Dresden Night Walks
After a long afternoon exploring Dresden by the light of day, we were on our were over to the New Town or Neustadt where we were looking for a man named Danilo, to take us on a tour of the other side of Dresden, by the glow of the moon.
We were on our way to Albertplatz, our meeting spot to hook up with our tour guide. On the way, we passed the two most famous fountains in Dresden, Still Waters and Stormy Waves. Cast in bronze, they are considered to be the most beautiful fountains of Dresden. Built in 1894 they were created by Robert Diez who won a design competition to build them. I always feel like a design won by competition, awarded by the people, is far greater than those designs made by committee. The fountain are made up of a group of figures holding the upper layer where the water spills down. The Stormy Waves fountain displays a snake fighting with a sea monster while the Still Water scenes is a dreamy representation of the music of a nymph with water lilies in hand. They juxtapose each other perfectly and are a wonderful representation of the dichotomy of humanity.
These days, the Neustadt makes up the edges of the "New City" envisioned by ruler Augustus the Strong. These days, the Neustadt is replete with cafes, bars and filled with creatives type; fashion designers, artists, architects and musicians. This results in a modern, bright and bustling part of the city. It might seem a little left of center for some people but it really is something you should see while in town. I spent a lot of this tour listening to the stories Danilo would tell us so I missed out taking a lot of pictures. I found a lot online to show you but most of them were taken in the day time, hopefully this still helps you get the gist of it!
Albertplatz is a circular space in center of Neustadt. It’s also the location of the first German skyscraper. Now, to us who live in Toronto where skyscrapers are dozens of floors high, an eleven storey building might not seem that impressive but in 1929 it was the tallest building in Germany. It was built by the Saxon State Bank built with reinforced concrete, making it an imposing building, looking down over the city. It once housed the Department of the Transport but 2012 when it was sold to an investor who could renovate it into an office building with a larger grocery store on the bottom floor. We got there a bit early, as per usual, and walked around the little square. The place was filled with excited students yelling and laughing on the streets. We walked around the corner and found a little shop that sold fresh pretzels and grabbed one for the road. This restaurant was almost like a student run canteen but surprisingly, the pretzel was one of the best ones we had while we were in Germany.
After waiting near the small, artisanal fountain in the middle of the square, we saw a man from across the street holding a Dresden flag and figured this was the man we were sent to meet. Danilo has spent years taking tourists around the outer Neustadt, visiting fun pubs and bars, learing about street art and life is East Germany. The Neustadt itself has remained mostly unchanged since its construction in 1745. This is because that during the WWII bombing raids that ruined most of Old Town, New Town was spared and untouched.
On the way out of the square, we passed by the bronze statue of Emil Erich Kästner by Wolf Eike Kuntsche. Emil Erich was a German poet, screenwriter and satirist. He was famous mostly for his children's books and socialist poems. His monument commemorates his young image in a picture frame along with a stack of books, displaying the titles of his famous novels. Around the stack of books are coffee cups and scribbled notes, all cast in bronze. A representation of the artists at work. He was a very important figure for young people both when we was alive and now. It is a popular meeting spot for local writers and socialist upstarts.
The Neustadt is thought to have one of the liveliest bar scenes in all of Germany, with an extremely high concentration of bars, clubs, and cafes. The city is alive in a different way from the Old Town which feels more like an open air museum. This part of the city is lived in. People are all over the street. There is a really feel of community here. Student are sitting outside of pubs and mini marts drinking on the street. But instead of feeling threatening they are happily chatting with friends and using the city itself as a place of community.
Danilo told us stories from the city as we walked along the street. This part of the city was where the world’s first milk chocolate was produced and toothpaste was even invented on these streets! During the 19th century, this area of Dresden boomed with Wilhelminian-era architecture, most of which is still present today. Walking through these old streets feels authentically historic, compared to the restored version of history in “Old Town”. Wilhelminian-Style architecture is composed of late-Classicist, Historicism and Art Nouveau. All in all, it appears as a harmonious structural unit as you looks at the different buildings which line the streets.
As we walked deeper into the side streets, we began to see some of the strikingly beautiful Street Art that is so important to the Neustadt. One Of the first pieces that took my attention was the 'Blue Danube'. A work by Jens Besser, perhaps Dresden’s most famous street artist. Street Art here is not seen as vandalism. Some building owners even commissioned these pieces since they know that this will prevent local vandals from tagging or putting up offensive imagery on their building.
As more and more people began to embrace these beautiful murals, the entire city seemed to explode with creative freedom. Some of the art told stories of the city's history. Above you can see the Elbe river that flows through Dresden decorated with all the different pieces of the city that are of importance.
Here we can see someone who's made a detailed architectural map of the city with certains parts of it accented. A great way to orient yourself around the city. Danilo took us deeper into the city and led us to one of the oldest bar is in the city. This place remained open throughout the war, supplying families with hot water every Sunday.
After the war, during the Eastern occupation, the Dresden Neustadt once tried to separate itself from Germany and become an independant state. For a period of time, they even created their own ‘Neustadt marks’ for their self-proclaimed independent state. Lots of businesses partook in the system and it is still commonplace to see these marks today. Their flag and symbol of the independent-state was Mickey Mouse face in the center of the German flag surrounded by golden laurel wreaths.
After walking for an hour, it was time for a break. We stopped into one of the many locals pubs for a drink. We got a complimentary shot that was called something with the word "Mexican" in the title and tasted just like a strong Caesar. I really liked it, and I think the owner was surprised to see so. I think we were encouraged to have a few drinks here but neither Dan nor I really had much of a tolerance at this point in the night for a drink, so we shared a pint of the local brew and sat on the front patio, listening to Danilo tell stories and people watching.
As we left, we passed by a local school and were amazed at the beautiful mural that was even painted onto the front of their facade.
Next, it was one the Kunsthofpassage, one of Dresden’s best kept secrets. This little passage leads you into a series of five courtyards and artisanal apartments. A group of artists, sculptors and designers each took part in the Ginko project to redesign old building facades to bring more life to fading architecture.
Each courtyard has it’s own theme and motif which is spread across the apartments and shops which inhabit the Kunsthofpassage. The motifs include, The Courtyard of Elements, Courtyard of Light, Courtyard of Animals and the Courtyard of the Metamorphoses.
Inside the passages are small boutiques, galleries, bookstores, and cafes. During the day there is so much to do in these little archways, it feels like around every corner there is something new to discover.
One of the first courtyards you come to is the Courtyard of Elements. The courtyard of elements is highlighted by the main blue building with it’s famous water feature. The building is painted various shades of blue and embedded onto the facade of the buildings are dozens of rain gutters and drain pipes. These flow down the building and end up in various different theatrical gutters which make any rainy day, a symphony of sound. Even coming here on a sunny day, you can still hear the music as various people living in the building will pour water down the gutters at certain times of the day, to entertain visitors.
On the opposite side of the Courtyard of Elements is the Courtyard of Light. This building is covered in bright yellow paint and splattered with aluminum panels, representing the element of light. In the daytime, when the sun shines, the aluminum panels reflect light all over the square, producing different coloured reflections on the cobblestones depending on the sunlight.
The next courtyard is the Courtyard of Animals. The façade is in bright green decorated with animal reliefs. The animals seem to almost pop out of the walls. In the nighttime it is even more surprising since the animals aren’t so obvious right away and then suddenly you’ll see a cheeky smile of a monkey and jump back in surprise! This “farm” is home to a giraffe, several naughty monkeys and a few cranes flying overhead. Throughout the house, the herd of monkeys are seen jumping over the heads of a giant giraffe and leaping from window to window. The balconies are made of wicker and make you feel as though you are in a jungle in the middle of the city.
The following Courtyard is one of Mythical Creatures. The artist Viola Schöpe has covered the walls along the courtyard in graffiti and mosaics made to represent different mythical creatures. The south facade represents the circle of life. The northern facade is the astral realm featuring higher energies; cosmic elements, stars, comets and love. These are all the most important elements that make up and hold the universe together. The artist wanted these scenes to transform the viewer and speak to them on a higher level.
The final courtyard is the one of Metamorphoses. It is perhaps one of the more boring buildings in comparison to all the others but still an interesting concert. This was one was designed by artist Arend Zwicker. It features two 15 meter high metal pillars are mounted on the building façade touching the wall at a single point. Along the curved pillars are optical fiber that light up at night. Along the side of the building, there are are 24 different kinds of paper dipped in flax seed oil and framed in metal. The paper can be seen changing over time and represents to the viewer, especially those that pass by here every day, the change that time has over everything.
Although I think that these buildings are much better to observe during the day, seeing them at night there are certain features that simply aren’t visible during the day and lend to the viewer, secret that the artists had in store. Definitely worth viewing at both times of day. There is so much to do in this area of town, no doubt you’ll find your way here twice.
After walking through all the courtyards, we headed back out onto the street to make our way to the last destination. As we went, we walked past a huge mural on the side of a building. Danilo explained to us that this was by was Ema Jones, and the piece was titled ‘Large Scale Mutants’. This piece was another example of things better seen in the night as the street lights revealed different details painted with light-sensitive paint that are otherwise invisible during the day.
Danilo was stopped halfway to our destination and pulled out a bottle of liquor for us all to share. He poured three shots while telling stories and we sheepishly took the shots. No my favourite liquor, it was Jagermeister-like but definitely made the feeling of camaraderie stronger within our little group. Where we had stopped, it look like our drinks were sitting on a simple, anonymous-looking concrete block. But, Danilo knows all the secrets. In fact, this concrete block was an enclosure for a various historic columns, probably the remains of a balcony, and a unicorn once decorating a bombed building. Pieces of the ancient city locked away in more stone.
When we came to a large black wall, Danilo took out a handful of chalk and asked us to create our own piece of art to leave in the city. Daniel took the chalk and drew a little canadian flag along with our names and catch phrase from the wedding. A perfect piece for our honeymoon!
When we finally arrived at the last bar we were really excited to sit down and rest for a bit. The bar was called 'Room 64'. The bar was dimly lit and glowing with red accents here and there. The bartender came over to us and asked if we wanted to play a game. We didn’t know what was going on but Danilo nodded to us and we agreed. He proceeded to ask us a series of questions and from out answers he created two unique cocktails for each of us. It was such fun! As he went back to make the drinks, Danilo and Daniel really started to get deep with their conversation. He told us all about what it was like to live under the Eastern occupation and how it felt with the Berlin wall finally came down. He was a very insightful interesting man and we felt very lucky to have spent a lovely evening with him.
Daniel was given a cocktail of Homemade Rosemary syrup, lime, gin, Spicy Ginger and topped with pomegranate seeds and a sprig of rosemary. My cocktail matched my hair! It was a spin on a margarita with tequila, lime, cranberry juice, chunks of orange and topped off with a gooseberry! Sooooo tasty! Night drink was overly sweet - just the way we like it.
After another few drinks, we were exhausted and ready to head home. We thanked Danilo greatly for such an amazing tour and headed back home. We thought about grabbed a cab but fuelled with the energy a few cocktails, we decided to take the long back. We past by several more beautiful murals, interesting bars and cafe - some still serving well past 2am - and people out laughing the night away. When we came to the bridge to cross back over into the ‘Old Town’ we admired the amazing view that this side of the city allowed. It was truly spectacular. A lot of people might go to Dresden and skip over the Neustadt completely but trust me, you don't want to miss it.