Michael Vick ’10 – For my final trip during my time here, I decided to pay a visit to Dresden, a city that most Americans know from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. From that novel, most people know that it underwent heavy firebombing in 1945; 1500 tons of bombs were dropped in the city over the course of two days. Adding the fact that Dresden was an East German city, I was expecting something comparable to the eastern parts of Berlin.
Needless to say, my expectations were far off. Berlin is unique in that much attention was given to it after reunification. Even though some tenements and remnants of East Germany remain there, the “Wessies”—and their ideals—concentrated in West Berlin quickly diffused into the eastern parts. Dresden, by comparison, lies deep in eastern Germany, far from any border with the former West.
Following WWII and Soviet occupation, the East German government decided against rebuilding every historical building. Even today, almost 20 years after reunification, there are still areas in the city center that are little more than fenced-off holes in the ground.
While this was an interesting break from what I’d seen in other cities, I found the plaques describing the rebuilt buildings even more intriguing. For example, the description at the entrance of the Baroque Fairground and Zwinger detailing the history of the area describes the Anglo-American destruction of the city, followed immediately by the Soviet liberation of the city from the Nazi tyrants.
After reading about and discussing the ways in which people from either side of the Wall had their respective Cold-War-ideologies ingrained into their thought processes, it’s fascinating to see how even historically “neutral” buildings could be decorated with state propaganda. I especially wonder if I only noticed the wording in that description because I’m a Westerner, or if Germans from the former East Germany still notice such propaganda while in the West.
Another difference that I noticed in Dresden is that the most lively part of the city was not the Altstadt, as in other places I’ve visited, but in the so-called Neustadt. While the baroque architecture and museums are in the older part of town, the newer area is the place to go shopping, meet friends, get a bite to eat, or go to clubs. While walking through the Neustadt to my hostel, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was walking through an American city, even though far more English-speakers could be found in Berlin.
It now seems serendipitous that the last city I visited before I’ll return home was so vastly different from the others I’ve seen during my time here: I feel that I was starting to think I had seen enough of Germany to “sum it up.” Dresden reminded me, however, that it really is impossible to generalize a culture very distinctly, and that I could spend the rest of my life studying this country and never stop learning new things about the German people.
In photos: Upper right, View from the Zwinger looking towards the entrance to the fairgrounds; at left, the Zwinger now houses a sculpture museum; lower right, The Hofkirche and Schloss on the Elbe.