Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Foyer-Reise nach Dresden

[ International Foyer trip to Dresden ]

Normally when I am abroad, I am extremely frugal, and I really budget my money strictly and think twice before making purchases. This wasn’t the case a few weeks ago during the Einfuhrungswochenende when there was information about an international student trip to Dresden in November. On the registration day, within the first few hours – almost on a whim – I just signed up, knowing that whatever happened on the trip, it would be a great way to meet new people regardless of what turned out with the trip.

It was a good thing I did too, since the trip booked fast, and handing over my 50 Euros for the weekend, my place was reserved.

As I have mentioned before, October completely flew by, and before I knew it my first weeks of class were over and I was well into the winter semester at my new university. The travel weekend had arrived too, and I realized that I never even looked at the agenda for the weekend. In three days we really were going to do a lot – travel together by bus, stay in a pre-booked hostel, see many sights, have dinner together and even visit a museum. Early on the Friday morning of the trip I had to wake up before 5 am since I lazily waited until the day of to pack my bag, and throw some clothes together for the weekend.

It was on the roughly 5 hour bus trip - where I recognized a few faces, but noticed that many were new – that I realized that this was really my first time truly seeing a city that was part of the former German Democratic Republic [GDR / East Germany]. The timing of the weekend was very appropriate, since lately in the news there has been much discussion over the history of the divided decades of Germany, especially since Monday the 9th would commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall.

Hearing Merkel’s speech a week before, and also familiarizing myself with the history of divided Germany through many news articles, I knew that I was going to be able to grasp a lot more from Dresden than “Just seeing another Germany city”. The city represents a lot of Germany, and that is what I was going to be able to truly learn.

I realized that other than knowing that Dresden was in former East Germany, there was not much I knew about the city other than the descriptions I had from reading Kurt Vonnegut’s very excentric anti-war science-fiction novel Slaughterhouse Five where the protagonist was involved in the 1945 Bombings in the city of Dresden.

Between February 13 -15th of 1945, British and American naval forces performed one of the most controversial actions of the Allied Powers during WW2 when they fire bombed the city of Dresden [ “approximately 1 bomb for every two civilians” ] and the central part of the city was completely destroyed.

Understanding this history, as we arrived into Dresden, I had expectations to witness a city that had completely rebuilt itself, but what exactly that meant was what I had to still find out for myself.

Dropped off in what seemed to be a random corner of the city, I followed some of the others, still learning names and nationalities with some as we went along, and walked a few streets while we had a few free hours to just explore before our formal tour.

On my first impression – not in the center of the city yet, only walking some of the outskirt streets – I was not finding any outstanding impressions. The city seemed kind of hollow – a lot of space, a lot of construction, a lot of buildings… yet still seemingly empty – from what? I could not exactly pin-point it – the commercial center wasn’t immensely dense, and there weren’t really people out and about – it was eerily silent.

[ The beauty of Dresden finally peering over the "hollow" first impression ]

Unfortunately I “read the book by its cover” and perhaps a Friday afternoon isn’t the liveliest of days in Dresden. A corner or two later, and grand towers of churches and a palace loomed over this “hollow” skyline, and then I realized that I was really entering the city of Dresden, and from there, the city only captured my awe more as the weekend progressed.

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