Day 15-16: Buntes Republik Neustadt

The hugest annual block party, known as the Neustadt United Republic, is happening this weekend in Dresden. I live in the midst of Neustadt’s six block radius, where three days of music, food, amusement, and dancing are rocking ’round the clock.

Families, old and young, sprinkle the age span of the predominantly young crowds. There are plenty of Goths and tattoed skins everywhere to offer endless studies of humankind. Cops discretely surrounded all street entryways and checked big bags, but you hardly noticed their presence once you passed the gauntlet from the edges.

Fortunately, my apartment is tucked behind a group of buildings in a cool, quiet courtyard that offers a quick and easy respite from the street action. I felt entirely safe and comfortable in “my hood.” The Neustadt “Buntes Republic” has been an amazing celebration of youth and a testament to good event planning.

Classicism and Romanticism in Dresden

A free access museum ticket, with compliments of the Goethe Institute, gave me incentive to revisit all the Old Masters Galleries and beautiful collections of regental splendor in the Residence and Zwinger Museums. I found two masterpieces that I remembered from my art history class at UC Berkeley! I almost gasped when I actually saw the Raphael and Vermeer works. They were totally overlooked by other visitors. Cranach also made his way onto my radar, especially after seeing dedicated works in Weimar.

The Turkish Kammer, or Chamber, contains some of my favorite museum pieces. The horses with armor and saddles, the swords, and the huge tapistried tent gives you a flavor of the power of the Ottoman Empire in its heyday.

The porcelain gallery would have been a chore had it not been for a few of the early Qing dynasty pieces from around 1700-1730 that paralleled Augustus the Strong’s reign as King of Poland and as Elector in Saxony. Meissen porcelain was developed after studying highly admired and coveted Chinese porcelain techniques. The figurines reminded me of the early Han pieces from Dunhuang and Chengdu. These galleries, made to emulate Versailles, were fun to rip through, in perfect condition and with no visitors!

After seeing the Michelangelo drawing exhibition at the Met in New York City, I was drawn to the Rembrandt drawing exhibit in Dresden. The fine sketches and studies by Rembrandt were not only awe-inspiring to me, but a number of famous painters such as Goya and Max Beckmann took to imitating Rembrandt’s style.

Dresden beats “Florence on the Arno”

The image often used in referring to Dresden is “Florence on the Elbe”, especially after Italian master Canaletto painted the famous river that snakes artistically through the town. After gliding over the river on gleaming tram rails numerous times this week, I have grown fond of the impressive Baroque skyline, the dominating Frauenkircke and the serene Elbe backdrop.

My memory of the Arno was that it was hectic. We stayed as a family in a pensione with a room directly exposed to the river with the roadway alongside it. The scooters beeped and honked all night long. After leaving the windows open to catch the breeze, the residual night noise drove us into a daytime stupor.

Another time, another view painted by a follower of Canaletto

Dresden first hit my radar in an Art History class. Many of the Romantic era classical paintings were located in Dresden. The city stuck in my curiosity bucket until I matched intuition with knowledge.

Weekend Wrap

In the sleepy daytime I had a chance to catch up with German friends for a “Grill Party” in their garden. Germans are intimately tied to nature and passionate about their gardens. It was a relaxing afternoon closing out a busy week of German classes, museum visits and evening musical performances.

Days 10-14: Pfingsten Fling

Pfingsten stands for Pentacost, the Christian holy day celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Germans have a good excuse to enjoy the summer weather, join friends for barbeques in their community gardens, play music, and of course, drink beer. The extended three-day holiday gave me a chance to take day trips from Dresden, soak up more cultural events, and to hear music, music, music in the span of a whirlwind weekend between classes.

Hellerau, Germany

Hellerau, one of the first planned unit developments in the world, lies just north of Dresden. We found an excuse to visit there to celebrate the long holiday weekend and to see an open interactive dance performance in the festival hall.

Generously proportioned single family houses are tucked behind tidy gardens surrounded by fences. Each prominent sloping roof was built with design and care. Skylights not only provide light into the deep interiors, but some are also roof hatches. Newer codes require a landing outside the roof hatch if it is accessible, and a ship’s ladder provides access to the rooftop chimney. It seems like alot of getup just to solve a maintenance issue. Older houses do not have such complicated construction. And newer modern buldings are, yes, a showpiece in the neighborhood.

The Hellerau murals from the Forties show the Russian influence and the movement of troops through Moscow to Germany and Poland.

The Altstadt Music Crawl

Performers at the All-Day Musical Event in Altmarkt during Pfingsten weekend showcased numerous musical groups and genres. Music is everywhere in Dresden and delightfully unavoidable. We raced around the Residenz Schloss, the Kulturepalast, and the Japanese Palace, all within a stone’s throw of the Elbe River, to see a Brass Ensemble, rock bands, and choral groups (including featured image above) making music throughout the city center.

Handel’s Birthplace in Halle, Germany

About two hours west of Dresden lies Handel’s birthplace. The Handel Museum contained many unique historic instruments including organs, pianos, and wind instruments. A stirring poster advertising Handel music demonstrated the simplicity and power of propagandistic advertising. While the museum is not as informative as those in Leipzig for Bach, Mendelsohn and Schumann, it was still a worthwhile and pleasant excursion.

the Border between Poland and Germany (Görlitz)

Our German friends Hanne and Jens planned a special outing by car to Görlitz, about an hour east and outside of Dresden. They met me and Vladimir, a classmate from my first German class in Dresden, outside my Neustadt apartment. Being a holiday on Monday, it appeared that most of Germany was still working off the hangovers from too much beer the night before or was busy getting grills ready for the barby.

The town turned out to be a collection of historic buildings, lovingly restored to its 16th Century splendor. The St. Peters and Paul’s Evangelical Church on the German side was a massive building graced with many decorative elements. Artwork and sculpture complimented the sturdy structures thoughout the town.

Another Night at the Semper Opera, Dresden

A final performance of Carmen at Semperoper included a cast of thousands, modern clothing, and lackluster singing. The evening air outside provided lovely views of the city center and a refreshing pause between acts.

The Albertinum Museum, Dresden

The Albertinum was one of my “Go-Backs”, after German partner Jim reminded me that this museum contains paintings by one of my favorite artists–German Expressionist Otto Dix.

In addition, the Albertinum has impressive representative works of Chagall, Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, as well as those by German favorites such as Gerhard Richter and Max Liebermann. The slide show gives you a feel for each of these works.

And below are just a few of the random collection of works that I particularly liked. Portraiture and hands are appealing to me as I learn to draw and study the human figure.

DAY 7-9: new state of ALTSTADT AND OLD STATE OF NEUSTADT, DRESDEN

The location of Dresden’s landmarks are confusing, because the old part of the city was rebuilt after WWII and should be called Neustadt. But the neighborhood to the north of Dresden on the other side of the Elbe River is already called Neustadt. It was named that after a big fire in Dresden in 1685.

The beloved original Baroque buildings have been imitated every 200 years or so and throughout generations in between. So it is barely detectable whether they are from today (21st century), yesterday (19th century), or from its original reconstruction (1685). Dresden is fixated on the urban massing and proportions of five-story blocks with mansard, gabled roofs. It has committed itself to an elegant and functional building form worth repeating.

The plazas and central area of Dresden surrounding the major museums, the Frauenkirche, and the Semper Oper continue to impress old and new visitors to this historic imperial city. The large pit that was left open for a few years in the middle of the city due to archaeological excavations have been filled. In its place are replicas of the old Baroque buildings that were bombed during WWII. (See header above).

The Neustadt area where I live is jammed with young residents and visitors. It’s a lively scene where I live every night. Party-goers on bicycles invade the corner and perch on the curbs for hours on end. While the noise is evident, the scene is manageable. The bauhof or courtyard in my apartment building provides just enough sound separation to make unwanted noise undetectable.

The true test will be the annual local festival in the area next weekend, when the neighborhood comes unwound for three days. Clubs and restaurants will offer free music in nearly 20 different locations.

In the center of town, numerous free musical events took place throughout Altstadt (the old new part of the Old City). We caught a couple of young and old rock bands, two choir groups, and a brass chamber music ensemble. The often shuttered Japanese Palace was open on the weekend to host some of these events.

I’ve been buying my groceries at the corner Bio-Markt. It’s a minature supermarket complete with organic produce, fresh meat, dairy, and bread. I avoided the bread and wine to promote healthy living, but I did buy some landjaeger, one of my favorite dried sausages. It is packed with flavor, great for a snack or outing, and demonstrates one of Germany’s culinary skills- sausage-making.

Slowly, the Germans are learning how to eat better. Their culinary adventures are just catching up to the rest of the world. Germany has the second highest number of Michelin star restaurants after France. Like the English, German latter day awareness is under-appreciated. The fruit basket on display at a fair is a reminder of how ugly fruit and vegetables are shunned, despite the visually-appealing presentation..

An irresistible ticket price of 10 Euros drove me to the Semperoper to see Angela Georgeiou, the Romanian diva, in Tosca. Despite being in my favorite opera house, sitting in the fifth row slightly off center, a “clean” stage without a distracting cast of thousands, and the bargain, the performance was disappointing.

Day 4-6: Pictures at an Exhibition, Dresden

Although I am primarily here in Dresden for a German course, I feel like I am leading a double life. I have been researching Music Festival concerts being held for another week here, and I have managed to squeeze three in three days while attending classes. If you were ever contemplating how to take a music course by hearing performances, this is the place to do it.

Prices are reasonable and with student “rush” tickets, you are in business. I paid 20 Euros for “Pictures at an Exhibition”, a piano recital at the Albertinum Museum. It turned out to be a double bargain, since access to the museum was free immediately before the performance. 

In a fascinating program combining music and art, Tokarev first  played Tsaichovsky’s  “Character Pieces for a Year” for piano. Each month’s themes portrayed different moods and feelings, from romantic songs to grand celebrations. The second half was followed by Mussorgski’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. The tunes were skillfully enhanced by a video installation.

The program certainly increased my appreciation of the two composers and communicated the beauty in their work. Kandinsky’s “Large Gate from Kiev” painting from 1924 was featured in deconstructed movement and timing. Everything was seamlessly coordinated into an exquisite visual and musical experience.

Nikolai Tokarev, the soloist, has won numerous European piano competitions, performed alongside many European orchestras, and produced CDs interpreting beloved Russian composers. 

The Albertinum Museum exhibition, “100 Years of Bauhaus” was the second windfall. Created in Germany in 1920s, the Bauhaus included members shown in the exhibition such as Maholy-Nagy, Feininger, Klee and Kandinsky. It was a good warm-up to the performance.

The teachings of the Bauhaus formed the foundation for my undergraduate training in design at UC Berkeley. The Bauhaus developed design concepts and tools for mass production. Art, technology, architecture, painting, sculpture and construction were integrated from this movement.

Two-dimensional geometric lines and color like those by Piet Mondrian evolved into three-dimensional shapes. It is easy to see how industrial design and furniture like those by Marcel Breuer were an extension of isometric details and design.

The attendees at the exhibition of the Exhibition were exhibitions themselves. One woman wore a tastefully chosen black and white polka-dotted dress with red heels and accessories. Another more casually dressed gentleman clad in classic German black pondered in front of a textured wall. It served as a backdrop for artwork designed in the 20’s as part of the Bauhaus movement.

Last but not least, a quick rip through the classical section of the Albertinum revealed many forgotten items in storage and on display–a sad reminder of the dilemma of wealthy collectors.

After the end of the performance and three encores, the warm evening air outside reminded me of what a special place Dresden is in place and time. The view below is photographed from the Albertinum in Altstadt. Frederick Augustus, Elector of Saxony and the King of Poland, built most of Dresden’s original Baroque buildings here in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries.

Here are the other two concerts:

Grigory Sokolov Piano Recital

Born in 1950, Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov can still apply all faculties and fingers to a long and rare public performance. The audience was extraordinarily attentive, reflecting the pianist’s skillful yet delicate playing.

The Germans, as I have mentioned before, are stingy with kudos but you know you have seen something worthwhile when the audience gives multiple standing ovations (after stamping their feet). Sokolov showed his gratitude by performing several encores. It didn’t hurt that the newly renovated Concert Palace in the heart of Dresden is acoustically perfect. Musicians travel to the venue by bike and tourists arrive by public transportation at the front door.

Dresden High School for Music

The Dresden High School for Music demonstrated its mettle with a high quality string orchestra consisting of 11 to 19 year olds. The serious students and the attentive audience work hand in hand to promote a strong future for classical music in Germany. The building was beautifully and acoustically designed for occupants and visitors.

Day 1-3: NEUSTADT IN DRESDEN, GERMANY

After 24+ hours of travel and three delayed flights later, I finally arrived in my adopted home town of Dresden, Germany. Each time I stayed in a new German city, I declared it to be my favorite. But now I can’t help but be loyal to Dresden. This is my fourth or fifth time here so it is not surprising that the city endures in my heart and mind.

I discovered Dresden first for the International Music Festival. It was regarded by the UK Guardian as one of the best in Europe, with popular performers like Rufus Wainwright and Eric Clapton, as well as all the classical conductors of world-class symphonies. I returned to Dresden several times for everything else–the beautiful Baroque architecture, historical museums and art collections, the intimate surroundings, and the familiarity,

The Neustadt neighborhood, created after a major fire in the heart of Dresden’s Altstadt, or “Old City”, is still relatively historic and elegant, with Baroque buildings from the 18th Century. So it’s a bit of a misnomer and confusing to first-timers here. The streets are still relatively narrow in scale, with streetcars rumbling along the cobbled streets in a predictable ambient noise level. They are punctuated by the occasional bells ringing from the many local Protestant churches nearby.

Courtyard buildings, designed to allow light and air into the deep superblocks, create intriguing walkways and chasms of sunfilled delight and discoveries from the busy thoroughfares now laden with shops and restaurants.

Food is still inexpensive and inspired by international standards of quality and diversity. I had a vegan rice wrap with glass noodle and spring rolls with tea for under $8 for dinner last night, but had trouble deciding among the extensive selection of Japanese, Afghan, Indian, Turkish, and even German specialties within a one-block radius.

Inside the Kunsthof Passage, or “Arts Passage”, is a delightful array of new buildings designed in the same proportion and massing as the surrounding Baroque buildings. Exteriors are decorated with tile artwork in a fanciful display of creativity and fun. “Lila Sossa”, a resturant now becoming an institution in the area, serves organic dishes and desserts from Mason jars.