In March 2006 I went to Germany for two weeks. When I travel, I usually email daily descriptions home. These are those emails from that trip.
My flight from New York to Frankfurt was an uneventful form of hell. The biohazard level 3 respirator mask certainly improved my quality of life, but I was unfortunately next to a surly and obese black woman who did not understand that the armrest marked the boundary of her space and mine. I got into Frankfurt on time. After my mother's worries about German customs, it consisted of a clean cut fellow in a green uniform asking me "holiday or business," stamping my passport, and waving me through. I found my gate, then drank a liter and a half of water to rehydrate, and performed kung fu breathing exercises to restore myself. After about forty five minutes of that, I no longer wished to die, and thought I might be ready to embark for Hamburg.
I made it safely into Hamburg, got my bag --- trust the Germans not to lose my luggage --- and met my host Emma Fauss outside the baggage claim. She hustled me onto a bus, then onto a train, then onto another bus, because her heat was broken and we had to get back by noon since that's when the repairmen were to come.
We arrived at Emma's apartment, a lovely little place overlooking the river in Blankenese in the far southwest of Hamburg. Emma waited for the repairmen, and sent me down to do the marketing at the street market which runs three times a week here. I'm rather proud of myself: I managed to get us rather nice food and spoke only German. Normally this would not be a particular accomplishment, but in a language I've only studied for two months, I think I may be permitted some satisfaction. Among the sights was a rather good accordion player busking, and at one point a really worried little black dog came up and walked back and forth looking at the musician before shuffling off.
When I got back we waited for the repairmen to finish, then hopped back on the train to go to B. in the far southeast of Hamburg, where we helped one of Emma's friends from her lab (she's studying industrial grade production of protein at the moment) move into a new apartment. It was on the top floor of five, and they had friends forming a human chain up the stairs to pass things swiftly up. We arrived about an hour before it was all over, but I did act as the third able bodied individual to help move the stove.
After the move-in, Emma and I caught the train back to Blankenese. There we stopped in her favorite tea shop for a pot of tea, a scone with clotted cream and marmelade, and half a piece of raspberry cake each. Very tasty! Then we came home and I showered for the first time since yesterday morning. Heavens, what joy...
Sometime soon we're going to see to dinner, but I'm starting to finally fade fast. It's not a problem now, though: 8PM is a reasonable hour to go to bed if you're jetlagged.
I woke up at 10 today. I pottered quietly before waking Emma at 11:30. We ate and did kung fu warmups, and then plotted out our day, beginning with a walk down to the river and around Blankenese. The town is built in a shallow gorge running down into the river. My place here is on the western side well up the gorge. On the height of the western peak is a castle that used to be used for watching ship traffic. It now contains restaurants. The town has a certain number of winding streets, but mostly is full of little footpaths with many stairs that twist in and out among the houses.
We walked along the river for a little ways, then turned back up into the town, and came up in the park at the top of the gorge, then down the other side to lunch at the same cafe where we went for tea yesterday. I followed Emma's lead and ordered a local specialty: scalloped potatos with tomatos, onions, and parseley. Heavy and simple, but with a pot of tea it was satisfying on this cold and grey day.
We hopped the train into Hamburg, stopped at Hauptbanhof (the main train station) to get me a week pass, which requires a photo ID. They're really ghastly photos. I look even more like a psychopath than usual in pictures. (Speaking of photos, Emma took some with her digital camera, which I promise I'll get out to you all at some point.)
Thence we went to the three times a year faire called the Dom (I could only think of the Russian word for the volume of a book, дом. I don't know why German is so strongly linked to what little Russian I know in my head. The faire was...interesting. Emma prevailed upon me to try bumper cars, which were not an immense success, and we went up in the ferris wheel, which gave us a lovely view of the surrounding parks and city, and the red light district (der Reeperbahn) just one street over. There were huge numbers of food vendors, several roller coasters, and even a mini-Renaissance faire tucked away in a corner. The bad animatronics were the best source of laughter. The badly animated King Kong waving a lifeless plastic female doll back and forth was the best. We took a video shot of it for later enjoyment.
Hamburg is a remarkably green city: an immense number of trees and parks, and unlike New York, they're scattered throughout the city. There are trees almost everywhere. In unrelated praise, Hamburg's trains are extremely well planned. They run perfectly on time, generally every ten minutes and go almost anywhere in the city. There's no turnstiles or gates; it's all honors system. You buy a ticket and there are occasional spot checkers who ask to see it, but apparently weeks go buy without actually getting asked for it. Then you just hop on and off buses and trains so far as you're ticketed. There are two different systems, the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn, which follow different routes. The U-Bahn is smaller and more like a normal subway (though they both go above and below ground). It also has kind of yellowish lights inside. Emma says it's much like the London tube. The S-Bahn consists of big, impeccably clean trains with immense windows. The U-Bahn is merely a better system than New York's subway or DC's metro. The S-Bahn puts them to shame.
We came home at this point in the day, and stopped for a hot chocolate and to pick up ice cream at an Italian cafe about a five minute walk from home --- which is run by Italians. Apparently most of the Italian cafes and restaurants here are actually Italian, as the Germans are crazy for them. Emma studiously ordered our ice cream in German, at which point I noted (in Italian) that this probably would have been easier in Italian. The lady's expression was priceless. And their gelato was first class.
Then home, where I cooked a cauliflower, sautéed some onions and bell peppers and warmed up some sausages. Emma and I stayed up talking until 1AM, now I'm writing this before I head off to bed.
Tomorrow we go to her lab at the University. Life's been odd there: it sounds like her strain of E. coli was improperly transformed by the lab that sent it to her, and the antibiotic resistance recombined from the plasmid without taking the rest of it in part of the population, so they can't get consistent protein production. This is a problem when you're in a bioreactor lab, not a molecular biology one. And apparently German universities decide if they're going to keep decent lab books or be rigorous about their research on a lab by lab basis. It's rather bemusing. The whole system seems weird and I'll report more when I understand it.
We managed to get moving out of Blankenese by about noon today, and went across town to Bergendorf where Emma's lab is. I met her professor, and saw her lab. Let's just say a student came in with chromatography readings with no standards on them. He didn't understand that standards were required. The professor's response was "we have to buy standards from the company and that's expensive." Apparently this was an unusually reasonable response from him. I taught Emma and two of her undergraduate students how to plate bacteria evenly across the Petri dish. It's disturbing that I was the knowledgeable one. Is this why so many Europeans want to come to the US for their doctorate?
After that Emma went to German class, and I made a circuit of the Binnenalster, one of the big lakes in the center of Hamburg, detouring to the Rathaus (city hall), and up one of the main shopping streets, making pauses in the Henkel knife store, a big bookstore where I amused myself in a fairly sizeable mathematics section, and a CD shop called Zweitausendeins (cheap classical music! Twelve euros for six discs!) on the Collonaden just to the west of the Binnenalster before meeting Emma after her class. We grabbed a pizza just a bit north and went to something called Sneak: a theatre shows an English language movie, a preview of one that has not been released in Germany yet, but they don't tell anyone beforehand what it was. When the first couple minutes included massive and graphic violence followed by rather sordid pornography, we made tracks for home.
I'm on my own tomorrow, and need to figure out what I'm going to do with myself besides do the marketing.
Day 4 & 5
No report when out yesterday, so this will cover two days.
I didn't see Emma all day on Tuesday. She had to be in her lab at 8:30 in the morning to teach a practicum, supervise students in their projects, and try to do some German homework. Then she had German class. On about 21:00 she got home, exhausted and braindead.
I, on the other hand, did the marketing, and then took the S-Bahn into Hamburg to Stadthausbrücke, walked south to the canals and then along the waterfront of the Elbe. I ate my lunch on a bench there where the museum/sailing ship, the Reckmar Reckmars, is anchored at Landungsbrücken. There was an accordion player cranking out waltzes --- but it seems like there's always an accordion player here. I walked on past Altona, and finally left the water at Königstraße, and wound my way among charming rows of old houses up to the S-Bahn station there.
I relaxed for the afternoon, did some reading (not reading for work, I admit), and fixed us ravioli al burro e salvia for supper when Emma finally arrived back. We spent a mindless evening: we ate, we watched Kung Fu Hustle on my laptop, and we went to sleep.
Today, we managed to get ourselves together and out the door at about 13:30, caught the 36 bus to Teufelsbrücke and the ferry there (with a pause in the dockside café to have a hot chocolate). We took the ferry east all the way to Sandtorhafen, and went to Miniatur Wunderland there. This is three rooms of model railroads with full scenes. They have one room of various places in Germany (Knuffingen, Harz, and a bit of the Alps), one with a piece of Hamburg, a rather peculiar one of a piece of the American southwest, and pretty neat section supposed to be Scandanavia. Some of the sections have moving cars as well, and they're obsessive about lighting. Day cycle into night, and in the attention to detail is delightful. We got to see a big palace in the Knuffingen scene catch fire and a bunch of firetrucks roar out of the nearby town and drive up to it. There was a little place in the mountains with the Jurassic park fences around it and two velociraptors chasing a man. In the American one there were little green men somewhere in the desert. It was a lot more fun to search for peculiarities (the topless/nude beach; the world war two biplanes; the bungee jumpers on a bridge) than to look at the trains. In the Scandanavian room, their latest, they've added moving boats. By the end of the year they plan to have 40 vessels underway on the water. Now they've got two freighters and a tugboat which cruise around in the waterways.
We also wandered around a corner and had a really good look at their control center, which was perhaps even more interesting: lots of network diagrams detailing the system status, and the view from one of the trains (which was scarily like a real view from a train).
I had packed us a lunch, so we ate that before catching the train back to Blankenese. Since we had nowhere to go and nothing to do and a while till dinner time, we stopped in the Italian café and had another hot chocolate. Now for a quiet evening and some vegetable soup.
There are photos available at last on [Flickr]
We did it! We got out the door before noon! We headed off to the Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts (sounds like they ought to have children's construction paper art, doesn't it?) at 10:30. Of course, it's housed in an 18th century palace, and recently the cielings finally started rotting away, so much of it's closed for major structural restoration, but the historical instrument galleries were open...and a really odd visiting display of costumes that seemed to be meant for "performance art." Think paper maché, bad sewing, something slightly above what you would expect from a five year old. Then there was the video of the man in a costume with a triangular head shaking while random snips of noise played in the background. The harpsichords and pianos were fun, though. They also had a couple of viols. On the way out we discovered that they have concerts there a couple times a week...including one that evening.
So we went home, had a cold lunch (bread, cheese, strawberries, and apples with honey), and Emma went to the first of two German classes today. Upon her return we headed back into the city for her next German class. We got a hot chocolate and bought bread from the bakery at Dammtor. I walked from there over to the museum by Hauptbanhof. At 18:30, the curator of the instrument collection gave a lecture interspersed with playing assorted Baroque music on his various harpsichords. It was pleasant, and beneficial for my German. I was a little upset that he played without inegàle in the Couperin pieces, but that piece of scholarship may have been after he received his training. Then Emma arrived and we attended the concert: a lutenist playing Baroque works.
The concert was held in one of the overblown Baroque salons with all the gold sculpture and the mirrors on the doors. From the architectural style of the rest of the building, I suspect it was close to the original decoration. It was a small audience, perhaps twenty people, and Emma and I were of course the youngest there. The lutenist talked quite a bit about the music, but he played well.
We finally got home about 23:00, made some spaghetti, and now I'm about to crash. It's late, and we need to go do the marketing again tomorrow morning.
Days 7 & 8
Once again, I didn't write yesterday, so here's both days.
On Friday Emma had to go in to work again, so we did the marketing, she hopped on her train, and I went home. I spent a lazy day, took a nap, didn't do anything. Then in the evening we went to the Platz Johannes Brahms for a concert by the Artemis String Quartet: three Mozart quartets, and one by Ligeti. I didn't know any of the pieces, so it was a series of pleasant surprises.
Today we got out the door at, oh, 12:30, and made it to Dammtor in time to meet Emma's friend and fellow German student Alexander, another chemical engineer working in biology. We had lunch in a decent Japanese restaurant along the Collonades to the west of the Binnenalster, and then crossed the bridge which separates the two Alsteren to the Hamburg Kunsthalle. The Kunsthalle had enormous collections of Renaissance German paintings and Baroque German paintings and Impressionist German paintings...and shoved away in a back room which no one in it and no one even watching it, a Monet, three Degas, and a Cezanne, all very good...in fact, all noticeable better than what was in the rest of the galleries. Can't have the native artists being outshone by those upstart French!
The rest of the museum was full of really awful modern "art." We spent a couple hours making fun of it, and then went for a hot cocoa. Just home now, going to heat up some soup and finish doing the laundry. Tomorrow I leave for Dresden.
Day 9 and a half
This is going out this morning since I didn't have Internet access yesterday. Emma and I got up early, thinking to go have brunch at her favorite café in Blankenese, but discovered that the Germans had just switched over to daylight savings time. A good thing we figured it out...
I did catch my 11:15 train from Altona-Banhof for Dresden. German trains are somewhere between Italian trains and an airplane: the seats are all neatly lined up, your bags go overhead or under the seat in front of you, but the cars are divided in the middle --- one half smoking, one not --- and there are big windows which you can't open.
The train passed through Berlin, which didn't look particularly attractive, and arrived finally in Dresden, which did. Dresden differs from Hamburg in two respects. First, it is noticeably prettier; and second, it is much warmer. Therefore instead of spitting snow, we get spitting rain.
I joined the procession of physicists catching the 72 bus from Hauptbanhof. We all piled off two stops later and went into a large, square, glass and concrete building to register. Then, key in hand, I wandered off to the International Guesthouse of the Technisches Universität Dresden. For seventeen euros a night I get a clean bathroom, a small kitchen stocked with the basic tools including a tea kettle, a set of sheets for a bed, a desk, and two roommates. Thankfully they're fine: one's a personable German who's here more to look around Dresden than to go to the conference since he's thinking about writing his thesis here. The other is a quiet and fidgety Moldovan. The German speaks English well. The Moldovan and I share enough tidbits of languages to communicate: mostly in English, but with bits of German and the occasional word of Russian thrown in.
Oh, and don't forget a towel when staying in hostels in Europe. In the past day and a half, I have come to realize that the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy actually has an extraordinary amount of useful travel advice. Part of my task for today is to go buy a towel. And probably a couple more t-shirts.
I settled in, went briefly to the evening social (complete with bad easy-listening jazz band), scarfed some food, then fled and took a nice walk along the north bank of the Elbe (I leave Hamburg and the Elbe, travel on a high speed train for five hours, and arrive at Dresden and the Elbe). As it was getting dark, I stopped in a place called 'Kaffee Rosegarten' at the edge of the park that makes up most of the banks of the river in Dresden and had a cheap dinner: 10 euros for a plate of gnocchi al pesto and a cup of hot chocolate afterwards. I should comment that the Germans know even less about pesto than the Americans. It was a cream sauce was lots of basil chopped up into it. I'm also a little weirded out by being served hot chocolate in a glass instead of a teacup. The poor waitress was obviously new, and kept dropping silverware. Ah well, at least the Germans have started to realize that have no food culture, and have taken steps to import that of the Italians. Unfortunately, they're being cheated.
The conference is enormous, and, in a biting comment on European science, most of it is totally uninteresting. They handed us a telephone book when we registered containing the sessions and abstracts for the week. There is a three hour session on Monday on new techniques in polymer physics that I'll attend in hopes of being able to steal ideas for techniques for biology. I went to half of a depressingly boring talk on nanostructures this morning. I think I'll try to find one session most of the days I'm here, and then go see Dresden the rest of the time. That was the purpose of this anyway.
Dresden's public transit consists of buses and hi-tech looking street cars. There aren't many trains at all. There is noticeably more graffiti here than Hamburg, probably because I'm now in East Germany. The city has several centers instead of one: the Altstadt just to the north of Hauptbanhof and stretching to the south bank of the Elbe; the Neustadt, somewhat northwest of the Altstadt, and some nearby semi-assimilated villages. The city is built on the flat area surrounding the Elbe and is ringed by hills, which look to have lovely villas on them. I hope to go exploring up there sometime soon.
Now I must go find my towel and some lunch before the session at 14:00.
The end of yesterday's report: the New Experimental Techniques session at the conference was kind of pitiful. They don't even have errorbars! Some of them barely had numbers! I know there are good scientists in Europe. I can think of three of them off the top of my head. But one of them's a mathematician. Well, two of them really. And the last one's really mathy. Alright, so I know of three good mathematicians in Europe.
I went looking for dinner in the evening, and tried a place with a pirate theme near the water that was full of physicists. I spent eleven euro for water, a bratwurst, sauerkraut, and mashed potatos. The bratwurst was a bratwurst; the sauerkraut wasn't bad if a bit mild; the potatos were tasteless. I should have known better, but I was looking fora much more interesting place I had sighted earlier in the day. I couldn't find it, and settled for second best. However, as an interesting aside, the table next to me had three Frenchmen and two Germans. One of the Frenchmen and one of the Germans each spoke pretty good English, so they were the translators back and forth. And of course all the science is in English. I have decided that one of the most important things the US can do to maintain its lead in the sciences is to brutally try to suppress science in other languages. It shouldn't be too hard: German is a has-been scientific language, and Russian is becoming one.
Anyway, on to today: "It's springtime for Dresden and Germany..." How do I know? The Elbe is in flood! That's right, all that snow up higher has finally started melting, and in places the city park along the river has entirely disappeared, except for perhaps the top of a bench sticking up here and there.
Or, to start at the beginning, I began the day at 8:30 with an interesting talk on quantum computation, then went to the first of the two quantum dynamics sessions until 11:00 -- some interesting discussions of what is required in a system in order to have the a subsystem obey statistical mechanics. Then I decided I was hungry and didn't want to go to the rest of the talks I had planned for today.
I had bread, cheese, sausage, and a pot of tea, and then went walkabout. As anyone who has ever travelled with the Rosses can tell you, beware when they start walking. Heaven knows where you'll end up or what you'll see along the way.
I began by taking the Straßenbahn to Wasaplatz. I then could not find the stop for the next streetcar in the right direction, and so settled for walking around the area. Wasaplatz doesn't get listed in the guidebooks, but it's worth a visit. It has a lot of old houses, some obviously from before the war. Half-timber with turrets and bay windows was apparently all the rage for quite a long time here. Thankfully, I happen to be quite fond of half-timber with turrets and bay windows.
I finally tracked the streetcar line to the next stop, and caught the next one there, which deposited me a little later at Rosa-Luxemborg-Platz on the north bank of the river, just at the easternmost of the three bridges in the Altstadt. I went down to the park from the bridge, only to find that the park had largely disappeared. Gone was the generous floodplain with cavorting dogs and less cavorting Germans. Thankfully that part has nice gardens above as well, so on I went.
After some time, most of the buildings and cultivation right by the river stopped, and I found myself in an enormous field, with more lovely old houses in the distance as I tromped upriver (east). Then the terraces started again, and the path stopped.
It didn't actually stop, really, it just would have required a boat to follow it, and I would have been worried about running aground on the benches. So I took the only path that remained, a small, cobbled street called Brockhausstraße. I followed it to a big thoroughfare. On my left is the end of the city. On my right, we're back to forest. I went up a footpath straight across the road. I passed an enclosure with some small deer with impressive antlers, and an enclosure billed to have bighorn sheep (which were not in evidence), and then a crudely carved, grinning wooden statue with a wooden sign nailed to its chest. The sign said 'Waldspielplatz' (Woodland play place), and pointed to a soccer field, a few log huts, and some playground equipment that looked like an attempt by an alien which had one caught a glimpse of a swing, a hammock, a seesaw...
Leaving behind these delights, I arrived on Fischhausstraße, which leades up into the König-Albert-Park, a large wooded area which encompasses most of the hills northeast of Dresden. I of course start hiking up this road, and come upon the reason for its name: das Fischhaus! This is a major historic site on the Dresden maps, for apparently there has been a Fischhaus here since 1573. It looked rather closed, but the posted menu didn't seem unreasonable for Germany (remember, Germans cannot and should not cook).
I also made a loop of about a mile on icy foottrails back into the park. It was pleasant to find I could completely escape the city within about an hour's walk from the Altstadt. Then I made my way back down past the Waldspielplatz again, and went in an open gate which carried a long warning about staying on the paths for the sake of the frogs which bred herein. Shortly I realized I had come to the first of the three Elbe castles, three Baroque castles constructed by three high nobles of saxony on the slopes overlooking the Elbe to the east of the city. The grounds to the first at least are open to the public. All the outbuildings are still there, and there are some gorgeous views of the river. Incidentally, all the statuary is gone from the niches. I peered in through the windows of the main house. It looks lovely inside, but I didn't try to go in. Something for another time...
Then, because I'm me, I headed to the bottom of the garden. Below the terrace was the park turned river. To the east was a wall between me and the next castle with its vineyards. I don't know if it was open to the public, but I hopped the wall and mosied across the bottom of its gardens. Its terraces were dominated by a vineyard. On the far side was yet another wall to hop over, this one a little more challenging. The third castle I think is the prettiest of the three, but it also had signs about a conference center and registration desk when I peered around the side to the driveway, so I just had a look at the building and nipped back down the hill.
Then I was foiled! I had to walk up a long little street which should have led to the park under normal conditions. I could have probably scaled the wall, but it's just well as I did. I found where the rich people in Dresden live: in an area around Schevenstraße. Some of the houses here gave the castles a run for their money. My favorite was an enormous brown half-timber standing directly on the bluffs overlooking the river.
I wandered all the way along Schevenstraße to the Blaues Wunder, the next bridge over the Elbe after you leave the center city. I would like to quote from a Dresden guidebook: "One of the highlights is the Blue Wonder (Blaues Wunder) suspension bridge across the river between Loschwitz and Blasewitz." This is not the only place you will find the Blaues Wunder called a suspension bridge. I looked at the picture in the guidebook and said, "but that's a trestle bridge!" I got to it today and said, "Yup, it's a metal trestle bridge, painted light blue." It's a nice bridge, but I think they're stretching things a bit when they try to call it a wonder. On the other hand, on the shore is a wonder: parts of Dresden that I believe largely escaped the bombing and the subsequent fire. They look like the ultradense European cities that I'm used to...and suddenly the rest of the city snapped into focus. Dear god, we bombed the shit out of this place!
I went down to the park on the south shore of the river from the bridge. Out east of the Altstadt, the park is enormous. The flooded river reduced it from endless to merely enormous. In some sections I think it's an easy quarter mile from the river to the road. I was now treated to lovely views of all the gorgeous houses and castles I had inspected up close as I walked along miles of veldt.
An amusing aside: on my way out I had noted three women with about twenty dogs, most of the them labradors, on the south side of the river. They were rather hard to miss, even from that rate. On my way back, they had gone I estimate about a quarter of a mile, giving them the average velocity of a snail. I came abreast of them on the south shore just in time to see the only small dog of the bunch, a little white fuzzy thing happily go running into and plop down in a big mudhole.
I came back into the Altstadt and thought I might try to see the Frauenkirke. Foiled: they close at 18:00, and were already starting to clear the church. I'll see it tomorrow. However, I did stop in the Neumarkt information center and picked up a Dresden streetmap from 1930 to compare with the present. I wandered the familiar path back through the Altstadt --- and stopped in a lovely used bookshop, where I managed not to buy their whole violin sheet music shelf, and left with only two physics books: a translation of Heisenberg's work on the philosophy of quantum mechanics into Italian (why do I only ever find Heisenberg's works in Italian?), and Bogoliubov's quantum field theory text in English. I got an ice cream cone of tiramisu and stracciatella from the Italian gelateria/bar in the square across from the bookshop, and was going through Ferdinandplatz (main modern shopping district; 6 and 7 Straßenbahn stop Walpurgistraße) when it started to rain. Now I'm safely back in my chambers. However, my Maldovan roommate came in to get a bottle of cognac and half extend an invitation to us: he was going to see the Elbe with three Georgian girls. Sebastian and I are still here, writing on our respective computers.
There's a nice looking Chinese restaurant in Ferdinandplatz that I'm thinking about trying for dinner.
This is my last Internet access until I'm home.
Yesterday I decided I couldn't face any more sessions, and headed up into Neustadt, just to the north of Altstadt on the other side of the river. My sightseeing goals up there were Hauptstraße and the Palais Japanais, but I took the Straßenbahn up to Albert-platz, and walked north from there on Alaunstraße. Apparently all the restaurants that would otherwise be in Altstadt are in Neustadt instead.
I walked about a mile up the street to a small park, at which point it was about lunchtime. I was trying to use the concentration of locals as the guiding factor in my restaurant choice, but I was looking too early: no one was in any of the restaurants. Thus I chose an Italian restaurant about halfway up the street rejoicing in the name Amarena Capanna, which was empty but which served me a perfectly decent pizza and a small bottle of San Pellegrino for €8.50. Upon walking down the street a bit, I discovered that one of the Italian places on the street had all the customers: the low end pizza place which in Italy would have been called an inoteca.
I should comment on the restaurant distribution. Alaunstraße had a about two restaurants per block. Of these, there were several Döner places (kabobs, pizzas, sandwiches), two sort of generic asian restaurants, four Italian places, and an Afghanistan restaurant on the corner of Bischofsweg at the south side of the park which looked really intriguing, but was closed. Notice that I mention not one "German" restaurant.
Then I wandered back down to Albert-platz, and south on a pedestrian area called Hauptstraße, which has some pretty old buildings amid the new shops (it's kind of an open air mall). I made it to what's left of the park along on the Elbe's north bank. The upper gardens were half flooded, but I made progress, and arrived at the Palais Japanais.
Externally, the palace appears to be in good shape, aside from the fact that it's Baroque. Inside they have several museums, mostly because it's utterly gutted and they haven't got it restored so it itself can be a museum. I was kind of shepherded into the Haupt und Hülle exhibit. This featured garments and artifacts from all over the world, Zulu caps and necklaces next to ceremonial Mandarin robes, and all along pictures of disfigured savages and injuns. The Germans are really into savages...
I escaped finally, and made my way back along the river. At one point there were two firemen laughing at a lady whose little fuzzy dog was happily hopping around in the floodwater. At this point it was also started raining. I wandered back through the city. Note that the major shopping district in the city (for the locals, not the tourists) is in the Altstadt, starting at Walpurgisstraße, and going northwest from Ferdinandplatz to Wildruffestraße.
I found another CD shop, called Opus 61, on the west end of the shopping center (Wallstraße, currently a big plaza under massive restoration). As I went in the light rain turned into a serious downpour, so I happily killed about forty five minutes (and €30) therein. Music in Germany is so cheap! Two CD recordings of whole operas never sell for anything like €5 in the states. And they let you listen to anything in the shop before you buy it: they just open the case, and point you to a CD player with headphones.
When the rain and let up a bit more, I finally made my way through the shopping area to the Walpurgisstraße Straßenbahn stop, and home. End of day, essentially, aside from things like eating a quiet dinner at home.
This morning I got up bright and early, packed a lunch, and headed out to try to go to Pillnitz again. The ferries aren't running, which is why I didn't make it Thursday. Today I took kind of a roundabout route: the 11 Straßenbahn to the southwest corner of the Großer Garten (the enormous park with a palace in the middle of it just to the east of the Altstadt), walked through the park to Comeniusplatz, where I caught the 83 bus. It normally runs across the Blaues Wunder and all the way up the far bank of the Elbe. It still does, but there's a hitch: the bridge is closed! The water is no more than 3m below the roadway, and houses on the north bank are starting to flood. The river gets higher and higher.
However, you can still walk across the bridge, and the bus route picks up with different buses on the far side. I actually walked a ways first: up the route of the funicular, and around some winding streets which took me southeast, until I came upon a bus 83 stop again. Back up on those hillsides is obviously where the folks with real money in this town live. I didn't make it to the ridge to look out of the Elbe valley, unfortunately.
The 83 bus runs along a road normally well above the water. Now the road is sandbagged. Anyway, it brought me to Pillnitz without incident. I wandered around. It looked like Versaille as designed by an English landscaper. They had some amazing chamelias, and in the late spring and summer must be really lovely. I wandered around for an hour or so, noted that the river had now overrun a fair amount of the lawns, ate my lunch in one of the still-dry gardens and laughed with at a child hopping in every mud puddle she could find with said child's mother, and caught the bus back. This time I took it all the way to Körnerplatz and the Blaues Wunder. I walked across, and decided it was time to stop for something warm. There's an Italian café right by the bridge, and I went in there.
The Cafe Toscana is impressive: it's an ice cream parlor, a patisserie, a café, and a restaurant. It was full of local people, the food smelled really good, and their specials were only five or six euros. I'm thinking of going back for dinner.
I picked up an Osterbrot ("Easter bread") in a bakery out there, and some chocolate from a sweet shop, and then caught the Straßenbahn back. On the 6 from Pirnaischer Platz to Hauptbanhof, I ran into two girls with an absurd amount of luggage. One was an American who had been staying with the other, a German, and was now taking a train to Frankfurt, thence by air to Liberia. She works with a medical group in west Africa. She had an internal frame pack and two enormous suitcases, a fair part of which was staying in Liberia. We had a nice chat, and I helped them get their luggage onto the right train. The German invited me to come to the international church in Dresden tomorrow morning if I was leaving late enough to be able to come. Am I the only one that thinks it's kind of odd to be invited to a church?
Anyway, I left them on the platform and made for home to relax for a couple hours before going for dinner.