These are two cities with long histories of art and culture, and also of industry, power and politics; each was an important capital when Berlin was just beginning to grow. And both were heavily damaged in World War II bombing. A significant amount of restoration of the historic centers took place during the German Democratic Republic era, and even more has been done since.
The Hofkirche in Dresden (above) was nearly completely destroyed; only partial walls remained. The spotty color in the picture results from a mixture of new stone and original stones that were salvaged. Reconstruction in the area was still going on when we were there in 2009.
We went first to Leipzig, drawn at least in part by its history as the city where Bach worked for so many years as choirmaster to the ducal court and to the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church). But first we parked the rental car near the main rail station (Hauptbahnhof) seen in the top picture, and went in search of facilities, which we found in the form of this "chain store" approach to toilets. We found them in several other cities as well...well-kept, bright, and requiring payment. No Ronald McClean, though.
Walking from the station to the Thomaskirche, we found ourselves drawn to two important attractions: a very elaborate currywurst stand with four types of sausages available with the required curry ketcup (it was a cold day...) and then the Nikolaikirche. This church was built around 1165, when the town was founded, at the intersection of two old Roman roads. It's a mixture of Romanesque and other styles: it as "Gothicized" in the 16th century and then "Neoclassicized" inside in 1794. It's been a Protestant church since 1539, but Catholic services are held there also.
Like the Thomas-kirche, this one is noted for its organ and acoustics, and hosted the premiere of Bach's St. John Passion and many other cantatas and oratorios. It also played an important role in the end of the GDR; it became the center of weeks and months of peaceful protests in the last year of the regime, when a prayer vigil was held in the church every Monday, and as it grew, in the streets around it.The interior of the church is less heavily-adorned than many Catholic churches of its age, and has spectacular ceilings and palm-topped columns. Quite an unexpected sight as we entered!
Continuing on our way, we passed this handsome building housing the Dresden headquarters of Commerzbank; it looks like a combination of Art Nouveau, Baroque and a few more. The gold is not paint, by the way: the bank splurged on gold leaf.
And finally, the Thomaskirche. To me, it was a familiar sight; in the 1960s, when Nonesuch Records was publishing a lot of Baroque music, the church often appeared in album-cover sketches behind a portrait bust of Bach. This church is almost as old as the Nikolai, and appears to have been built on remains of an even older one. If the roof pitch looks steep—it is. At 63 degrees, it may be the steepest in Germany. Martin Luther preached here in 1539.
Bach was the choirmaster here from 1723 until his death in 1750, but he was originally buried in the Johanneskirche, which was destroyed during the war. Bach's tomb was relocated here in 1950.
After an overnight stay, we continued on to Dresden, which had even more damage during the war, and more still to repair when we visited. The Hofkirche, above, faces a large market square just undergoing major work, and other areas nearby are slowly turning from vacant to new-built.
In the Altstadt, the old city, on a grey day, we visited the Gemaeldegalerie, the major art museum, and the Hofkirche
We also found a newer venue for culture, the 1950s-built Kulturpalast, with its exuberant proletarian art facade, still in use as a concert hall, and about to undergo major renovation at the time.
And a house with WAY more than Seven Gables...
And a building with an almost cartoon-history style mural glorifying Dresden's royal and noble characters, generals, and even a few sages.
We'll be going to Germany again next year...in warmer weather...and it will be interesting to see how much has changed by then!