Saxony, a land-locked state of the Federal Republic of Germany, was the destination for the Club's international break this year. The cities of Leipzig and Dresden experienced the privilege of a visit by “Kevin the Strong” and his tribe of Rotarians. No one knew much about this frei-staat except that it was part of East Germany – the DDR – until the reunification in 1990. I suppose everyone associates Leipzig with the initiation of the fall of communism in Germany, and Dresden with the 1945 bombardment. Both cities displayed their memories of these and other events.
In Leipzig for 7 years a series of peace protests were held on Mondays at the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas church), until the crowds grew so big as to become the peaceful revolution, which the Stasi could not halt. A visit to the Stasi museum does not sound like a barrel of laughs, nor was it, but it was the only museum open on a wet Monday morning. Most of us went there and learnt that the state secret police conducted surveillance on the dissident population to an incredible degree. One example was a sketch and some words pinned on the wall. A 15 year-old boy had written, in English, a disparaging remark against the cost of a Wartburg car made in East Germany. This had been reported to the Stasi who were about to institute proceedings against him, when the political climate suddenly changed – rescuing him from who knows what. A nice touch was that he signed the paper when he visited the museum in 1996.
Our hotel sat opposite the Thomaskirche, famous for the fact that Johann Sebastian Bach was the choirmaster and in-house composer here for many years. Indeed he is buried here, under an imposing slab in the choir. His statue stands outside our hotel, and the Bach museum is next door.
Our traditional open-top bus tour – conducted entirely in German by – took us past many interesting spots, including the vast memorial to the battle of Leipzig, where Napoleon was defeated in 1813: in terms of numbers involved (more than half a million men) and casualties suffered, it was the greatest battle ever fought until WWI.
Leipzig also claims to have the oldest coffee house in Europe (much used by the Rotary group), which it emphasises with an interesting collection of historical items and stories. Another claim to fame is the vast number of alleys and shopping arcades, which surely pleased half our party.
An hour from Leipzig by train, is Dresden. Capital of the state, it has an impressive number of 18th. century buildings from the time of Elector Augustus the Strong, most of which were flattened by Allied bombing in February 1945, but have been reconstructed over the last sixty years or so. Indeed the work goes on, and is in marked contrast to the approach taken by Coventry. The surviving blackened stonework in many buildings serves as a physical reminder of the air raids, while sand coloured stone is indicative of the investment in replacing and restoring those buildings that were destroyed.
Unfortunately the river Elbe was too shallow at this time of year for our annual water-borne trip, but of course we did again partake of the open-top bus tour – although the top was not open. Among the interesting sites was the Transparent Factory, a car plant where VW assemble their limousine, the Phaeton (and some Bentleys). Car parts made in other parts of Saxony, are brought to the glass-encased building, on “trucks” using the public tram tracks. It seems that the transparency of the building is in contrast to Volkswagen’s approach to emissions…
Dresden is a city of culture, and is replete with palaces, art galleries and museums. There were some ‘must sees’. No one can visit Dresden and fail to see the museum of Meissen pottery for example. Fantastically elaborate pieces from the 18th century were displayed including the bust of a man with a mouse coming from his mouth and others on his shoulder, hat and poking out from his coat.
Two world-class art galleries – one for old, the other for ‘new’ masters - required hours of attention to do them justice. In the Royal Palace the Green Vaults alone (royal collections of jewellery and objets d’art) demanded most of an afternoon. Then there were the Zwinger palace, the Opera House…. It was simply not possible to see everything in one short stay, and many of us felt we would return one day to complete our explorations.
Our visit to Saxony was so enjoyable due to the invaluable and considerable work of Kate and Richard. Flights and hotels, dinners and transfers, bus and train tickets...the list of things to organise seems endless, and it all worked so well. Everyone on the trip is so grateful for their effort and diligence. Thank you both, another success for Taylors Tours
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