Rising from the ashes

Last night in Dresden all the church bells rang in commemoration of the 1945 bombing. They chimed from 9:51, when the first alarms sounded, to 10:14, when the first bombs dropped. As we are staying in the heart of the Old City, we had a real ground-zero feeling.

But it’s the rebuilding of Dresden that is so overwhelming. After the fall of the communists, these people determined to reclaim their history. They did it in an amazing way, sparing no resource to bring their most treasured buildings back to life.

We spent the day at the Royal Palace, the Renaissance residence of the Saxon prince electors and kings. It is gradually being rebuilt, in the most meticulous fashion.

The Palace holds the treasuries of Augustus the Strong, and showcase the extravagance of the Baroque age. The first vault – the Historic Green Vault – is notable for the magnificent Baroque rooms, not to be photographed, but completely re-created from the destruction shown in the top photo. Its rooms are chock-full of amber, ivory, silver, gold and jewels – just a part of what Augustus collected over his reign. The rooms were as gorgeous as the contents.

Then there is the New Green Vault, which has very similar samples of the genius of the times, only in modern rooms which allow photography.

My personal favorites of all the amazing goodies produced to honor and amuse Augustus are the ivory objects, which defy reason. Yes, I am very sorry for the elephants involved, but the craftsmanship involved using the lathes which turned these tusks into art is breathtaking.

Of special note is the German representation of the birthday celebration of the Grand Mogul Aurengzeb, done at the beginning of the 18th century. Based totally on available research into the exotic east, this incredible throne scene portrays the birthday celebration of the Grand Mogul, in which 132 figures do their best to make it a happy one for him, piling on gifts that might please him. Today, the work is still bedecked with 4,909 diamonds, 160 rubies, 164 emeralds, one sapphire, sixteen pearls, and two cameos. (391 precious stones and pearls have been lost over the course of its nearly three-hundred-year existence.) What a party.

Miscellaneous other wonders just piled on, making the sunlight seem pale when we finally emerged from the palace. Even the rare green diamond of the crown jewels was just another trinket in this vast collection of treasures. We ended in the Turkish Chamber, filled with treasures from the Ottoman Empire, highlighted by a 60-foot long three-poled silk tent from the 17th century, the most complete in Europe, and a real dazzler.

We are in awe of the work that has been done in the last 25 years to restore this palace to its original splendor. Was it expensive? Oh, yes. But can you put a price on restoring such a treasure, so central to this city’s story of itself? A job well done.

We celebrated with an Italian Valentine’s Day late lunch and then strolled through a square filled with a winter carnival. After all we’ve seen today, how odd to include the sight of McDonald’s. But, it’s all part of modern Dresden.


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