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Dresden

The Malcolm and Jean Europe Tour 2012, sadly, has come to an end. We are at Dresden Airport, awaiting a flight to Heathrow. We arrive in Australia on Saturday, and return to work next week. It’s been an amazing experience with so many highlights. We’ve reunited with old friends, including Sandra, whom I worked with at the BBC and hadn’t seen in 23 years. There was Alison, who accidentally ordered a plate with two full chickens in Llanilar. We’ve caught up with family, and met new family in Germany. We had a fantastic canal ride in Llangollen, partied in Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London, and stayed at the Baileys Hotel after an absence of 30 years. Northern Ireland was a highlight, and we love Dresden. And of course there was finding my castle, elusive for so many years, a highlight not only of this holiday, but of my life.

As the viewer will know, in the last six weeks, we went as far west as Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, and as far east as Jelenia Gora in Poland. Regarding viewing, our blog has, at the time of writing, been viewed 996 times. Busiest day was 12 June with 74 views. We’ve had followers in the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, South Korea, Brazil, and Australia, with comments from random visitors. It’s been great fun blogging, and I recommend it. In future, though, I may pay a little money to upgrade to a better blog facility. This time round, I’ve failed to grasp why my tagging has worked only a minority of times. And I’ve not come to grips with uploading pictures, a desirable addition.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the Malcolm and Jean Europe Tour 2012. Hopefully, there will be a Malcolm and Jean Europe Tour 2013. Till next time.

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15 June – The day started quite well. On our way to Poland, we went to Hainsberg, near Dresden. In Hainsberg is the paper mill established by my great-great-great-grandfather, Gerhard Friedrich Thode, in 1838, which still exists today, long after it left family hands. In March, I’d requested a tour of the site. I’d received no reply, so I walked in unannounced, showed them a copy of the letter I’d sent, and politely asked for a tour. They were a bit stunned. We got a tour, and it must’ve taken an hour and a half.

We saw a modern factory which today produces 120 tonnes of recycled paper per day. It was fascinating to look at. We were taken all over, including into areas from the time of my ancestors, original halls, walls, and windows. Even a dark underground waterway from the time of the Thodes. Outside, there is an original pond, but the guide said it will have been removed by the time of the 175th anniversary celebrations next year. The guide also pointed out very old railway tracks where paper and other raw product had been delivered in the earliest times. And a wooden sign reading “Thodesche Papierfabrik”, from the middle of the 19th century, still hangs in Reception. The company is today known as the Papierfabrik Hainsberg. They are of course churning out infinitely more recycled paper than in my family’s time, with customers all over Europe. I was very happy with the opportunity to have had a tour like this, and to see that something my ancestors started is still going, and doing a lot of good.

Many Australians make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli, and I have one great-grandfather who fought in that campaign and survived. But while I’d like to go there, the place I am going to tomorrow means more to me than visiting Gallipoli. I’ve always known where Gallipoli was, and have been free to go at any time. But since the mid-1970s, I’ve known of a different place connected to another of my great-grandfathers without actually knowing its precise location. Two years ago, I learned of this place’s whereabouts: a little village in Poland, which, until 1945, was in Germany. There was a castle in this village, and it was called Schosdorf, and my great-grandfather spent his youth there in the custody of his uncle, the Dresden banker, Robert Thode. My ancestor came from wealthy stock. It was from here that he left for Australia, and some could well ask why he did this.

We cross the border tomorrow into Poland, and there is a possibility that the sim card for our iPad will not work there. If this is so, you will not hear from me until at least next Tuesday.

After eating out tonight, first in the Sophienkeller and at the Muenzgasse, I wanted us to walk the length of the Terrassengasse, which is all that remains of the old wall that circled the city of Dresden. Most of it was pulled down long, long ago. But a little was kept. It sits astride the river Elbe, and stretches at one end from in front of the Albertinum museum, passing the Kunstgallerie and the area with the Neumarkt behind, past the little parade of topiaries that hang over head, and finally to the 41 steps that slope downwards opposite the Catholic church that was commissioned by Augustus the Strong, who had been Lutheran, but who had converted to Catholicism when he became the King of Poland.

I had thought the pathway along the Terrassengasse very romantic: leafy and dimly-lit, the Elbe to the left, the floodlit baroque Archive building on the opposite bank reflecting in the river, silhouetted lovers strolling by in the darkness with arms clinched, a lone cyclist pedalling gently with the Elbe flow, soft lights shining on the Fraunkirche’s high dome, and we took it all in, knowing our time in Europe, and in this city we’ve grown to love, is coming to an end.

We strolled toward our hotel about a kilometre away. Jean had noticed when we had circled back to the Neumarkt that the cyclist was still with us. With minutes ticking by, he seemed to be circling us. Later, he did it again, and continued to circle us three times! And then when we filed into McDonalds on the Altmarkt to visit the toilet, he did so too! All the way back to the hotel, Jean was circumspective, looking for him all the while, as we tried to foil any attempts to follow us. I joked that if this was pre-1989, he could have been a member of the Stasi secret police!

We had a great day, incorporating a couple of tours: Schloss Pillnitz (along the way I saw Keppschloss, owned by my great-grandfather’s uncle, Robert Thode), the Zwinger, the Procession of the Princes. We bought a map of Poland for the next leg of our tour, and had an evening meal in the Sophienkeller. It’s lovely in there. It’s under the ground, slightly under the former Sophienkirche, destroyed in 1945, and the atmosphere was great. It was a combination of a candle-lit Henry the Eighth feast (or perhaps Augustus the Strong feast?), with a sandstone, dome-shaped roof, resembling the Cavern in Liverpool where the Beatles first played. I had two Weizenbiers here, and later at the Muenzgasse, I had a schwarzes Bier (black beer). Alles Gute!

The tourist in Dresden can do a Stadtrundfahrt (S). This means a city tour. But it’s not just a one-off sightseeing trip around the city which is over with after an hour or so. Although you can do that if you wish. No, you can use the S, which is merely a bus, to get around Dresden, both the Altstadt and the Neustadt as well as the suburbs, and to get on and off whenever you want for as long as your ticket is valid. For one full day, it costs 20 euros, but it’s only an extra two euros for each successive day that you need the S. Which makes the S very economical for a several-day stay. There are 22 stops around Dresden at which a person may alight. It takes 90 minutes for a complete round-the-whole-city journey, or there are other tours.

You can do a night tour, or head out to the Schloss Pillnitz, one of Dresden’s castles. Another tour is to Schloss Moritzburg. Also, there are four walking tours with English commentary from a guide: one takes place at Schloss Pillnitz, another at the Zwinger, which was for royal festivities during the time of Augustus the Strong. It has a special place in art history. Another walking tour takes place at the Procession of Princes, a fabulous mural 100 metres long painted onto ceramic tiles, featuring all the rulers of Saxony from 1127 till 1918. The final walking tour is of the Frauenkirche, Dresden’s major landmark before its destruction in 1945, and since its restoration in 2005.