DAY 1: Shots Fired (Dresden)
BONUS: panometer Dresden
A converted gasometer (gas storage tank) houses one of two “panometers” (panorama + gasometer), painted by Austrian artist Yadegar Asisi in 2006. Baroque Dresden takes you back to Dresden 1756 while Dresden 1945 takes you back to… mass destruction. The panorama on display changes every few years, the former being decidedly more hopeful, while the latter, accompanied by a score that sounds like it’s from a John Carpenter movie, gives you the distinct impression that Dresden was once sacked by aliens.
Suggested duration: 30-60 minutes. Visit www.panometer.de for tickets, opening times and more information.
Bruhl's Terrace & ALBERTINUM
Originally part of the city’s fortifications, this elevated promenade was opened to the public in 1814 and is commonly referred to as “the balcony of Europe,” which is a bit of a stretch, but it does have nice views of the River Elbe. It’s flanked by several architectural gems and galleries, chief among them being the Albertinum, a modern art gallery featuring works from Romantic to present eras.
Suggested duration: 60 minutes. Visit www.albertinum.skd.museum for tickets, opening times and more information.
Though the prince of Saxony at the time (early 17th century) had just converted to Catholicism, this church was built for Lutheran worship, essentially amounting to an expensive “screw you” but the prince was chill about it and the church became a symbol for peace between the different sects. The most noteworthy feature is the stone bell, the 315 foot dome which remains an impressive architectural feat, which has been compared to that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. People originally had their doubts that the bell wouldn’t be structurally sound, but after surviving impact of over one hundred cannonballs during the Seven Years War (1760) all the haters were proved wrong. Unfortunately they didn’t live to say “told you so” when the built-up heat from the Allied bombings of Dresden basically caused the church to collapse, unless you’re a proponent of the “controlled demolition theory” (see Youtube).
Suggested duration: 30 minutes. Visit www.frauenkirche-dresden.de for opening times and more information.
On the outer walls of the Dresden Castle’s stable courtyard is this mural, completed in 1876 by William Walther. It celebrates 800 years of rulership under the Wettlin Dynasty, depicting 35 rulers through the years (all them Saxons look alike), along with 59 of their best homies (scientists, artisans and folks of the day). The mural was completely replaced in the early 1900s with porcelain tiles to make it completely waterproof, making it, to this day, at 334 ft, the longest and largest porcelain work of art in the world.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes. Visit www.dresden.de for more information.
Now that we’ve seen the outer wall of "Dresden Castle,” let’s see what’s inside. Built in the Baroque style in the early 1700’s, on the same place as two previous castles, (the first being built in 1200) this iteration is the one of the oldest buildings in Dresden, having survived the WWII bombing somewhat intact. Extensive renovations were only finished in 2013, so it still has a fresh sneaker smell.
Suggested duration: 60 minutes. Visit www.skd.museum for tickets, opening times and more information.
old and new green vault
Technically part of the Residenzschloss but worthy enough of a separate mention is this extensive collection of European treasure. With over 3,000 pieces of gold, silver and various gems, the Historic Green Vault feels like a meander through a wacky pirate’s wet dream while the New Green Vault still brings the goods but in a typical museum format as if by a pirate with a Victorian sensibility.
Suggested duration: 60 minutes. Visit www.gruenes-gewoelbe.skd.museum for tickets, opening times and more information.
zwinger & old masters picture gallery
After hearing about Louis XIV’s move to Versailles (Northern France - Part 3), the prince of Saxony, and newly crowned King of Poland Augustus the Strong, in keeping up with the Joneses, craved his own Versailles. Built in the Baroque style, this “enclosed killing ground,” wasn’t as imposing as it sounds. As the space between the outer and inner walls of the palace it was essentially used as a storage ground for cannons but sometimes opened up for the exhibitions and festivals hosted by the Dresden Court. Surrounded by museums, the main draw of the courtyard is the Old Masters Picture Gallery, which lives up to its name with the gamut of famous works, i.e. “Sleeping Venus,” “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” and “Chocolate Girl” (my kind of girl).
Suggested duration: 90 minutes. Visit www.gemaeldegalerie.skd.museum for tickets, opening times and more information.
Easily overlooked in the shadow of the Frauenkirsche is the Dresden Cathedral, completed in 1751 and commissioned as a Catholic response to the Lutheran Frauenkirche. Since the people were mostly Lutheran, it was basically built for the private purpose of the governing officials and was even connected to the Dresden Castle via elevated walkway to avoid awkward run-ins with Lutherans. While less picturesque than its counterpart, it holds remains of Augustus the Strong, and 49 other notable Wettlin Dynasty officials.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes. Visit www.bistum-dresden-meissen.de for opening times and more information.
Inspired by Roman architecture, Gottfried Semper designed this opera house in the neo-Renaissance style and completed it in 1841. It was famously graced on several occasions by Richard Wagner, who, despite his rabid anti-Semitism was a pretty great artist (the Mel Gibson of his time). The building was destroyed in 1869 but Semper was still alive to be awarded the contract for rebuilding it. Unfortunately he wasn’t alive when it burnt down again in 1945, but the architecture stays true to his original work. For those who can afford it, it’s worth revisiting at night for an actual performance, to experience the opera house as intended.
Suggested duration: 60 minutes. Visit www.semperoper.de for calendar, tickets, tour times and more information.
BONUS: slaughterhouse five
The 1945 bombing of Dresden famously served as the backdrop for Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse Five, much to the surprise of the uncultured plebeians who thought it was a book about the life and times of a butcher. But even the cultured among us probably aren’t aware that the titular slaughterhouse is an actual place, in which then-American soldier Kurt Vonnegut was imprisoned after being captured by Nazi forces. The site is easier to access and there’s much more to see if you visit through an official tour, though if you want to wing it, you can plead with the security guard to take a pic with the commemorative plaque.
Tour duration: 2 hours. Visit www.kurtvonnegut-tour.com for booking, schedule and more information.
STAY THE NIGHT IN: dresden or LEIPZIG
DAY 2: Conservative Arts (Leipzig)
monument to the battle of nations
Commemorating the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, in which Napoleon was finally cut down to his actual size (defeated), this monument was completed in 1913, one hundred years after the fact, on what was said to be one of the bloodiest sites of the battle. Signs of bloodshed have been replaced by an imposing structure, which was intended to lift up German spirits (apparently leading to an over-inflated sense of spirit in the form of Nazism). What looks like one of those evil-wizard towers from Lord of the Rings is just as dark-magical on the inside, with arresting sculptures and a hallowed out, fear-of-heights (and wizards) inducing interior. Even Hitler, who could’ve caught a cold from the ice inside his soul, said it as was favorite edifice in Leipzig, making it a personal office.
Suggested duration: 90 minutes. Visit www.stadtgeschichtliches-museum-leipzig.de for opening times and more information.
For a quarter century after its construction, this complex held the largest cotton mill in Europe, made of a whole town of factories and associated businesses. It’s since been largely repurposed as an art collective, with dozens of galleries and studios, its own art supply store, even its own coffee shop, because artists bleed coffee and their bodies are often composed of a collection of baked pastries in place of organs. Come to watch the “dance” of wealthy hipsters buying art from poor hipsters - the circle of hipster life.
Suggested duration: 1-2 hours. Visit www.spinnerei.de for list of galleries, opening times and more information.
bonus: BACH Museum
The famous German composer Johann Sebastian, who reached the apex of his career while residing in Leipzig, never lived in this house - he lived in the shithole across the street, since demolished. Rather, this house belonged to his benefactor, the Bose family (keep your friends close but your benefactors closer). The house, at one time housing an art gallery and later a music instrument gallery, now holds a collection of Bach artifacts, with original sheet music, and a listening room. No, you can’t change the channel.
Suggested duration: 60 minutes. Visit www.bachmuseumleipzig.de for opening times and more information.
st. thomas church
The art and architecture of this late-Gothic Lutheran church is overshadowed by the presence of its most famous member, one Johann Sebastian Bach, who served here as choir director for almost 30 years until he died in 1750 (artists have to pay the bills somehow). He must have really loved his work, since his tomb is under the choir floor. Richard Wagner, the talented anti-Semite, was also baptized and trained here in music but he was too cool to come back to his roots. It’s more fitting that there is a statue dedicated to Moses Mendelsson, a Jewish composer, whose work would have been seen as inferior by his peer Richard Wagner.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes. Visit www.thomaskirche.org for opening times and more information.
bonus: forum of contemporary history leipzig
For those of you fortunate enough to not have lived through Cold War-era Germany, you can still get a taste of the times without sacrificing any personal liberties at this engaging gallery, with over 3,000 artifacts, testifying to the oppression and the resistance.
Suggested duration: 60 minutes. Visit www.hdg.de for opening times and more information.
The entrance of this four story high passage, completed in 1914, is flanked by two feminine statues, one holding grapes, the other holding a vase - no, not wine and a bucket to puke in, but rather wine and ceramics, as this passage has served since its opening as a corridor of commerce. Now, it’s basically food and clothes (and cabaret), but the original architecture is perfectly preserved.
Suggested duration: 10 minutes. Visit www.maedlerpassage.de for opening times and more information.
st. nicholas church
While Johann Sebastian Bach was basically married to St. Thomas Church, St. Nicholas was basically his work wife; he premiered many of his works here. Rebuilt in the 16th century, on the foundation of a 12th century church, this Gothic church is most famous as the center of the peaceful revolt against Communist rule, the Monday Demonstrations. Of course, any excuse to skip Monday.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes. Visit english.leipzig.de for opening times and more information.
Leipzig marriott hotel ("Peaceful revolution" Mural)
On October 9, 1989, 70,000 people gathered for the Monday Demonstrations, to protest the oppression under the Social Unity Party of Germany. They somehow resisted the temptation to just destroy shit and their “Peaceful Revolution” turned out to be exactly what was needed to enact lasting change. The Berlin Wall fell just a month afterward - they basically knocked it down symbolically speaking. This mural pained by local artist Michael Fischer Art, on the side of Leipzig Marriott Hotel, is the perfect commemoration of the regime-shattering moment. Either that, or it’s just a super off-brand advertisement for Marriott Hotels.
Suggested duration: 10 minutes. Visit www.leipzig.travel for more information.
STAY THE NIGHT IN: LEIPZIG
DAY 3: Structural Integrity (Thuringia)
bonus: Auerworld Palast
The largest structure in the world built from still-living materials, this palace, designed by architect Marcel Kalberer, is composed of willow trees - hopefully plants don’t actually feel pain, because this is some Human Centipede-level treatment. It serves as the site of the “tree-hugging” Auerworld Festival, but also a good place for quiet reflection. Listen closely; you can hear them scream.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes. Visit www.auerworld.com for opening times and more information.
At this former concentration camp, Nazis forced an intensive labor program upon their prisoners - Jews, Poles, Slavs, the disabled, and homosexuals - basically anyone interesting. People often throw around the phrase “work to death” but not sure if that applies as much as it did here, where well over 50,000 people succumbed to poor work conditions, hunger, disease, execution and medical experimentation (in place of rats) at an average of 40 deaths per day while in operation. Post-Nazi Germany, embarrassed by the horrors perpetrated by their countrymen, destroyed most of the camp, leaving just a few buildings intact, but the highlight of your visit is the stainless steel monument maintained at 37 degrees C, the temperature of human skin - a chilling tribute to the lives lost.
Suggested duration: 60 minutes. Visit www.buchenwald.de for opening times and more information.
The first German constitution was enacted in this city at the end of World War I, lasting until 1933, when the Nazis rose to power and had something entirely different in mind, to say the least. Weimar, however, is most notable for its contributions to the arts, namely Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, best friends forever and quintessential literary-bros. Their bromance is forever cemented by the Goethe-Schiller-Denkmal statue. From there, you can tour the Schiller-Museum and Goethe’s House to learn about their individual contribution. The Goethe and Schiller Archive holds most of their literary remains, while Furstengruft holds their literal remains. For further reading on the subject, and overall library-goals, check out Duchess Anna Amalia Library.
Suggested duration: 3-4 hours. Visit www.weimar.de for more information.
While Weimar is known for its artistic contributions, Erfurt’s known for its architecture, being one of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany, which is nice because unlike Weimar, you can appreciate this city on a surface level without further education. The best example of Erfurt’s signature architecture is the Kramerbrucke Erfurt, a bridge lined with colorful homes which serve as shops and cafes today. The Old Synagogue Erfurt is worth a visit even if you’re not a member of the tribe; it’s the best preserved medieval synagogue in all of Europe, from the 13th century, and a memorial to the Jews who were expelled or massacred herein. (Jews - are they welcome anywhere?) North of the city’s center, you can see the Protestant Augustinian Monastery where Martin Luther got his start as a rookie monk - you can visit a recreation of his room, where he likely wrote at least some of his 95 Theses or at the very least thought about writing them but was too busy chilling. West of the city’s center, you can see Erfurt’s Cathedral, the city’s landmark. For dinner, choose between the two competing squares of Fischmarkt or Wenigemark depending on if you’re in the mood for fish or “wenige.” If you stay through the night, visit the local market in the AM, at the 9th century square Domplatz.
Suggested duration: 3-4 hours. Visit www.erfurt-tourismus.de for more information.