The Trains Do Run On Time

We left Berlin for Prague, with a 2-day layover in Dresden.  The electric train glided out of the Hauptbanhof exactly at 13:05, as the schedule suggested.  I was oddly impressed that the train system is so meticulous that it posts permanent schedules of car numbers, arrivals, and departures.  I’ve ridden Amtrak, and its schedules are at best, approximations with an extensive margin of error; its cars haphazard.  And in contrast to an Amtrak train, the German trains glide smoothly over the rails, with no clacking or swaying.  It covered the 120 mile trip in just under two hours, slowing and stopping occasionally, but mostly keeping up a brisk pace–which was noted every few minutes for those concerned:

For much of the journey south, the land of quite open and flat, broad fields, bordered often by pine and birch forests and at times wind farms–viewed at one 100 mph.

I suspect many people my age will associate Dresden with Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegaut’s Slaugherhouse Five. The lingering controversy over the Dresden bombing, which destroyed much of a city considered a cultural landmark, simply emphasizes what we’ve become too innured to since the bombings in Vietnam:  supposedly well-planned actions, designed to achieve strategically significant goals, are often poorly executed because the tools at hand lack the expected precision.  Vonnegaut simply gave voice to the horror that many people in German, Japan, and North Vietnam experienced as the lords of air power sent their toys to wreck havoc.  Today, the U.S. can do more with drones and guided bombs that Curtis LeMay could only dream of; yet the execution remains as imperfect as always, and families, schools, hospitals, still get disposed of collaterally

Much of Dresden was destroyed and has been rebuilt into a vibrant city.  Some exquisite reminders of a heroic past did survive and can inspire wonder.  Just outside my hotel room is the Kreuzekirke, a neoclassical church built on a site first established in the thirteenth century.  Unlike the gothic cathedrals of France, it did not retain its original form and this latest version was completed in 1800.  Though set afire in the bombing, it endured and was re-established to a traditional form.

More impressive is the Frauenkirche, a few blocks away.  I find it hard to understand how a culture could build and sustain two such massive churches so close together.   This church was, in fact, destroyed during the bombing and only rebuilt following the re-unification of Germany, so I guesss my greater wonder is at the cultural drive to re-establish such a monument.  I like looking at churches but I don’t think I’d spend too much energy trying to build one.  Both churches were once Catholic and are now Lutheran, and Luther keeps watch.

Not to be outdone, the Catholics had their own monumental church, the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.  I’ve tried to remember some of the intracies anc confusions of the Holy Roman Empire and the Thirty Years Wars.  I did learn in (Catholic) high school history that in many contested areas, the good guys (the aristocracy) remained Catholic while the lower classes were eager to follow Luther to their damnation.  This catherdral was built by a Polish King who was also the Elector of Saxony to rival to the Lutheran church. I suspect its architect looked to some older gothic models for the flying buttresses and wonder if the  dome at the top reflects a more eastern culture.

Dresden does have water, the ELbe River, flowing between the old city and the new, though those terms are not modern references.  The Neustadt was built across the river in the 18th century.

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