Wandering Around Germany: Leipzig and Dresden

Leipzig and Dresden are two cities I wish I’d had more time in (although I suppose I could say that about every place we visited in Germany). People have told me there is a different “vibe” in former East German cities and I definitely sensed that, although it’s hard to put your finger on if you’re an American just passing through. I loved this part of Germany and I hope to go back someday. This year’s trip will take us to the southwestern part of the country, far away from these cities that lived under communism for over 40 years.

Driving in to Leipzig, we were greeted by a mural with four scripture verses painted on it. This is one of my favorites, because it was always so precious to my mom:

My times are in your hands. Psalm 31:15

After some initial difficulty finding the hotel we had booked, we ended up “eating” the cost of the first night there and booking a second hotel, which ended up being wonderful and probably a step up from what we would’ve had.

We arrived in the late afternoon and had time to wander around before dinner. I hate to admit that we didn’t take much public transportation the whole time we were in Germany, opting to walk most of the time (which was good because we ate a lot!) The Völkerschlachtdenkmal, or Monument to the Battle of Nations, wasn’t far at all and that was the one landmark I knew I wanted to visit in Leipzig.

From here, you cannot really get an idea of the immensity of this monument. The dimensions, according to Wikipedia: “The structure is 91 metres (299 ft) tall. It contains over 500 steps to a viewing platform at the top, from which there are views across the city and environs.” It is visible from miles away. (The viewing platform was closed by the time we got there.)

If you know German history you know that Germany only became a nation in 1871. Before that, the area we think of as Germany today was actually dozens (and at some times, even hundreds) of separate kingdoms. There was no German nation state, yet this battle was monumental no only in its size but because of the fact that these Germanic kingdoms were fighting side by side against a common enemy (although some of the kingdoms fought alongside Napoleon). The monument is said to have been built where the most blood was shed 100 years before, in October 1813.

Though Waterloo might’ve been the “turning point” for Napoleon, this battle was the true landmark for the Germans. From then on, the invading French were pushed back West, and the German kingdoms were liberated from French control. After that, a decades-long struggle towards the unification of these kingdoms began.

If you want a history of this time period, I recommend Katja Hoyer’s book, Blood and Iron. The cover says 1871 to 1918, but it also gives a good treatment of the events leading up to 1871.

Although it was closed by the time we arrived, you could still climb the outside, and you would break a sweat doing so! Some people were actually getting their evening exercise by running up the stairs, back down the other side, around, up again… you get the idea.
The slogan God With Us, carved above St. Michael the Archangel, who is the patron and protector of soldiers. Also, another proof of the sheer size of this monument: note the person in the bottom right hand corner.

After that we walked across the street to a nice Greek restaurant and ate on the large covered patio (it was drizzling by then). The staff was incredibly friendly. Then we took a different route back home, alongside a park in which we spotted a couple of the markers in the area, indicating locations of certain armies and events during the battle.

The next day we made the hour-plus drive to Dresden to visit the Military History Museum.

The drive itself was beautiful. I never got tired of these narrow, tree-lined roads or the countryside to the left and right.

We spent at least four hours at the museum and did not see the the entire place. However, I’ll share some highlights here.

This whole journey started out with a simple book about an army medic… little did I know that it would become much more than writing a war story from the German perspective.
Meanwhile, my husband gawked at something a little larger…
Inside the museum, you see how honestly and humbly Germany has acknowledged its past, confronted it, tried to learn from it, and is striving to ensure that the same mistakes are never made again.

I was struck by the artwork. I suppose readers know that I have always had an interest in military themes, but there is something particularly moving about these scenes now that German history has become such a passion for me.

Though located in a different room of the gallery, I include this collection here because it is thought provoking when considered alongside the painting above. These photos were all taken of soldiers before they departed for the front. Those who left in 1914 and 1915 were full of nationalistic fervor, believing what they’d been told: that they were going to fight a defensive war. Those who were drafted later in the war reveal a much more somber state of mind.
This is an 1888 painting by Julius Langer. Queen Luise of Prussia with Prince Wilhelm (1797-1888) and Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (1795-1861). The caption reads: “This painting, made in the year in which the emperor died, shows young Wilhelm after having fled from Napoleon in 1806-07. His mother Luise, hailed as an opponent of Napoleon, is shown symbolically adorning Wilhelm with “Prussian-blue cornflowers, as if she already knows that it will be he rather than his older brother who will unite Germany under Prussian leadership.”
Because of the limitations placed on Germany under the Treaty of Versailles, dummy weapons were often a part of military training.
Peace of Versailles Statuette. Schrimpf, 1919. The caption reads, “A dagger lies at the feet of a naked, strongly built man who is wearing a steel helmet and whose hands are tied. This works is meant to be an allegory of he Treaty of Versailles, which has widely perceived as oppressive. It also alludes to a popular myth, according to which an undefeated German army was stabbed in the back.”

Propaganda, even Allied propaganda, has far reaching effects. Therefore it is easy to take what we’ve learned in history class at face value without really reconciling with the fact that people’s experiences and feelings ran the gamut. I enjoyed writing The Prodigal Sons because it allowed me to put myself in the shoes of average Germans following the First World War. The Rubicon, Book 3 of the Gott Mit Uns series, will pick up where TPS left off.

While there was so much more to see, I will forgo the Second World War displays and opt instead to share a small selection of the post-WW2 photo gallery.

The caption next to the photo explains that these boards were set up in towns around Germany, to confront the general population with the war crimes of the National Socialist regime.
Please take a moment to study these pictures, and read the caption about Truemerfrauen, literally, rubble women, who were responsible for most of the cleanup in Germany after the Second World War.
GDR posters cheering on the rebuilding, development and peace of postwar Berlin and Dresden.
German Unity Day, June 17, 1953 in which Berliners, and people throughout East Germany, demonstrated against increased quotas for workers, who were being forced to labor for the continued Sovietization of East Germany. This picture is also striking because it shows a still badly damaged Brandenburg Gate, 8 years after the war. Many landmarks in East Germany were left to decay for decades, including, most notably, the Reichstag building.

You can see a few more pictures from the 17th of June at my post on Berlin.

There was much more to see in this museum, but we had limited time because of a fun dinner date with friends of a family from church. We made the drive back to Leipzig and headed to the “hip” part of town for Indian food!

Indian food is good anywhere in the world!

The things you find along the way are often amusing… (There is actually a lot of graffiti in Germany.)

As I said, too short a stay in Leipzig and Dresden. We spent time roaming around the Altstadt in Leipzig the next morning and did a little shopping before continuing our whirlwind tour of Deutschland. You can click on the pictures below to enlarge them.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some reminisces from our brief stay in Leipzig and day trip to Dresden. Auf wiedersehen!

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