06.01.2009 - 08.01.2009
I specifically sorted it out in my head that I was not coming to Dresden. With only two days remaining before my flight out of Hamburg, it seemed more sensible to make my way straight there, rather than overnight in two different cities. But plans must give way to realities; when I requested a ticket from Prague to Hamburg, the shock of the price nearly killed me (I knew from the website it was 30 Euro, but they wanted more than a hundred, because I was not booking far enough in advance). So I booked through to Dresden, thinking I’d work out a solution. As it happens, I was early enough to take advantage of the book in advance fare from Dresden.
The trip there was fantastic, one of the best I’ve been on. The train was new and very smooth, I had good company in my compartment (a pair of students from Sydney Eurailing their holidays away, and an older couple – he was French and oh so dignified looking, she was Czech and had a touch of the glam, they lived in Hannover) and the scenery was wonderful. We followed a river plain most of the way, with steep banks up to either side of us, mostly tree clad but with dead flat areas of river flat. All heavily laden with snow and the sun was out, making the world sparkle.
Apparently it hasn’t snowed like this here for eight years, so it was quite a treat (even if my Australian companions objected to their freezing feet, they admitted the views were worth it). The only small blemish on the trip was the price of things on the train; six bucks for a Pepsi (cheapest thing on the menu) and I only had half that in local currency.
Dresden is an odd sort of place. Not long after we crossed the border into Germany, we struck some buildings that made me think this has to be the dreariest place I have ever seen – apartment blocks and hotels these indistinguishable six story concrete boxes.
Much to my surprise, this was Dresden. Of course, it was nearly completely obliterated by the Allies towards the end of the war, so there is very little of old Dresden to see, just one section of the inner city
including a couple of churches (one rebuilt),
an art gallery
and the Zwinger (Palace).
But whatever was built in its place seems to have gone also – the main thoroughfare leading from the train station is very modern, not Stalinist at all (silly guidebook)
and so too are the apartments leading towards my (huge) hostel,
which seems to follow the house style for Dresden, based on a zero budget for design. The interior is very reminiscent of a hospital; it is huge with long corridors (I was thinking of Maxwell Smart at one point) and virtually empty.
Arriving fairly late in the day (we had a delay while they did something with the train engine) I didn’t have much time for sightseeing and besides, I was curiously in the mood for some serious shopping. I have been SO good, bought nothing except for cold weather gear. Haven’t even bought books (oops, yes, I snuck one in in Singapore). And Dresden has these two amazing clothing stores – they’re five or six stories, entirely given over to clothes. In the first, I saw something I’ve wanted for a long time, a dark, fine corduroy jacket. The only reason I didn’t buy it was that I know some people object to such things, and while I can’t see it, I can see that a corduroy suit is a bit of a no go area. But, well, I went into the second store and they had an even nicer one and it was SO cheap (under a hundred Euros). So, I own a corduroy suit. And a couple of corduroy shirts. Sue me.
By this time, I couldn’t really face going to a nice place for dinner, so I foodcourted it, on chips and schnitzel. Nice beer, but. I’ve decided that pretty much everything is improved by beer, even drowning.
By about 10:30 I was feeling a bit stir crazy in my empty hostel, so wandered over to what is called the New Town, which has a reputation for being very alternative. For a while, I couldn’t see it, as I wandered this long street of banality but I found that the further I deviated from it, the more interesting things got. My guidebook had suggested a place called Raskalnikov (the name alone sold it for me) and for once I managed to get somewhere without getting lost, only to find that this was a peculiar sort of café, as it sold no beer. No matter, I wandered up the lane a couple of doors and found a bar called, I think, Side Door. The perfect sort of place; walls and ceiling a deep red, a nice wooden bar, maybe a dozen booths, people eating, playing cards, talking, Tom Waits on the stereo. After midnight the place was still going strong, but it was time for me to call it a night as I had a fairly long (and very cold) walk back.
My cheap train trip to Hamburg had one small complication; they’d sold out of cheap fares on the direct services, so I went for one which involved three changes, one with a bare six minute space between trains. Sure enough, the train to make that connection left six minutes late and was 18 minutes late by the time we got to it. But big ups to German Railways. They could have just said, well there’s another train running that same connection due in an hour. It is all I hoped for, but they found a way to get me to Hamburg a little quicker. They put me on a normal train to Hannover, but from there, they put me on their premium train (the one that goes more than 200 k an hour) and they put me in FIRST CLASS. While thanking German Rail, I should also thank them for their website, which gives pretty comprehensive train information for all of Europe.
One consolation I had hoped to derive from my roundabout journey to Hamburg was a good look at the countryside. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I can report that the northern half of Germany was extremely flat and covered in snow and its train stations seem to have good bakeries.
My knowledge of Hamburg is about as detailed. I got in about 7:00, found my way to the right metro stop for my hostel, then got lost for more than an hour, trying to correlate the directions I was given with the map and with the reality of the ground I was walking over. Turns out that they were all wrong; if I had been told that the hostel was that gorgeous building directly above the station, and has steps directly to it from the station, it could have saved a lot of bother. So it was about 9:30 before I was finally able to set off for the Reeferbahn in search of something people don’t often go there for, an internet café. It is Hamburg’s notorious street of sleaze – peepshows, table dances, cinema and who knows what else. Luckily I found the internet café under my own resources, because the area the fellow in the hostel sent me to was decidedly not where you’d find an internet café.
Something else I know about Hamburg – it has a harbour, I am sitting here in the hostel looking directly at it. Not that I am convinced that a harbour can happen on a river bank, but no matter. It is very colourful and great to just sit and look at (not so much in the early morning):
And the hostel itself is great,
has a nice bar, good number of people in. A nice place to finish off my trip across Europe, because it is now time to catch my flight to London.