Ostalgie

I have proved myself as neither an enthusiastic nor as a good blogger, not least because I rarely do anything interesting enough to warrant mention. But having arrived back early this morning from a trip to the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik, I want to jot a few of my thoughts down – partly because some of this trip was alone and I don’t want to forget anything.

So after a somewhat manic 48 hours in Mainz spent celebrating Fasching aka Karneval (my pirate costume, far from fulfilling my sexy Johnny Depp ideals, earning me only an itchy skull and one drink bought for me by a drunk zombie), I climbed aboard an overnight bus to Leipzig. The fat man next to me who recorded Whatsapp voice messages all night (admittedly in an impressive 3 languages) coupled with the constant rain did not inspire confidence, and arriving in a city at 5am in drizzle at the ugly central train station is probably the worst way one can arrive anywhere. (I later discovered that the Hauptbahnhof Promenade shopping centre is one of the Top Things To Do in Leipzig. I disagree.) But cut to a few hours later, having been fed, watered and rested at my friend’s house, I was in better fettle and ready to explore the city with an objective eye.

First of all, Plagwitz and Lindenau. The hipster paradise where Salma lived was fantastic; little artsy cafes; artist studios; everything a little dilapidated but speaking to something that I feel like Germany in the west doesn’t have. There was a history; an intangible lived-in quality. The Altstadt is mostly pretty, with the old churches and the Altes Rathaus both stunning with how they look. The Museum fuer bildende Kunst was stunning, with East German art. I suppose where the disappointment came really was just in the realisation that Leipzig was just another German city – with a DM and a Rewe and a Galeria Kaufhof and all the other things that make places so unmemorable.

But then – 10 hours solo in Dresden. I arrived with a similar feeling of being underwhelmed; a Hauptbahnhof, a McDonald’s, a big shopping centre with a few old buildings. It’s only after about twenty minutes’ walking that you discover the Altstadt. I was astonished; it seemed to be best preserved pre-industrial age European city that I had ever visited. A breathtaking collection of beautiful buildings – and right in the centre the imposing Frauenkirche. Someone was talking about Jesus when I went in but, ignoring this, I did a lap and headed to the casements where I found an exhibition about the restoration of the Kirche. And then I realised what I knew already but had been too ignorant to work out – the entire Altstadt had been bombed. Not just destroyed in part, but completely razed to the ground, with less than 10% of structures left standing. What I was seeing was a reconstruction, mostly completed in the ’90s after the DDR. It was all fake; that was why it looked so perfect.

I looked around the Alstadt – the Zwinger Palace, the Opera House, one of the biggest outdoor frescoes in the world – with new eyes. I couldn’t decide if this affected the way I thought about the city, but decided ultimately that in a way it made it better. The love that the people of Dresden had shown to recreate in such amazing detail their old city, rather than just building a shopping centre, said something beautiful about humanity.

The Neustadt across the river – actually the oldest part of Dresden – is the complete opposite. Arsty cafes and pubs, little craft shops, with a Camden vibe but more real, feels extremely real and lived in. Nothing has been reconstructed; instead it has been adapted. Somehow, this beautifully complimented the rest of Dresden.

Completely and totally in love with the east.

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