Monday, June 29, 2015

Dresden Diary, Day 3: Do you believe in fairytales?


I see castles and fortresses, and hillside vineyards; plains of wheat and barley, and sandstone mesas… not in a fairytale book or romantic novel, but in real life. Not exactly the kind of images one thinks of when imagining Germany.  But here they are, all in front of me as the bus cruised along the hi-way taking us out of Dresden and on to Saxon Switzerland, still in Germany, not Switzerland. It confused the heck out of me, but found out that the name was given by 2 Swiss artists pining for their homeland.

On my last full day in Germany, I joined a mid-morning to mid-afternoon hiking tour of Saxony.  Mind you, the conference is ~11 hours long, so there was still plenty of time to get my science fix, in addition to the exchanged pleasantries by participants en route, which goes: “ what polymer do you work on?” or “Have you tried such-and-such solvent system?”.

I have to admit, romantic is not the first word that comes to mind when I thought of Germany prior to this trip. It was more like – precision, museum, history, etc…  But the quaint villages, fairytale-like castles, and wildflowers dotting this drive along the snaking Elbe river makes for great Hollywood scenery.  Indeed, our tour guide informed us that several scenes from the Grand Budapest Hotel, a film I adore, was shot in this region. Hollywood-aside, the greens, rivers and distinctive landscape makes Saxony a dramatic paradise just a short drive from Dresden.

There's supposed to be a goose sillhouette there,
but as hard as I squint, I still couldn't see it.
Our first stop was at the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) National Park to see the Bastei rocks, a sandstone formation overlooking the Elbe River and offering spectacular views of the Elbe valley, table top mountains and sandstone, and forms the heart of the National Park. This park bordered Bohemian Switzerland, which is in the Czech Republic. We crossed the sandstone Bastei bridge made of sandstone rocks, cliffs and ranges. The rock formations and vistas have inspired many artists, dubbing this place Painters’ Way, where painters once sought inspiration for their masterpieces. Lucky me, I got to see it on a dreary day – the painters’ favorite weather – and on a weekday with very few people around.  

Proof that I was there. Ha.

The valley below and the mesa farther back
As we continued on, we had to pay 2 euros to enter Felsenburg Neurathen (Neurathen Castle), which was once a rock castle built in the 11th century, but now just ruins. It’s still amazing to see how the people in that century built the fortress by taking advantage of the rock cliff tops.  I have no idea how they brought the catapults and stone cannonballs up on top, but I guess in the name of defense, you do what you got to do.



Better pictures of the Basteibrucke here.

Statue of a monk hauled up by brave rock climbers.

(No, mom, I didn't climb up.)

Old style defense: catapult with stone cannonballs


Thankfully, I had a protein bar in my bag as we voted to skip lunch and headed straight to Königstein Fortress, Europe’s highest fortress, and covering an entire table mountain. There is really no way to appreciate its massiveness and grandeur from my iPhone pictures, so here’s an aerial photo snatched from the web, and my phone shots below.   
Königstein - built by nature and man

The valley below

Königstein, or king’s rock, is a cleverly designed fortress –a mix of man-built genius and sweat extending the walls from its natural stone formations. It was deemed unconquerable and was a state prison for a time in the 1920s and was used as POW camp in WW I and II. Its castemates housed the state treasure and works of art from the famous Zwinger during war times. It’s easy to see why the fortress was never conquered in its 750-year history.

They meant business.

No kidding.

Castle gates a la Game of Thrones
The current tennants -
He (and a hundred others) said hi to me 
As much as Dresden has taught me much about history, (and ehem, given birth to the first milk chocolate), I am really touched most by Saxon Switzerland’s unique and evocative landscape. How can something so beautiful exist?!  This tranquil region reminds me that there is more to Germany than its war history.  I used to think of Germany with somber tones and hues, but no more.  I’m glad I capped this trip with the German countryside. And the lasting impression I’m leaving with is of how a gem lies in East Germany – a place I’ll look forward coming back to.

This is the place where fairytales are born.


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