The coach journey from Prague to Dresden was pretty easy and didn’t take too long. I had arranged to couch surf with three Uni students and got the tram from the bus station to the address given and hiked my bag up far too many steps to their apartment, which got me sweating somewhat! Johannes, Liz and Ana were all absolutely awesome from the get go, despite the fact that just being their age made me feel rather old. The apartment was in Neustadt which is by far the coolest area of the city without even trying. Clearly I fit right in 😉
After having a chat and getting to know them a little, I headed off into the city to explore. On the way, I heard a live jazz band playing at a bar on this beautiful tree-lined boulevard which leads to the city centre, so I took some time out to listen and enjoy. Upon reaching the centre, I heard more jazz music and then saw lots and lots of people standing and just looking over the main bridge to the road below. I asked what was happening and it turns out that I arrived on the last day of the Dixieland jazz festival (which happens every year) and the people looking over the bridge weren’t just admiring the passing traffic, they were waiting for the jazz parade to pass through the city. Now I think anyone would be delighted to arrive into a city as beautiful as Dresden with live, upbeat jazz music playing every hundred metres or so, the sun shining brightly and everybody dancing, drinking and smiling and I was no different. I wandered from band to band really absorbing the city and atmosphere, before heading to watch the parade, which was so much fun. I really got a new-found appreciation for jazz music and how it makes people feel.
Getting the chance to check my phone, I saw that by chance, my friend Stephen was also going to be arriving in Dresden that evening. We have been friends since school but rarely get the chance to see each other, with us both moving to faraway countries. The last time I saw him would have been 9 years ago, when I went to visit him in Rotterdam. He was coming into the city as a tour leader on a boat full of his charges, who were all between 60-90 years old. I got permission to board by the captain and was introduced to everyone by Stephen as his friend from school and got a very warm “Hi Bowie” from all of them, to which I responded “Hi old people” which sat remarkably well with them and then I ended up settling into such a fun night, getting to have dinner with them and having a chat with a few of the old dears who were super funny. I went with them on a short, after dinner stroll, before saying my farewells and making my way back to Neustadt. It was only a brief interlude with such an old friend but I will be seeing Stephen again when I arrive in Athens later this year, as that is where he is now living and we will get plenty of time to catch up without Ethel and Doris chiming in asking to hear our school day stories!
Back at the apartment, Johannes suggested we go out for a drink and I assumed we’d go to a pub but he directed me to the street, where it seemed the whole community was out drinking and chatting like there was some kind of street party going on. It turns out that this is just the community of Neustadt and that’s how they spend the evening, just enjoying each others company on the streets and drinking beers which are cheaper than what you get in the bars. We were sat in a place nicknamed Assieck, which roughly translates to Riot Square. Neustadt is a very ‘left’ part of the city and I heard stories of past protests, occasional riots and demonstrations which have happened there and you can still feel a charge of electricity in the air. We had a great evening talking with each other and those sat near us. Everybody was in good spirits and a good time was had by all. Before long, it was past my bedtime and we headed back to the apartment so I could get some sleep!
My first day in Dresden was awesome. Such a varied and diverse day, none of which was planned and despite each event being entirely unique, the day seamlessly weaved together to push Dresden high on my list of favourite cities.
In brief, my next day involved what I normally do – a lot of walking and a lot of sightseeing. It is such a stunning city and the architecture and abundance of gold statues were often breathtaking to see, especially with the gorgeous Elbe river running through the city, to help frame its historic structures.
After such a lovely day of exploring, I decided to join a political protest to mix things up a bit. I was advised that Pegida who is a German far right movement congregate every Monday in Dresden city centre to spout their rhetoric and protest against immigration, muslims and just anything the rest of the word has come to accept as part of the progression of society. What is lovely is that there is large number of lefties who also live in Dresden who also congregate at the same time and place to show that Pegida’s views are not shared by the majority. As I wondered the city, I caught sight of a rainbow flag and assumed that would be part of the left protest so quickened my pace to go and join them. It was interesting being part of something so political and I have been learning a lot about my views on areas of politics (such as open borders as I travel) as well as the placement of refugees, which is even more poignant after the amount of history I was learning regarding WWII. As I marched, I was glad to be part of a group of young, organised and passionate people, who were there to protest against mostly older men and women of the far right. It was good to see so few young people among them, which gives me hope that hate will die out with old age and the young will have less to protest about as time goes on. We shall see. As both groups stood around shouting their chants and songs and playing music which supported their values and feelings, I decided to cross the police barrier and walk among these ‘Pegida people’ who fear change and the safety and welfare of migrants and refugees. None of them noticed that I had come from the other side of the fence and some even acknowledged me and said hi. Now I can only assume that these people are likely to be homophobic, as that has been part of the Pegida agenda in the past and it really showed me how ignorant hate is. I am gay and an immigrant and they looked at me like I was one of them just because I was white and standing on ‘their side’. I represent so much of what they stand against but their ignorance lead them to believe that I was as appalling as I believe them to be and they showed no animosity towards me whatsoever. Hate is ignorance and after this little revelation materialised before me in these people I was walking amongst, rather than just hearing about it in the media, I left both sides of the protestors and made my way back to Neustadt to relax, unwind and enjoy the awesome street art and a late night jazz concert with Johannes and his friends.
I loved my time in Dresden. Where I stayed, what I saw, the history and the randomness of it, all adding up to an awesome stay. The city was so alive with so many people and the buildings and experiences really added to the vibrancy of the place. Dresden was just meant to be an easy stopping point between Prague and Hamburg but it became so much more. I would urge everyone to visit and spend an evening relaxing at Riot Square and even go to the city centre on a Monday at around 6pm and see the protests which are a weekly occurence, with freedom of speech being the overall winner. You never know what random experiences might happen to you in Dresden and I for one relished in them and am really looking forward to returning.