Monday, May 30, 2011

Dresden after the war

I forgot to post a picture of what Dresden looked like after the war. I was there in 1992 and it was beautiful then but buildings were only partially repaired.

Elbe River Cruise, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin

My parents took an Elbe River Cruise and then went over to Berlin. My Dad is the guest blogger.
The weather for this trip was perfect also with only two days of a slight rain but the time spent cruising the Elbe the weather was near perfect, all I can say about the Elbe it was totally unspoiled and absolutely bucolic. It was probably a good thing that the Elbe was in the former DDR because they left things pretty much as they were and what little industry they had was torn down after the unification since it was obsolete and polluting. The towns and cities along the Elbe were sparsely settled because many of the people had moved west seeking jobs after the unification, especially the young had left for greener pastures. Under communism there was no money for fixing up and restoring buildings so most remained gray or were decaying, many were probably that way when you visited the area, since then the western part of Germany has pumped billions into fixing up the east and it's all colorful and lovely now, the only buildings that remain gray now are those where there's an ownership issue, the structure may have belonged to a Jew before who left so now the structure can't be fixed up until ownership is clarified, there doesn't seem to be many of those.

Some of the cities and towns we visited had been German up until 1945 when the Germans were driven out in ethnic cleansing during 1945 to 1948 and the cities and town given a Czech name, most of those towns that had been German never recovered their former glory under the Czech that moved in and some remain ghost towns to this day. I'll send you photos of several of these towns but I'll have to look up their present names but I'm sure you're more interested in the German cities along the Elbe like Dresden.

I asked about all those nasty East German border police and Stasi secret police and was told they for the most part moved west after the unification and are working as policemen all over the western part, as was the case in WWII when the police in Germany became part of the SS the police of the DDR were simply integrated into the new united Germany, in Germany a policeman is a policeman with one in general bad attitude and that is something that will never change with them I guess.

The surprising thing about the Elbe is how narrow it is, it hardly appears the distance of two of our boats wide and only 9 feet deep, sometimes you wondered how a barge and our boat could pass each other but they managed okay. Our ship didn't have propellers but used jets which allowed it to operate in only a few feet of water and even with that the captain said it still became stuck sometimes in really low areas of the river. The control room on the top deck could lower itself into the ship with the push of a button for low bridges and we saw that happen several times during the trip.

Some of the tour guides along our trip had been former school teachers in the DDR, they were telling us that the DDR had the best schools and teaching programs in the world and that it was copied and is still in use by many other countries today, I think one of those countries was Poland. Their teachers were excellent and their teaching successes were great but most lost their jobs after the unification, they simply weren't trusted since they had worked for the communists but as one told me they were actually teaching their subject and ignoring the communist system, so having lost their jobs as teachers they became tour guides for Americans. One told me the real reason the wall went up in the first place was to prevent a brain drain to the west, all their best minds once educated were escaping west to look for jobs and opportunities that weren't available in the east so in order to prevent this the wall went up which I guess makes perfect sense. As soon as the wall came down most of the young people headed west right away anyway, I was told that they only come back now and then to visit their old relatives who stayed.
Prague is absolutely gorgeous, every corner you turn you become more and more amazed.

The Charles Bridge

One of the Charles Bridge towers.
Wenceslas Square and national Museum

The Astronomical Clock in Prague.
Litomerice, one of the oldest Czech towns, established on the site of a medieval Slavic fort,
Cathedral of St. Stephen with belfry,
main square with Town Hall

This is the spectacular Felsenburg Neurathen-a rock castle hewn from the rock at the former northern boundry of the Kingdom Bohemia in Saxon Switzerland.

Dresden has been totally rebuilt and is as beautiful as ever now, hard to believe it was almost totally destroyed, one of the passengers on our ship was showing me those awful photos of the piles of bodies near the Dom after the bombing of 1945, hard to imagine now comparing the two. Magdaburg is another city we stopped it on the Elbe, like with Dresden it was about 80% destroyed but now totally rebuilt and beautiful. The allies got nothing out of bombing civilians and per Albert Speer increased the war by two years by not sticking to bombing only military targets. I think Speer wanted the war to end and couldn't believe the allies believed by bombing civilians they would end the war quicker. I bet if a poll were taken in the US today most people would say that the US never bombed civilians in WWII, that's sure a huge number of dead to contribute to collateral damage as the military calls it.
The Famous Opera,
The Hofkirche,

Dresden Zwinger,

The Furstenzug-the Saxon sovereigns depicted in Meissen porcelain,
The Dresden Frauenkirche,
Torgau is on the banks of the Elbe in northwestern Saxony, Germany. This is where the US Army coming from the west met with the Soviet Union coming from the east.

The Augustinian Monastery that became the home of the Luther's,

Lutherstadt Wittenberg, market square and ancient town hall
Tower of the All Saints Church,

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Germany. It was the summer palace of Frederick the great, King of Prussia,
The New Palace
The Communs,

Cecilienhof Palace, where Stalin, the US and Great Britain divided Germany up into zones of occupation,

Berlin was the biggest shock of the trip, the place has changed so much. Check point Charlie is a zoo with thousands of tourists crammed into there taking photos of a little shack and two in costume, one US and one Russian. Back in the 70s that was a place to be avoided, when I crossed the place was empty except for the guards on both sides of the border, there were a bunch of pre-fabricated buildings on the communist side that are all gone, they ran for half a block as I remember and a person entering East Berlin had to pass through most of them, the only western building was the shack that's still there or a facsimile thereof. Hitler's bunker was a mound in no man's land next to the wall, now it's in a housing development with a historical marker, the only reference to Hitler in Berlin and probably all of Germany, Germany practises the theory that if you don't mention it and it will go away, there were a few columns of the chancellery still standing then and all that is gone now, strangely and most ironically Goering's Air force Ministry is still there totally untouched by the war. The Brandenburg Gate is all open and looking beautiful, everything is all rebuilt and refurbished and looking really good, where our Hilton Hotel once was vacant lots with three bombed out official buildings from the war surrounded by a fence and trash and now all three buildings have been restored and it's the prettiest square in Berlin, tourists flock there. I couldn't believe the changes. The focus of the city is now back to the Unter der Linden and the museum island, Lust Garden and the Dom area as it was before WWII, it's all so beautiful now, mom and I even went up into the needle tower that was built during the DDR days, the city is really beautiful from up there, so much green. We passed the old Templehof airport which is closed now, the government is trying to decide what to do with it. There's too much to describe but I'm happy to have seen it before and now after.

The Reichstag, the German parliament,
Brandenburg Gate,
Check Point Charlie,

Berlin Cathedral.