Dresden: Old, yet New, yet Old again

Thirty one years since my last visit to Germany. First stop: Dresden.

A couple of days travel and I am just getting used to the idea that we are in Germany. The disorientation is phenomenal. There was an odd start from the beginning when we heard the announcement in the Salt Lake City airport for someone to meet their probation officer at the world map to the first morning in Dresden when we heard Italian music playing at 4:30 in the morning in the courtyard of our Aztec-themed guest house. Getting used to being 1/3 of the way around the world is fun when accompanied by the love of my life Kim, and my mom.

Dresden, formerly in East Germany, is now a capitalistic tourist enterprise that has not yet recovered from the fire bombing by the Americans in February 1945. But at the same time it is trolling for tourist’s money by trying to replicate the Dresden that was pre-war while constantly reminding you why it is necessary. An odd combination of old and new and yet old again.

Kim reminds me that Kurt Vonnegut, whose book “Slaughter House Five” is based on his survival of the fire bombing as a prisoner of war, seemed to have been permanently affected by the incident since it shows up in all his writing. Then you realize that all of Dresden also seems permanently affected by the bombing since it is under a constant scheme of reconstruction over the past fifty years. That fact alone gives you a sense of sheer horror of the event.

The confusion on my part stems from the feeling that they should be over it by now. Most survivors have died a natural death. Get over it already! But Kim reminds me that Dresden, as part of the former East Germany, was stuck in time. During the time it was East Germany, little happened. And what did happen is hardly acknowledged by any historical markers.

There’s Dresden up to 1933, then the Nazis came, then in 1945 the United States bombed the crap out of it, then the wall between East and West Germany is built to the west of it, then the wall comes down in 1989. What happened from 1945 to 1989? Nothing. Apparently, they didn’t even move the rubble since they have reconstructed castles, churches, palaces and opera houses to their per-war glory with the original blocks. Where none survived, they made exact duplicates.

There’s a feeling of absolute majesty and a bazaar feeling that it’s all fake at the same time. It’s just weird to be in Dresden and that’s what makes it fascinating. Traveling with a history teacher and someone who lived in East Germany (my mom), it’s even more interesting. I get to see the joy in Kim’s face as she truly realizes the magnitude of Dresden’s (and East Germany’s) recent history annotated with my mom’s own experiences.

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