Just a note to get the blog started.
Across the Atlantic: Omaha-Atlanta-Frankfurt
I am not sure going across the ocean will ever feel routine, but it is my umpteenth trip and (we counted) our fifth trip to Europe together, and the first time without Kai or Kati. It seems ridiculously privileged to „upgrade“ from going every other year to going every year, but there is a dual justification: I feel like we need to start going to see my mom more often, now that she is past 75, and this year, the middle of our trip, two weeks in Italy, is actually a research trip for my art history MA. So the brief preview is: a week in Germany, with my mom and stop-overs in Dresden and Berlin for some art I need to see, then 2 weeks in Italy (8 days in Florence bookended by 3 day’s in Rome on each end), and then another 8 days in Germany to be with family and friends in the Up North part of Germany.
I am looking forward to all of it, although I have moments when a) I am worried that all the art I need and want to see will bore Mark and b) I feel twinges if insecurity because I don’t know whether I will do the research trip “right.” I have never done archival art history research and have only just started going to art museums with a “research” rather than “look at all the cool stuff!” agenda. But then I remind myself that between taking good notes and having Mark take his professional-grade photos, I will probably prevent his boredom and also maximize record keeping and remembering (if not as yet analyzing or idea genesis). That will, however, make this blog both very “meta” (because I will have to reflect on traveling and on the places we see as places as well as just record things we do & see).
Post-Trip Postscript: Initially, I thought that, in order to make it easier for myself and any potential other readers (few as they may be) to separate the classic travel blog from the more academic art history reflections, I would try to divide the entries on relevant days into the regular journal and a segment I will call AH-TLDR (Art History: Too Long Don’t Read). But I gave up on that because the blog basically became a mish-mash of the two as art history took over our trip completely, about 4 days in. So the initial AH-TLDR separation will disappear after a few days from the blog.
To gather my thoughts and at the same time give those of you who might be curious about my academic goals an introduction, here is the first AH-TLDR section, as a story of my discovery, over the past year, of what I want to find out more a put to prepare for writing my MA thesis next year” (as well as some conference papers).
When I applied for the MA program in art history in the fall of 2017 to start in 2018, I frankly had no idea what I wanted to do apart from learn more about a field that i have always loved in a layperson/amateur kind of way, and perceived as adjacent to literary studies, my first love, academically speaking. And it was honestly partly an attempt to find a bridge to get me from leaving behind a tenured position teaching English to whatever work I was going to be doing next, an enticing alternative to adjuncting as an instructor or part-time work in administration. So despite the qualms I had about not making a living, but just “consolidating” as I moved to Lincoln (which frankly has saved us more than a part-time position would pay), I took the plunge, applied, and THEN started to think about what I might want to study in depth. I had never taken a formal art history course, until I decided to prep for grad school by starting on a standard 2-semester on-line survey in the spring of 2018. I started with the second half, Renaissance to Contemporary Art, and frankly (and unsurprisingly) felt like a kid in a candy store. Even the art I hadn’t ever thought of as interesting before (rococo would be the prime example), I learned to appreciate at least conceptually.
That meant, of course, that the course in itself didn’t generate a specific area or era that peaked my interest—there was so much fun stuff there! But I was still teaching English that spring, and also giving a faculty lecture on campus that I decided had to be about the author I had spent the last 10 years researching off and on—the 19th-century British novelist George Eliot. And as I was writing the lecture summing up my past work about her, I started to think about how to build her into my future work—since I already knew about (but had never looked into) her interest in art and the ways in which she built works of art into her novels. In my talk (in March of 2018) I briefly mentioned how interesting it would be to look into this, giving a famous example: Eliot’s use of a Roman sculpture called the Sleeping Ariadne in her novel Middlemarch.
I didn’t do much with this idea except hold it in my brain (I was pretty busy wrapping up 18 years of full time teaching at Hastings College, and moving) but over the summer, I read the one novel by Eliot which I hadn’t read before and in which art played a special role: Romola, a historical novel set in Italy during the Renaissance, specifically in 1490s Florence, which featured a lot of Renaissance art and architecture and even Eliot’s portrayal of a minor Renaissance painter, a guy I had never heard about named Piero di Cosimo.
This meant that by the time I started grad school in the fall, I knew that I wanted to do “something” with George Eliot and her interest in art history, and very likely with her interest in the Renaissance. In order to get more direction, I picked a grad class in methods of art history and one in contemporary art, as well as an undergrad survey of the Italian Renaissance. So questions piled up really quickly: what did other writers in the 19th-century think about the Renaissance? Why was the Italian Renaissance such a big deal for the Victorians? I had always been interested in what was called “reader reception” and “reception history” in my field: how do readers in different time periods read the same book differently, and what does that tell me about the book’s meaning? Now these questions were morphing as I applied them to works of art, and especially to the question of how Victorian writers (that is, Eliot and her compatriots) saw the Renaissance.
At the same time as I discovered that there was still much work to be done in art history when I comes to the way women looked at and wrote about art. Women artists were few and far between until (and even far into) the 20th century, but women have been looking at art for a long time, and starting in the 18th century, they also began to comment on that experience in published writing. Could I think of these writers as art historians? Did they look at art differently from men? Did they look at different kinds of art?
Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out more about the Renaissance itself, to be able to compare how modern art history sees it differently from the way the Victorians would have, and I used Piero di Cosimo, the real painter that Eliot “recycled” as a character in her novel as my first case study, trying to get a good sense of how he’s been interpreted over time. That gave me even more of a sense of how the idea of the “Renaissance artist” has changed (and also not changed) from admirably eccentric genius to trained professional in a complicated relationship to a variety of patrons with different tastes and demands.
And then another thing can to play a role: as I was taking my first class in the Digital Humanities, I got a preliminary glimpse of things people did in history, art history, museum studies, and archaeology with digital means, and I landed on the idea of maps and cartography. Couldn’t I look at and keep track of all of these questions by way of mapping spaces? I was thinking that I could track Eliot’s (and maybe other women writers’) art travel on maps ranging from all of Europe to individual cities with what are called digital heritage tools—interactive maps and timelines created based on data that I could gather in databases with geographic coordinates and other information. Wouldn’t that be interesting, especially with view to the idea that women were certainly scripted to maneuver space in a different way from men? Would that result in different spots being visited, both at the large and the small scale? Or just different levels of interest in certain places?
So at the end of my first semester, I had a ton of ideas, still mostly swirling around George Eliot, but thanks to my advisor’s patient reminders that this on its own wouldn’t make a good art history thesis, expanded them a bit—to two fairly well-known writers who wrote more specifically about art, Anna Jameson and Lady Eastlake, née Elizabeth Rigby. And I was pretty sure that I was in fact going to zero in on Renaissance Italy. But while the focus was narrowing, I still didn’t feel I was quite there.
So I used the opportunity of a grant proposal to narrow my ideas further. I applied for a research grant to go to Rome and Florence, with an emphasis on Florence, as the city that was a more coherent and compact “Renaissance experience” for 19th-century are travelers, in contrast to Rome, where tourists were basically overloaded with trying to experience 2000 years of history from Republican Rome to their own time all jumbled together in across a large terrain. The idea was to see the works I was reading about on site (in many cases, exactly in the same spot as in the 19th century, and of course in the case of architecture, frescoes, and some sculptures, in the same spot where they were created or erected in the Renaissance), and to record spatial information to put this all on a map and figure out what impact the actual space might have had on the art experience of female travelers (especially female travelers). Much of that would still need to be based on written accounts, including guide books and travel writing, but I knew that comparing those descriptions to the actual spatial conditions would be as important as following in the women writers’ footsteps by studying the works they wrote about from up close.
Bu the time I had written the grant proposal, I was determined to go either with or without university support (I did get $ 1500, which covers transportation), and I prepared for that with practically all my coursework that semester on some way or another. First off, I was super lucky because I got to take an art history course on the Renaissance city that took Florence as its example case. That was perfect to get a sense of the art, the social history, and the urban development of the city, and it also gave me a shot at trying out my ideas with a sample location: the monastery of San Marco in Florence, where many of the most famous art works were off limits to women until 1869, when the monastery became a museum. I looked in detail at how George Eliot and Anna Jameson wrote about the art that they could and couldn’t see there.
At the same time, I took two Digital Humanities classes, one on geographical information systems and one on digital editing, where I was able to try out some ideas pertaining to mapping out art locations that George Eliot wrote about in Romola and in a “travel blog” that she wrote on her first trip to Florence.
And on the edges of all of that, even my seemingly unrelated course on Greek sculpture became a way for me to explore something George Eliot had made me curious about a year earlier: what WAS the story of the Sleeping Ariadne, which was considered “Greek” even though only the Roman copy in the Vatican museums (and several other Roman versions, as it turned out) survive?
So by the end of this first year, I felt like I had thought of nothing but things relating to my thesis, but all at enough distance from the center of it that the projects where more like satellites on orbit around the big central idea I’d been slowly approaching, always reshaping and reformulating it in my mind and I was hopping from one satellite idea to another. I think this oblique approach worked well with how I tend to think about something that is new to me, exploring the unknown periphery and working my way to the center only once I have a sense of possible facets of the big picture that might never get full attention later.
The reason that I think this worked well for me (although it is cumbersome and circumlocutious to the max, and can cause tears of frustration) is that by the end of the spring semester, I had a big conceptual breakthrough. For one thing, I realized that I was biting off much more than I could chew, and that the natural focus for my thesis would be Florence. Secondly, I found out that I needed to restrict not just the space but also the time I was writing about—a lot of ground shifts happen after the 1860s in the way women access and write about art in Italy, and many people have written about the last 2 decades of the 19th century already. So my focus will be the 1850s and 1860s. Thirdly and most importantly, I had always thought of the project as an exploration and comparison of the three women authors that were going to be my focus, and it took the space-oriented work of the spring semester for me to realize that the project needed to be about locations! In hindsight, that seems a duh realization, but I had to get there!
So as it stands now, I am looking at women’s writing about art in three very different location types, namely churches (or sacred space), open plazas (or public space), and museums (a sort of hybrid between private and public spaces, considered more appropriate for women spectators than piazzas and public buildings, and yet also full of art objects considered improper to see or at least to publicly comment on for women. Florence has three super interesting and super famous locations that fit my bill (namely, the Monastery of San Marco, the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Uffizi museum), but I will write about these later, or I will never get to the end of the entry.
How this will shape my actual on-site exploration is still a little fuzzy. We’ll experience the spaces and take plenty of photos while I write about everything. But I still think I need to experience and study both the center and the periphery: On the one hand, I feel the need to go to every museum, church and piazza in Florence (and to a bunch in Rome that are primarily about Renaissance-art) that 19t century tourists went to, especially if I already know that my women writers wrote about them—but one the other hand, I want to focus on my three sample locations (and visit the Sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican museum and its twin in the Uffizi in Florence, just for kicks). So I will try to strike a balance! And en route, I will check out some Italian Renaissance art that ended up in Dresden and Berlin, where George Eliot and her compatriots who visited Germany admired them.
I am very excited. And, as I realize, too full of information to ever make the AH-TLDR portions have a reasonable length for any reader!
We got to Frankfurt from Omaha via Atlanta without a hitch, but with the usual not-enough-sleep during the short 8-hour night. We did watch a couple of interesting documentaries (the one about free solo-climbing of El Capitan in Yosemite, since we watched climbers WITH ROPES there in 2012 in awe, and one about the origins of the Meow Wolf art collective, since we went to their House of Eternal Return exhibit in 2017) and I watched the Ruth Bader Ginsberg fiction film, which was meh but at least made the time pass. Since we were so punctual, we had a lot of time to hang out at the Frankfurt train station at the airport (from 9 to almost 1 pm) and then the long but beautiful train ride from Frankfurt to Osnabrück, which took another 4.5 hours, with some beautiful views of the Rhine and all kinds of little castles and terraced vineyards and fortified walls. We chatted with an adorable elderly couple on their way to Bremen. The husband had forgotten all his English (he was at least in his 80s) but he really wanted to tell Mark all about his career in engine repair with the German distributor of Caterpillar, so I had to do a lot of translating.
By the time we arrived in Osnabrück, we were very tired and I was really sore and glad not to be sitting anymore. We stood in the bus to my mom‘s and that was a great relief to my back. Long stretches of sitting make my sciatica kick in and no amount of shifting positions makes it better. But since I‘ve been reading about traveling in 18th and 19th century Italy by carriage and train, I keep thinking of how much of a 21st-century first-world problem that is. Especially since I don‘t have to wear the constricting women‘s clothes of the day, either. The only thing that turned out to be truly and unexpectedly 19th century is that we couldn‘t take showers last night after 24+ hours of travel—the 4-condo apartment building where my mother lives had a major plumbing issue that needed to be resolved first. I would think that food access has greatly improved, but of course the big highlight was to to have a traditional evening meal with fresh rolls, cheese and cold cuts plus a lovely salad at my mom‘s to wrap up the day. It was wonderful to see her, although it didn’t seem possible that a year had gone by since the last time we saw her. So we just went for a quick walk to the nearest ALDI, which sells super cheap no-contract data packages for our phones (traveling with an engineer means that 24/7 internet access is a must, and of course far cheaper here than in the US—4 weeks and 6 gig with phone/texting access costs 19.99 euro, without 14.99, and the relevant SIM card only 3 euros extra). Then we really started drooping and went to bed around 9 pm.
Today was spent getting over our jet lag, eating delicious things (there always seems to be a lot of that when we are in Germany!) and getting reacquainted with Osnabrück, where my mom lives, and where I lived with the kids for a year in 2009-2010. I always love it here—a very unassuming mid-size city with many beautiful nooks and crannies and a downtown area that I love for its architecture and its quiet vivacity, so in that respect, it feels like the German version of Lincoln. My mom lives close to downtown, so we walk almost everywhere when we are here.
We slept in after lying awake for quite a while in the wee hours of the morning (which is almost always what happens to me on the first couple of days after the transatlantic flight), and had breakfast while the plumbers dealt with a major clog in the sewer line that affected the whole house via my mom’s bathroom. But that gave Mark, ever-curious about any construction logistics, a chance to see how German plumbing works—they actually unhooked the toilet from the wall and were able to use that to get access to the line all the way to the street with their fancy drain-cleaning machine. And it was all done by about 11 am, so that we could finally take our post-arrival showers.
Then, Imke took us to “Friedrich,” a little restaurant down the street that basically has a daily special and four other dishes, and we had a very nice meal—although I have to say that Imke did the right thing by ordering the daily special, an outstanding sweet potato casserole, whereas my soup was a bit bland and Mark’s pastrami sandwich with French fried pretty much what you’d expect. But it was fun to go to an eatery that we’d never been to. And as always, it is very nice to be back in the country of reusable dishes—the only thing we had to throw out at the end were the paper napkins.
We took a nap after lunch and then Mark and I walked to the train station, where our friend Dorothee was supposed to arrive shortly before 4 pm, who was coming from Hanover, 2 hours east of here, just to see us for a day. We caught her at the train station and then took the bus back to my mom’s, where we hung out and then later went to dinner at another little restaurant across the street from my mom’s—a place called “Kleinkost” (“little food,” the German word for a deli, but here used literally for a menu of small, tapas-style bites, which we had with fresh-baked bread and yummy herbed butter. After dinner, Imke and Dorothee went home and Mark and I went for an hour’s walk through downtown and through Imke’s neighborhood, where we got to enjoy a robin singing his little heart out on a fence post. He was really just 2 feet from us, so we caught part of the concert on video. After we got back home around 9:30 (it was still light outside then!), I sat with Imke and Dorothee for a little while longer (poor Mark has had to put up with a lot of conversations entirely conducted in German, and I often only translate 10-20% of the content, so he finally just withdrew to work on the code he’s currently tinkering with). But I could tell I was fading in and out of the conversation, so I decided to call it a day.
For me, Dorothee and art belong together like pigment and binder. She is a family friend, about my mom’s age, who used to be an elementary teacher (I’ve known her since first grade and remember “helping” her grade her students’ homework) but later got a fine arts degree, and has always been one of my best guides to modern and contemporary art. But she is not only an artist and an avid visitor of museums, galleries, and shows, but also knows her art history and has traveled widely. So she immediately wanted to know about my art history degree, my thesis, and my travel plans, and we had a great conversation about things I plan to see and things she’s already seen. My mom was all ears too as I tried to explain (in German for the first time) what I am trying to research, in the context of the big-picture questions of how women see / experience art and how the experience of art in various spaces changes over time. It was both challenging and really fun to explain to two very knowledgeable—and what’s more, curious—museum goers and travelers what I am trying to get at in terms of the spatial experience of art, be it in museums or out in public places or on religious sites. I was trying not to completely inundate my captive audience with my ideas, but it was great to have them ask questions and pull together their own ideas and observations about everything from the interchangeability of various Madonna paintings and the weird “adult” representation of babies, especially of the infant Jesus to the fact that Dorothee had already been to the special exhibit in Berlin on brothers-in-law Mantegna and Bellini that we are going to see on Sunday, while my mom is headed there next week! While I’ve always known that I owe Dorothee a lot in terms of the introduction to 20th century art (from Nikki de Saint-Phalle to James Tyrell) and have wonderful memories of looking at the Dadaist collection in Hanover’s Sprengelmuseum with her and with another art friend, Andrea, I am getting an extra appreciation for the way in which so many friends I am seeing again this time have shaped my love for the visual arts and broadened my horizons. Dorothee is definitely one of them, and to realize that she also knows as much as she does about older art (including the Renaissance) was a wonderful bonus.
We still didn’t sleep that well, so I was up for about 3 hours from 2 to 5 am, and then slept some more until about 9 am. But we decided not to nap at all today in order to get ourselves turned around. We’ll see how that goes.
We had a lavish and late German breakfast: fresh rolls, soft-boiled eggs, assorted cheeses, ham, honey, jam and also yogurt and fruit, and we sat for quite a long time—Mark withdrew from our German chatter, but then Imke’s yoga teacher stopped by to tell her personally that an event this afternoon was cancelled, and sat down with us for a cup of tea. We talked about (surprise!) yoga and mindful living/moving but also about moving house, since he and his significant other are about to move into a new apartment—like most Germans living in city, renting rather than buying is the norm, but they are moving from what he called a “Harry Potter apartment” to a “flat for grown-ups”—the difference being that their current places has more random steps, levels, and staircases than Hogwarts, including an attic bedroom and a roof terrace, and the new place is a newly renovated ground-floor apartment with a large garden. It was really interesting to get his perspective on living spaces, since he is closer to my age, and his situation reminded me that Imke and Dorothee, both single women in their 70s who own their apartments, are more of an exception than a rule. Since people renting their apartments are very well protected by law from being kicked out or getting their rent raised suddenly, renting in Germany is a very different thing from renting a place in the US. I never lived in a home my family owned while growing up, and my mom is the first person in my immediate family to own a home rather than renting it—she inherited a house from my stepdad when he died, and then “swapped” it for the condo she owns now about three years ago. But my dad never owned a house, and my sister and my two aunts all rent their places.
After we had finally cleared away the dishes from breakfast, Dorothee, Imke and the two of use went for a walk that led us through the botanical garden (which I love) and a neighborhood where a few new houses have sprung up since we were last here—both Mark and I remember the construction site being all cordoned off. The route Imke picked was lovely—through older neighborhoods with early 20th-century townhomes, beautiful mature trees, and roses blooming everywhere. We picked up some cake at a bakery while Imke was making coffee, and then, after the classic “Kaffeeklatsch,” we dropped Dorothee off at the bus station, since she was headed back home to Hanover that afternoon. Mark and I went on another little walk (the weather was gorgeous, and we know Northern Germany well enough to know that we have to take advantage of every bit of blue sky), and picked up some produce and some German vanilla sugar at the ALDI—our favorite German discount grocery store chain, and even cheaper here than in Lincoln, where there are two of them.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon just hanging out and doing some on-line things, and then I made a salad while Imke set the table for the classic evening bread and cheese. Yummy as usual. We decided to all go for another walk, including the park near the university’s main campus (a former residential palace from the 18th century, bright yellow and surrounded by flower beds) and the downtown. We finished up by having our first gelato (just two scoops each, not a big festive concoction; we’ll save that for later!) and returned home at about 8:30. The walking today added up to 5.8 miles or 14,000+ steps according to my Apple Health, so that wasn’t bad at all. And hopefully I’ll sleep a little better. Mark has had better luck but we both still need to catch up a little.
The jet lag hex is fairly serious this year—I still woke up in the middle of the night and was not able to go back to sleep until early morning. Hope springs eternal that I can beat this soon. We did still get up about 8:30 and had a light breakfast of yogurt, fruit and tea before a couple of friends of my mom’s, Wolfgang and Maya, came by to say hi and go for another walk with us. As always, I’m loving it that even people in their late 60s and 70s take it for granted that hanging out involves talking-while-moving, which is probably while I get so restless when it only involves talking-while-sitting-around! We walked through the botanical gardens again 9with more bees in blooming flowers; a favorite motif for Mark), and then across the “Westerberg,” a rural-seeming hill with fields (wheat, corn) and a farm right in the middle of town. We were trying to stop at a cafe on the way back to my mom’s, but because today is a holiday (religious/Christian: Feast of the Ascension, but in Germany it doubles as Father’s Day and is an excuse for young men to abscond from their families, go on a little outdoor trip, and drink a lot of beer). So eventually we decided to just return and have coffee at home. Mark, who again had to be on the periphery of the conversation today since everyone was speaking mostly German, got to show some of his photos, specifically of Kati and Kai but also of our place in Lincoln.
When Wolfgang and Maya left around noon, I got some more travel logistic sorted out, and Imke fixed us a lovely vegetable dish with rice; afterwards, we took a much-needed nap. When we got up, we had tea and a sweet bite with Imke and then went downtown to check out a major current event in town that I’d never heard of before: The German brass and wind ensembles (both symphonic and marching bands of all sorts) have a major national convention every year, with huge marching and soloist competitions, and hundreds of bands playing and competing, and this year, it’s happening right here, from today until the grand finale on Sunday. So there are currently 14,500 musicians in town, plus about 150,000 visitors are expected. This would normally not be my cup of tea (although Kai would love it all to pieces; this is HIS kind of music, apart from musical theater), but the fun part is that there are stages set up all over downtown with bands playing for free outdoors, and ticketed events in some of the concert halls. We just wandered in between the various stages and listened here or there as we got curious. A there were lots of food vendors, including a double-decker bus converted into a cafe that was kind of fun. A big ensemble played a Queen medley on the plaza in front of the cathedral, and a charming Dutch symphonic band played Quincey Jones’s “Austin Powers” theme, which was highly entertaining and made us all shout for encores. Eventually, we made our way back home and I fixed us a salad to go with our bread and cheese for dinner. After some postprandial computing, all three of us actually decided to go out to a nearby bar/concert venue where there were a couple of blues bands playing. Mark had his first German beer, or rather three sampler-size craft beers (a flight? Here it’s called a beer board, but they all tasted and looked the same to me), and I had a ginger-lemon lemonade that tasted like Pellegrino with a hint of ginger ale. Walking home, Mark noticed the nice nighttime lighting of the former city gate that is part of almost all the walks we take, the so-called Heger Tor.
My friend Andrea called this afternoon, and we immediately started talking art. She is probably the single-most important person when it comes to my interest in art and my understanding of contemporary art until I started to take art history classes last year. I had her tagged as a visual arts genius the day we met on the first day of first grade, and I wasn’t wrong. She has a graphic design degree but really ended up doing much more conceptual avant-garde art for her M.F.A. project 25 years ago, and has been working on cool art and photography ever since. We didn’t have much time to talk today, but enough to speculate about why people keep coming back to the same style of art, and what role nostalgia plays in one’s taste and how it develops or not. We were into fairly abstract and “grownup” art earlier than most (late teenage, casting aside our childish taste in Impressionism and surrealism a la Dali and Magritte for Dadaism, expressionism, and contemporary art) and agreed that attending the big German art show, the Documenta, in high school was a formative experience. Then we had to talk logistics and postpone our conversation about art until we visit her and her husband after Italy. But I can’t wait to run some of my ideas by her, especially since I know that she will challenge some of them and make sure I keep the big picture in mind.
This was mostly a travel day, to get us from Osnabrück to Dresden for the first leg of our art exploration (by car it would be about 500 km / 315 miles, but we were taking circuitous train routes, of which you can read below). But it started in a glorious way: with us having slept through the night, finally, and then still until 9 am, which NEVER happens to us. When we crawled out of bed, Imke had already gotten fresh rolls and croissants, and after starting some laundry, we had a lovely breakfast—nothing is quite as glorious as those fresh rolls that you get from a baker 2 minutes away right before you eat them. And as she had promised, the croissants were excellent. We made ourselves a picnic to take along as well, and I packed that up as I also packed our suitcase, condensing from 2 to 1 (plus our backpacks). Meanwhile, Mark and Imke dealt with a minor water issue in the basement that she’d not noticed on the day of the plumbing disaster—a box of things my stepfather had collected and that she’d never unpacked had gotten damp, so they unwrapped coins and pottery from who knows where to let them dry out. We’ll look through the stuff when we get back!
We were not slotted to leave town for Dresden until 2 pm, but thanks to the German train system’s delay alerts, we knew by about 11:30 that something was off with the route and we might expect delays. So we left a bit early, just after noon, and I lined up for advice and possible ticket exchange. There was apparently a big accident on the tracks somewhere on the way to Hanover, where we were supposed to change trains, and basically all trains going our routes were canceled for hours to come. So the nice train people gave us a “go on whatever train you choose” stamp on our ticket and directed us to go to Hanover via Bremen and said we’d still catch our train in Hanover. That worked perfectly, with some time to have a quick Asian lunch in Osnabrück and then a cup of coffee outside of the train station in Bremen. But it was still a long trip: to Hanover it only took us a couple of hours, but the trip from Hanover to Dresden is nearly 6 hours long. Hence the sandwiches and granola bars we packed for dinner.
Once we had arrived, we used the directions for public transport that the hotel provided us—I am very glad I asked for those, because the public transport website gave us completely different directions and was apparently not taking into account its own huge construction mess, which required changing from the tram to a bus. The last leg was a short walk in what looked like a totally lovely old residential neighborhood (called Strahlen) that didn’t look like it could possibly HAVE hotels. But once we had found the hotel / guest house, the Hotel Villa Seraphinum, we were thrilled—it’s an adorable old villa that a countess/lady of the court built about 200 years ago, and I assume from the the fact that we have room # 10 that it doesn’t have much more than 10 rooms. We were guided into the house by a little printed note by the front door, since they do not have a reception, and had to go across this fabulous “bridge” from one side of the house to the other. If it were a ditch in the ground, I would have known to call it a ha-ha, but for that to be a second-story walkway is apparently as unusual here as elsewhere (the hotel info claimed it was unique in Dresden). We dumped our things and took advantage of the last light of the day to take a quick walk around. It is a beautiful area of town which clearly survived the firestorm in 1945, with many 18th-and 19th-century townhomes and an early-20th-century church called Christuskirche, about which we learned that it was one of the churches that offered sanctuary to protesters in the fall of 1989, when the Monday demonstrations in East Germany began that eventually led to the “fall” of East Germany and to German reunification. The church is rather ugly blackened sandstone, and it was apparently damaged somewhat during the firestorm and then repaired, but the hill it sits on is beautiful, as is this neighborhood. But it was getting dark and we were getting tired, so we walked home and got ourselves ready for bed and for our big Dresden day tomorrow.