After 2 weeks in Dresden, Germany, I’m now in Prague. I never really got to see much of Dresden since I pretty much “worked” full time! Up early for brekky, write one or two posts for the chess blog, maybe walk around town if I had time or do some shopping. Then with all that out of the way, I’d head off to the Olympiad press room to begin my day. That was it for two weeks except for the first rest day of the Olympiad tournament when I actually managed to visit Pillnitz Palace. No museums or art galleries this time.
Dresden is beautiful. Despite the Allied bombings in WWII which destroyed much of the inner city, plenty of old Dresden survived. Both the Zwinger Palace and the Semperoper, for example, are worth a visit. There are also plenty of the new thanks mainly to the city playing catchup right after German reunification in the early 1990’s. So today there’s shopping for the same sorts of goods (fashion, food, etc) as you’ll see everywhere else. The Altmarkt Gallerie shopping centre was a life saver for me because it was there that I spotted a cafe with coffee made, not by a machine but, by a barista!
Speaking of cafes and coffee, if there is one bad thing that I must say about Dresden, it is the lack of good coffee. There are cafes of the sort which you’ll find in Sydney or even Berlin – but you’d have to look pretty damn hard! And in Dresden I spotted only two. If you really need that caffeine hit early in the morning, your likely nearest source will be a breadshop where your black stuff will come straight out of one of those vending machine type contraptions. Not exactly awful, but after a fortnight of this stuff, withdrawal symptoms can quickly set in.
The good thing about Dresden, however, is the well-developed public transport system. There’s no underground, but you gotta love the trams! These things will take you everywhere and most routes go on pretty much during all hours but with lesser frequency at night until early morning. Twice, once at about 2AM and the other at 4.30AM, I managed to stagger safely back to my hostel thanks to the Dresden trams. Line number 11 to be precise.
While most of my friends stayed in the Altstadt, I opted to settle myself in the Neustadt district. The Neustadt is where you’ll find Dresden’s hip and funky bars and thus it’s also where you’ll spot the younger crowd. There, too, you’ll find a number inexpensive ethnic restaurants like the Chinese/Thai joint where I had a nice beef noodle, but where, unfortunately, they also served warm Radeberger (best beer in Dresden). I even walked into a sushi train with a difference: the plates moved about on water instead of a conveyor belt!
For a cheapo place to stay I booked a single room (€27 per night) at the Kangaroo Stop hostel, located literally just around the corner from the Bahnhof Neustadt train station and only about 3 minutes from a tram stop. Frankly, the location is its main trumpcard, so if that’s important to you, then book here. But note that there are some drawbacks. The communal showers offer you no privacy; its exactly like what you see in prisons: a long wall with about 5 shower heads above. That’s it! Also, there is no WIFI internet (standard in many hostels these days), but they do provide free net access on an old PC. And while the rooms (at least mine, anyway) are clean, they are not “modern” like in many other hostels where I’ve stayed; it just felt like a guest room in someone’s house. All in all I had a pleasant enough stay to ignore these little things and their “pay only 6 nights for a seven-night stay” policy more than made up for the drawbacks.
I stayed just a little under three weeks in Germany and, I must say, it was the most surprising country so far. For a people who live in such a cold country – Germans are warm, friendly and very hospitable. A welcoming and genuine smile greeted me wherever I went. Perhaps the single highlight and one which I shan’t forget quickly was at the hairsalon in Dresden. They spoke not a word of English, but with the appropriate hand gestures and smiling faces, we understood each other easily enough. It was the best damn haircut I’ve ever had: no hair clippers, just a pair scissors. A handcrafted haircut, you could say, all for €37.
With the Chess Olympiad over, I left Dresden and Germany and headed for Prague. That’s where I am now.