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Alone in deserted Dresden

Four young friends explore this breathtaking German town at a time of day when nobody is awake yet and a tempestuous storm has overtaken the city

Alone in deserted Dresden
Dresden Frauenkirche.

When my friend Andrea described the weather forecast for Dresden as stormy, little did we know that we would witness the most breathtaking storm we have ever encountered. The tempest roared above glass castles, licked and kissed to the rim by gold embroidery. As we walked towards, Schloßplatz, the city squareon the south side of the Elbe River, a quire of cathedrals rose in harmony, and from a distance it seemed like all their nooks were filled with blueberry clouds. The sky was splotched with burning blood, and from one of the balconies of KaholischeHofkirche, the former Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony, we saw the sun rise that stifled the blinking stars and deepened the shades of red. Here in the belly of all once royal and holy, we danced and twirled, sang and hailed to the Church of the Virgin Mary (Frauenkirche), the baroque style Protestant and Lutheran churches, and everything beautiful that was put to sleep after the allied bombing.

The entire town was empty. We were the only creators of sound, of motion, of music and everything that comes with it. Perhaps the inhabitants, already limited in number, were still asleep, or perhaps having somehow learned of our arrival had cleared the town in our honor. Whatever the case maybe, it seemed like we were trapped in a snow globe where grey fog swam across the empty Blue Wonder Bridge,and pitch black domes balanced winged opal statues. Our only spectator was King Friedrich August who sat on his throne with a heart of stone but an expression of mercy. Trapped in the snow globe of haunted Dresden, we did not experience fear, but mysticism. Being alone is not as bad as people make it out to be, I thought. From a young age our morality and codes of living are constructed around the necessary presence of other people, so much so that it becomes a sin for a child not to have friends, for a woman to not have a husband, for a husband to not have an office stuffed with people. Is it so necessary to build cities just for people to live in and destroy, and our hearts all the same? Is there not a lesson to be learned from the people of Dresden, who despite all the magnificence outside, choose to sit humbly in their homes, inure to the desperation of company. Dresden taught me that there is peace in being alone, particularly on a stormy day.

Clouds forming above Dresden

Clouds forming above Dresden

On that day, when the surface of the sky resembled the inside of a womb, there were only four souls alive: my three friends and I. So, we were naturally excited, poking and playing with this newly found feeling. Like crazed children, who have, inadvertently, stumbled upon a great treasure, we dissected and discussed for hours at length. My friend Rebecca took panoramic pictures, portrait style pictures, pictures with us, pictures without us. I had only to stand still for a moment, to separate myself from my absolutely stunned and enraptured band of tourists. I was alone in one of the courtyards of Zwinger Palace, a former royal residence.Behind me a miniature fountain cried into its bowl and before me my cigarette smoke fought with the wind. My mind all of a sudden was flooded with the terrible tales of this beautiful town, which my German friend Sandra had told me. The charred building, the ashy cobblestones and the half broken medieval beauty that was wet with such glory that it almost seemed a sin to behold it all at once, came with a price. Dresden was heavily bombed by British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) during World War II. Tons of high-explosives andincendiaries rained on the city followed by such ruthlessstrafing of civilians that it had become a traditional part of their oral history. Sandra recalled stories of crammed families in air raid shelters, people trampled to death and cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children. The misery was so overwhelming that even decades of reconstruction did not rid Dresden of the char and ash of its past.

Being alone is not as bad as people make it out to be, I thought. From a young age our morality and codes of living are constructed around the necessary presence of other people.

Itwas early enough for there to be no one about to unlock the world-famous art collectioninside Zwinger Palace. Sothe masterpieces such as the Sistine Madonna by Raphael, works by Titian and Canaletto, and paintings by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish masters including Rembrandt and Rubens were only conjured up by our imagination. Like Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops, we paraded outside fortresses and palaces, but unlike those foreigners we did not bring the message of annexation and battle, but of party, food and drink. The rain was merciless, giving us no time to peruse yelp reviews and we raced into the first café that propped its door open. Hand painted tiles and chandeliers basked in organ music gave the entire café a regal, Downtown Abbey-esque feel. We were loud and disorderly: with our Jansport bags slouching at our feet and our H&M shirts soaked wet, we were naturally approached more than once by the patronizing, tailcoat-clad concierge to maintain decorum. But finally our food arrived and all was forgiven.

The Blue Wonder Bridge.

The Blue Wonder Bridge.

It was that bistro – the name of which I do not recall – that ruined food for me. Everything from the pizza, to assortment of cheese, to strawberries dipped in sweet cream, to coffee with crescent biscuits down to every morsel was so divine that I knew, categorically, that food from here on could only be a mere shadow of this. By the time we left, we were full and warm, and the rain had reduced to vapor. It did not matter that there were people around now, because the locals knew no English or pretended not to, given their far-right, xenophobic attitude. So we got lost in yellow and blue neighborhoods of Dresden Neustad, traversing secret gardens and chestnut churches in an attempt to get to the bus station in time.

Giggling and smirking at each other we rushed to bag our seats. Arnav, passing around his vodka water-bottle sternly stated, “Now, are we sure we wanna do this?”

Read part 4 Fur and foxy cities here

Three devious smiles quieted him down, and so it was confirmed that we would not get off at Hamburg (as we had originally planned) but ride and roll with the bus to wherever it took us.

Soon, the bus stopped to refuel, and I to get soda and cigarettes, but nowhere on the vending machine was there a slot for euros. This, ladies and gentleman, was Prague.

Fatima Bakhtawar

Fatima-8
The writer is a Princeton University graduate, currently doing research in Experimental Plasma Physics at Government College University Lahore. She can be reached at [email protected]

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