edge. It opened our Baby Boomer eyes.
The Frauenkirche is beautifully restored to its exquisite baroque beauty—even if some of the marble is faux marble, it doesn't matter. It represents a past that the German people value and should be proud of--certainly should remember. But it did cost millions of euro to do it. The Zwinger – the pleasure palace of Augustus the Strong–is HUGE. The grounds, the buildings—multiple buildings, fountains, carvings on every balustrade and column and roof. Statuary all along the top walkway. Construction here and there. I was so moved, amazed. I wanted to stay outside and see the big picture, not go into the tiny exhibits. I did climb up to the top of the Dome of the church, then I sat at the cafe and had lunch: beef goulash and noodles—yum! I'll try going to the rose garden first this morning and see if the cafe is open. If not, I'll walk over to the “black market” cafe Lisa talked about. I'll get oriented with the maps she so kindly made for me. I'll write more about the details of my stay in Dresden at a later time.
Later that morning
Sitting in the Rose Garden Cafe. I had a fruit and caprese salad with endive, lettuce, tomato, buffalo mozzarella, yellow onions, red pepper, carrots, corn, radishes, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries. The dressing was the classic combination of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh ground pepper. Now, do I stay here awhile and write, go on my merry way to another cafe, or go back to my friend's apartment? I think I will attempt to catch up with my blog. And write about my experiences with the mobile phone. (Editor's note: See blog entry, Dany.) Although I should have time on the train tomorrow to type up a bunch of stuff. Hmm. If I write here I'll have to retype it later. How easy will that be on the train? I'll do a bit of both. I still may end up back at the apartment fairly early.
Meanwhile, I'll sketch out the rest of my train itinerary for France, with a list of the tickets I must purchase, in order, when I get back to Paris:
June 2 Thursday
Paris to Auxerre Train TGV6711 11:24am
June 6 Monday
Auxerre to Caen Noon?
June 8 Wednesday
Caen to Bayeaux 2:00ish
June 10 Wednesday
Bayeaux to Saumur after 3pm
June 14 Tuesday
Saumur to Angers morning
June 17 Friday
Angers to Le Mans morning
June 20 Monday
Le Mans to Poitier? noon-2pm
June 26 Sunday
Poitier to Zaragoza morning