Date: 14 November 1999
Subject: Dresden 
We took the train from Vienna to Dresden. It was quite interesting travelling through the Czech republic, but after we passed Prauge it was dark... so we arrived in a place at night, but we had someone meeting us... so it was ok. We WERE a bit nervous about the family we would be staying with. Annett is the pen pal of a strange friend of Cheryln's. We were told ahead of time that they REALLY like Americans. Didn't really know what to expect!

She met us at the train station and was very nice, we all jumped into her car (a Ford) and headed out of town towards her village. She was very apologetic that her car was so old and so small... and she stopped for dinner at McDonalds!!! It was a bit upsetting, but, we figured, part of the experience -- it's the first time I have eaten there in about 15 years. It was strange, sitting in the former East Germany in a McDonalds! I didn't know that they had veggie burgers though! We were in the car for a LONG time, driving through dark mountain roads... it turned out to take 'only' 1.5 hours because it was Sunday evening.

Annett and her family live in a village called Bärenstein which is up in the mountains outside of Dresden and RIGHT on the Czech border. We arrived in the dark, of course. The house was beautiful and very large. We were shown the guest room on the third floor with MANY apologies about how small the house was and how terrible the beautiful old wood furnishings were.

The family had the whole week planned out for us, every second... One of the reasons we had come was to try to see the once every 33 years Leonid meteor storm that I had been looking forward to for 27 years (it's on my birthday and has long been a fascination for me!) They didn't quite understand why we wanted to do this, and insisted on calling the Planetarium several times to confirm something was happening.

We told them we were eager to see their village and spend some time in the mountains and also see Dresden. They were adamant that their village was horrible, and we should spend our week at museums in Dresden. They would, they offered, drive us every day. We had passed a train station about a 10 minute walk from their house and when we asked about the train they scoffed! "It takes too long!!!", "NO ONE uses it!", "But we have a car! We will drive you!!! it only takes 45 minutes!"

We had to get up at 4:45 the next morning so that we could drive to Dresden and Annett could make her 8am class. We still didn't get to see the house or village in the daylight. The 45 minutes was actually about 2hrs & 10 minutes. It was about 0 degrees C (32 F) and there was a little snow in Bärenstein, but none in Dresden.

Annett insisted that we could not walk around in the cold (despite the heavy coats we had bought in Budapest) so she put us in a study room at the University and told us to stay there for 3 hours. Of course we went walking... it was a glorious day. We explored the old palaces of Dresden and saw a fabulous mural called the Procession of the Dukes which is a ceramic mosaic with all of the Dukes of Dresden from 1000 to 1871 on horseback. It's an amazing work, each Duke is dressed in the style of the day and you can see the slow changes from armor to the fancy medieval gowns back to modern military uniforms. For each Duke there is the motto, the years reigned, and symbols. It is really cool! My favorite was Albrect II, he looked very Pagan. The view of the city along the river was beautiful! We found a really nice veggie restaurant (called Mr. Clou, which is a strange name because that sounds like the slang name for bathroom in German!) and even found a place to do email!

We spent the whole day (from 7 am to 3) exploring Dresden... it was Dresden really cool. It's an amazing city, also kind of scary. There are all these giant West German department stores that have sprung up along the pedestrianized main shopping street -- alongside the 4 identical, privitized former communist hotels! There is one department store which was built in the middle of the old town market square!! Everything is new and modern and slick -- and there is nary a mention of the horrible unnecessary fire bombing raid by the US Air Force Feb 13 1945 which killed 30,000 people and destroyed the entire city. Every history of the city we saw the entire time we were there skips the period from February 12 1945 to November 4 1989... there is NOTHING mentioned! It is very eerie!

We also got information on the train to Bärenstein... it takes 55 minutes and is very cheap, 9 bucks would get a ticket for two people good for 24 hours for unlimited rides on the train, AND on the Dresden trams and buses!

Annett met us in the afternoon she was APPALLED that we actually WALKED around the city and insisted that we go to the museum with the crown jewels in it! She even paid our way in. We are not much for museums, but it was ok, lots of diamonds and shiny things; we tried to be polite to our hosts. The whole museum was centered around August the Strong, the king of Saxony who tried to mimic Louis XIV. Annett was very bored while we were in there.

Afterwards we drove 2 hours back to Bärenstein. They prepared dinner for us, but they didn't eat. We had white bread and american cheese, fish sticks and instant potatoes. I am NOT complaining, it was wonderful to be fed and they were very very nice people who were desperate to please; but it was VERY weird... The whole family had this attitude that the USA was perfect and wonderful and anything else was terrible.

They were in the process of replacing all of their furnishings and fittings with cheap plastic american ones, and were ashamed that they had not completed the task. They felt shame because their car wasn't huge and new. It was all about material things -- and status oriented, not quality. It was the most bizarre thing! The parents didn't speak english at all, but if we tried to speak a little german we were scolded harshly (or laughed at). German bad. English good. This was literally a little cult of the 1950's america. They were trying VERY hard to BE 1950s america... Cheryln called them the warped Cleavers! It was frightening and rather upsetting.

We had a very strange and long argument about what we would do the next day. We couldn't bear to get up at 4:45 again, just to spend 2 hours in the car. We had not seen the village in the daylight yet (and their plans for the next 3 days all involved leaving before dawn and returning after dark). It was like they were trying to hide the place from us. We desperately wanted to see the village. They were APPALLED that we wanted to take the train -- "NO ONE takes the train! It's expensive, it's difficult, it takes too long, we have a car!" The train to them, was anti-american, it was German and therefore bad. They agreed to let us take the train, but they would NOT allow us to walk the 10 minutes to the station. They MUST drive us!

So they drove us to the train and waited with us until it arrived and put us on the train. The train ride down out of the mountains was stunningly gorgeous, there were a dozen beautiful villages, several castles, a gorgeous river all the way down and wonderful forest! We were in Dresden in less than an hour.

The family was very nice, but the whole thing had left us very stressed out. We tried to get away from the mall-like pedestrian district and finally found an interesting district and even a neat looking Umweltzentrum (Whole world center...) After sitting in the lobby for almost an hour we discovered to our extreme joy, a natural foods co-op and and a natural fiber clothing store! ORGANIC MILK!!!! I bought socks. We were much happier! We wandered a bit more and then headed for the train station for another GORGEOUS ride back to Bärenstein... we thought about going the 3 more stops to the top of the mountain to see the sunset, but the mother was at the station to meet us. (They always referred to the family members other than Annett as The mother The father The grandmother or Our Father...)

We actually got to see the village and the house for the first time!!! The village is BEAUTIFUL and the house was lovely... large, with a couple of extra buildings and set in the side of a hill looking across the valley.

The father keeps rabbits and has some HUGE ones, they are european prize winners (and food!)...

Another bizarre June Cleaver dinner; again none of the family ate, only us, being served. We were very uncomfortable... and they refused to let us help clean up or anything. That night we went ice skating in the nearby village with Annett and some of her friends... it was a lot of fun! I have not skated in years and never inside. Of course I had to have hockey skates, which I have not used, but I got used to them pretty quickly... Cheryln had never skated and took a bit of work, but she was doing pretty well by the end. I had fun, but I took one big spill (right in front of everyone) and earned a giant bruise on my elbow.

A funny thing happened... Cheryln acquired a fan club of 11 year old boys... they followed her around at a distance for some time. Finally they approached us and said hi. We said Hello back and they all laughed and skated away. It seems that American visitors are VERY rare in this part of Germany and they had NEVER met an English speaker before. They had been learning English, but had never spoken to a native speaker. One skated along in front of us for a few minutes and we had a short conversation... he loved it!

We were very tired and went to bed afterwards, we DID look out the Northeast facing window at around 2am to see if there were any meteors, it was clear, but we saw nothing... this was only the day before.

The next morning I was suffering from a migraine, the stress of the place was getting to me. We had a WONDERFUL room, and the people were very nice, but we didn't have time to relax and it was just so weird!

November 17 is a holiday in Saxony so Annett was our tour guide this day. We left late... I think they were frustrated that we weren't ready earlier, but we were never told a time to leave, it was very confusing.

First we drove to the Czech Republic to buy Gasoline. It is about 20 minute drive away and if the exchange rate is good they can save a few DM on a tank of gas... but they HATE the Czechs! Man they constantly talk terrible about them! We have found in general that in Eastern Europe, people really hate the country next to them, and everything we have been told about "THOSE PEOPLE" has been untrue... the animosity is amazing, nothing like the little grudges in western europe.

Annett drove us to a village about 1.5 hours away. She got lost, Seiffen and we got to see some wonderful scenery. Seiffen is a very very touristy village which makes wooden toys. It was crammed with people, but because it was a holiday the food stands were not opened.

We went to the museum that showed the history of the toymaking and many of the wooden toys... it was pretty cool. The stereotype nutcracker of the ballet is from there... they also make these little animals by making a donut in the shape of the animal outline and cutting slices out! The museum was modern and well done! After a much needed bite to eat (Annett NEVER eats!) which in Germany is never short, we headed to the Village Museum, an outdoor recreated village with houses from all over the area. It was gorgeous, especially with the light dusting of snow that had fallen the night before. We got to see someone making those animal donuts!

Back at home we sat in her room and watched CNN. I had always known that they were pretty shallow, but this was amazing to watch... they did a little bit about the Leonids, but almost everything they said was wrong!!

        Old town, 1 Prauge, Czech Republic 


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