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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Sixteen: Dresden

Michael Palin - New EuropeThere is undoubted beauty out there, but from our lofty viewpoint I can see that most of Dresden is not beautiful; largely rebuilt in the communist style, with the familiar swathes of concrete blocks, it looks like anywhere else in the east. I ask Felix what his parents' generation make of all that.

'They tell me that not everything was wrong in the German Democratic Republic. There was a larger community, everybody was helping each other, and yes, not everything was wrong. That's what they always tell me.'

Firmly grasping the balustrade, we move round till we're looking down over the Elbe, running from the mountains of the Czech Republic to the North Sea, winding its way through Dresden, dividing the Altstadt, the majestic complex of Baroque buildings on the west bank, from the lively student quarter of the Neustadt to the east.

Felix frowns, as if still thinking of his parents and their very different way of life.

'We say some people still have the Wall in their heads... that even seventeen years after reunification there is still segregation between the eastern part and the western part, and it will probably take another generation to get rid of that Wall.'

Today's Friday, the day of the week when they have a special service of remembrance in the Frauenkirche and prayers are exchanged for the people of Coventry and Dresden. Fifteen minutes before the service starts I find it almost impossible to find a seat. The place is packed.

Inside, the church is a riot of Baroque overstatement; marble columns, plaster clouds, sunbursts, grottoes with landscapes carved inside, buckets of gilding and a ceiling painted with glowing rose and salmon pinks. The service is, by comparison, a little colourless. The church organ thunders out some fine Bach fugues, but the address is muted and the congregation never gets to sing. Maybe this has more to do with the legacy of that stern black figure who stands on a plinth outside: Martin Luther.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Sixteen: Dresden
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Dresden
  • Book page no: 269

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