The 9:46 to Frankfurt
The 11:19 to Dresden
With a combination of broken German, English, sign language and baby talk, I was reassured by the Heidelberg ticket agent that our connection to Frankfurt would not split into two trains, and Carol and I could relax for the short, one-hour trip, and then on to our ultimate destination of Dresden.
As war crimes go, the Dresden firebombing has become historically famous thanks in part to Kurt Vonnegut, but can't hold a candle (as it were) to what America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the carpet bombing of southeast Asia twenty or so years later by that same America. Maybe it was the last act of man's inhumanity to man before the final curtain of the European theater of WWII, but "Dresden" and "firebombing" flow together like "Nazi" and "concentration camp."
The survivors of the two-day Allied bombardment went to work immediately rebuilding the city even while the bricks were still hot. Today, Dresden takes its rightful place among all the other bombed out German cities that rebuilt with a commendable commitment to the old and the new.
The bombing of the city is memorialized in a multimedia exhibition known as the Panometer. Somewhat ironically perhaps for a German WWII memorial, it is housed in a former gasometer, or large storage container for natural gas. Actually buying a ticket to voluntarily enter a gas chamber dating back to the Nazi era notwithstanding, the museum is a realistic, as well as artistic depiction of what it was like to be a soon-to-be former citizen of Dresden back in February of 1945. Thanks to my consistent sense of heading off in the opposite direction when it comes to trams, we had less than an hour to spend experiencing the destructive power of carpet bombing after finally arriving at 4:15 for a 5:00 museum closing. Still, the exhibit mixed photographs, light and sound to give a chilling feeling of being trapped in the city when the bombs began dropping.
Nothing takes the sting out of human atrocity quite like Happy Hour though, and we arrived back in the restored Old City (after a course correction on the bus system this time) on time for this one. Carol and I parked ourselves at a very pleasant and vibrant square, across from the royal residence, and near a mural of what appeared to be a social realism paean to Dresden's years under communist rule. Buskers plied their street musical talents at prescribed intervals, and over my first wiener schnitzel and pommes dinner in Germany, we enjoyed the earnest pursuit of a lithesome flutist by an older balding man, both out of his depth and ultimately the price of a couple of beers as well, with only an eventual empty chair to show for his efforts.
Dresden had a lot of energy and architectural beauty to show for itself, to say nothing of the most buttery and fork-worthy schnitzel in memory. We wanted to extend our stay, given we'd already given up a morning to wash day. I was annoyed when the hotel desk clerk coldly shook his head to adding another night, especially when both the hotel and booking.com were showing vacancies. Thinking back on that commie mural, I concluded the former East Germany still had things to learn about customer service, so we booked our tickets to Prague, home of the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution, with expectations of a more forthcoming display of eastern Europe hospitality. In this we would not be disappointed, though Prague's - and how shall I put this - metamorphosis into an overrun tourist mecca was more than a little - again, how shall I state it - Kafkaesque?
Less Kafka and more Vonnegut perhaps was one of my last images of Dresden. I was sitting on a tram, opposite a heavily tattooed man - the ink covering both arms but only one leg - who sat bolt upright, while reading a copy of - and I am not making this up - How to Win Friends and Influence People. I had an idea where the ambitious lad might go to apply for a job.