During my visit to Dresden and the Elbe Valley, as a *Servas Traveler, I had the opportunity to stay in the home of a couple of Servas Hosts.
One clear, cool day Dresden Servas Host Michael, a software engineer, accompanied me up the Elbe River to the Pillnitz Castle. The expansive baroque palace was the former summer residence of the Wettin dynasty, one of the oldest in Europe. It was once included in the Dresden Elbe Valley UNESCO World Heritage listing before the designation was removed in 2009. This was due to a modern bridge which was built across the Elbe River near Dresden. (Numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to 20th centuries in Dresden had been included in this UNESCO designation also)
After walking around the well-manicured castle grounds, we crossed the river on a small ferry and then enjoyed a cup of tea at a waterside cafe overlooking the castle.
The following day Michael took me to the home of my next Servas Hosts, Ute and Werner, a retired teacher and a retired engineer, respectively. He joined us for dinner that evening. We all talked into the night about their lives under Communist rule following the Second World War and how their lives changed after reunification of Germany in 1990. They all agreed that, besides the fact that they ate better, living in reunified Germany was a life-changing experience.
Soon after reunification, Michael left former East Germany and traveled for the first time outside the boundaries of the former Soviet Union, visiting many parts of the world. He was about 33 years old at the time.
Michael and the couple live in close proximity to each other in a lovely neighborhood high on a hill about a 15 minute bus ride from downtown Dresden. They each own a flat in small multi-unit buildings which look like single family homes from the outside. (see photo at left of Michael’s building)
At first glance it appeared this neighborhood, with its beautiful old homes, had escaped the ravages of WWII. I was wrong. One day I asked Michael about a huge crane that I had noticed perched high over an open lot between two houses up the street from his house. He said that a bomb had taken out the house that used to be there and a new house was now being built on that lot. He pointed out a new house on another block in which a similar thing had happened.
On my last day in Dresden Ute, Werner and I drove to Saxon Switzerland National Park, which is about 18 miles east of the city and close to the Czech border. We spent the day hiking in this beautiful mountainous area and stopped for a snack whenever we came upon a stunning view.
The park’s dramatic stone formations make it a popular place for serious rock climbers. We periodically exchanged waves with climbers who had made the perilous climb to the top of a steep, jagged rock formation. Two of these climbers turned out to be friends of Ute and Werner’s from their church. They repelled quickly down the side of the rocks and greeted us.
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