Back in November 2015, Alexej and I went for a short trip to Dresden and Berlin. I’ve been meaning to write about our trip since then, but other things seem to get in the way.
If you can't already tell, we're committed music fans (or at least Alexej is, and I tag along) so we had planned the trip to coincide with the German band Tocotronic playing in Dresden.
Within Germany, Dresden is well-known for its art, outside of Germany, our associations with the city for most people, including myself, is its destruction during the Second World War. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is perhaps the most famous English-language literature set in Dresden. It was an odd coincidence that Tocotronic should be playing in the Alter Schlachthof.
My German is so lacking that it wasn't until after the gig that I realised we had been in one of Dresden's slaughterhouses, perhaps even the same complex where Kurt Vonnegut was held. I found it an odd juxtaposition to have been unknowingly in a place that so potently symbolises the city's destruction in English literature, enjoying something that was so much the opposite of that.
It's hard to say how a good gig can affect you, it's like no other art form. It really speaks to the communal power that music can create.
Tocotronic is a Hamburg-based band formed in the early 90’s. Their song lyrics (according to Alexej, and as far as I can tell from my rudimentary Google translating) are fairly Dadaistic. There are still many with a political message, such as ‘Aber Hier Leben, Nein Danke’ (But to live here, no thanks), which is about German nationalism.
When they played this song in Dresden, it was especially poignant. Had we been there on any Monday, we would have seen the far-right, anti-Islamic group Pegida demonstrating in the city centre. In the face of such small-minded hate, it was heartening to see thousands of young Germans from Dresden and beyond who were against everything Pegida stands for.
Another highlight of our trip was the beautiful Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection), part of the Zwinger royal complex. August the Strong, who was Elector of Saxony in the early 18th century, amassed a huge collection of porcelain from China and Japan. He also commissioned thousands of pieces of Meissen porcelain from the surrounding region of Saxony. This includes a large collection of white porcelain animals, some of which are life-sized. The collection in the Tiersaal (animal hall) can be seen in the panoramic tour of the gallery available online.
The porcelain in the collection is exquisite, and I especially loved the red, blue, and gold colour scheme of these Japanese vases from around 1700.
Image © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons
The collection was evacuated from the city during the war, and stored in nearby palaces and mines. It was removed after the war and taken to the Soviet Union, but was then returned to the East German museums after the death of Stalin. As a material, there is perhaps nothing more symbolic of fragility than porcelain, and it’s amazing that this beautiful collection survived the bombing of Dresden.