They call it cobblestone syndrome. Tourists who aren’t familiar with walking on cobblestones hobble in the most peculiar way. Their gait is erratic. The right knee may slump inward giving them the appearance of being crippled. Cobblestone syndrome occurs after walking at least 10,000 steps through an ancient city like Dresden whose cobblestone-lined streets tend to mock foreigners with the motto of King Augustus: “Strong, proud, tough, fuck you, man up.”
King Augustus, king here in the Baroque era, had quite an influence. His name still reverberates in almost all walks (pun intended) of daily life. His self-commissioned statues adorn virtually every rebuilt structure here. A typical Augustus statue is of a heavily bearded crowned man atop a galloping horse in mid prance. One gets the sense that Augustus “the Strong” enjoyed making life more difficult than it needed to be. Everything is overbuilt. Doors here are harder to open. Stairs are steep. The historic bridge has 26 pillars and columns where four would have sufficed.
But, it is a beautiful city. It is difficult to imagine that it was reduced to rubble in the waning days of WWII. To top that off, the communists ran amok here for nearly 50 years during the Soviet era not improving a damn thing. It was only since the reunification in 1989 that Dresden was rebuilt (almost) to its former splendor.
The touristy side of Dresden rarely mentions the GDR era winking and nudging that that topic is really not what the city’s historical patrons would like to portray. By touristy side I mean Hop on Hop bus rides, the Air BnB host, and waitress in the corner pub. Instead, Dresden is portrayed as the “Florence of Germany.” That’s funny because I’m sure no one in Florence ever said “welcome to the Dresden of Italy.”
Don’t get me wrong. If one had only one city in Germany to visit then Dresden should be that city. The restaurants all make the best German food. The beer is cheaper than water. Everyone is friendly to tourists. The historic buildings, art, culture, fashion all exhibit the stereotypical ideal that is Germany. And, isn’t that what you’d want if you had only a few days and a desire to fulfill your postcard-like dream of Germany?
In a single day I saw a spontaneous launching of four hot air balloons, a peaceful protest of anti-Islamic immigrants, a table full of Italians whooping it up for a family reunion, a woman eating two softball-sized potato dumplings, an innocent child picking dandelions in the park, and a kind camera store employee coming to my rescue with a replacement for my Nikon MH-25 “Ladegerat”, battery charger. The battery charger I brought from home sizzled then died when plugged into the 220-volt socket. Don’t mock me. I had a converter. Lesson learned. Don’t buy cheap converters at the airport.
The peaceful protest was cool and eerie all at the same time. Of course I wound up in the center of it. I took several pictures before I asked someone holding a sign depicting Angela Merkel as a Hijab-wearing refugee what all the fuss was about. Nice Photoshopping by the way. The man looked somewhat incredulous at my asking the question and said, “We’re protesting all of the foreigners of course.” I guess my German was passable enough not to be detected as a foreigner. I wanted to reply, “Does that include Americans and Jews?” I didn’t of course. He even thanked me for taking his picture. You’re welcome. And at this point I wanted to present him with an invoice on behalf of the American government for the WWII bombing campaign on Dresden the Nazis forced us to carry out. I opted not to press the issue. Like I’ve always maintained, Germans at rallies don’t get subtle sarcasm from Americans who think they are clever and witty after three beers. Though this may seem specific, it is not that unusual. If I had a Pfennig for every time this has happed to me…
Next stop, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This medieval city in the Badden-Wurttemberg region of Germany is a walled town noted for picturesque buildings, cantelope-sized sugary fried dough balls and torture. Can’t wait.