Travel writer Laura Botia writes about Snowdonia National Park and the diverse range of activities and landscapes this corner of Wales has to offer.Written by Laura Botia on 16th March 2018
An Insight into Saxony and New Year in Germany
TV Editor Matt Dawson writes about his New Year travels spent in Germany
Nestled between Berlin, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland, the German state of Saxony may often be overlooked for more popular tourist spots or seen as no more as a pit-stop for interrailers, but Saxony is a destination in its own right. Home to the cities of Dresden and Leipzig, the region is rich in history and culture and is especially delightful to experience during the period of New Year, or Silvester as it’s known to the Germans. In spite of the shadow of its Cold War past (the area was a part of the German Democratic Republic or East Germany), its people are welcoming and it offers a variety of things to see and do.
The capital, Dresden, is most widely known to Brits as the site of catastrophic and controversial Air Raid by British and American forces during the Second World War. However, the city has overcome that to rebuild, much like the country’s capital in the north, respecting both old and new architecture. You can notice this by the simple divide between the Altstadt (meaning Old Town) along the banks of the river Elbe and the Neustadt (meaning New Town), a modern neighbourhood full of independent bars and cafés. The skyline of the Altstadt is a dominating aspect of Dresden’s identity: the Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, stands out in particular from Neumarkt Square, having been fully restored in 2005. Another landmark to look out for is the Dresden Cathedral, again suffering from damage from the war, but is now back to its former glory. In the nearby Moritzburg, one of the region’s most beautiful palaces can be found, attracting many European visitors because it was a filming location for a Czech adaptation of the Cinderella fairytale.
Not to be outdone in terms of religious architecture, Saxony’s most populous city, Leipzig, is home to the St. Thomas Church, where classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach taught as the choir director, and the majestic St. Nicholas Church, one of the largest in the region and where the peaceful Monday Demonstrations against the GDR originated before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But as a city, Leipzig feels much more modern, as you can see by the city centre and the university. Just next to one of the institutions central buildings is the City-Hochhaus skyscraper, that you can pay €3 to get a lift to the top for a spectacular panoramic view.
However, Leipzig’s most underrated attraction is the Museum in the Runde Ecker, the old headquarters for the Ministry of State Security – the Communist Secret Police or “Stasi” – in Saxony. The museum offers an eye-opening insight into a piece of German history that was never taught in British schools: how the GDR would spy on their own people. Entry to the Runde Ecker is free but it is worth paying €5 for an audio guide, especially as the exhibits are all written in German and it elaborates on the displays in much more detail. Dresden also has its fair share of museums and art galleries, notably the Alte Meister Gallery featuring works of art from the 15th to 18th Centuries. Admission is a bit more expensive at €10 (or €7.50 for students), in particular when compared to world-renowned galleries such as the Louvre or the London’s National Gallery, but the ticket grants you access to other parts of the Zwinger palace including its porcelain collection and the exhibition of mathematical and physical instruments. But by far the most interesting museum Dresden has to offer is the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum, which is not as boring as it sounds. Founded in 1912 to promote public healthcare, the museum today is a modern look at various aspects of science and culture. It has some incredibly in-depth temporary exhibits (the current ones are concerning The Face and Pets), to the extent that you could easily spend the entire day there without looking at the permanent exhibit.
Dresden’s Neustadt has a cosmopolitan variety of bars that cater to all tastes but with a lot aimed at students thanks to its reputation as a student town. Some highlights include Bautzner Tor for traditional German beer and Little Creatures for cocktails. Even the dingiest of dive bars has a friendly atmosphere (but if you ever find yourself in Leo’s Bierstube, try not to order the Pfeffi!). The city also has a range of cosy cafés and restaurants, such as the Blumenau, and in particular, the Curry & Co. and the Bagels Dresden are the best places to go if you fancy currywurst and, well, bagels.
Spending Silvester in Saxony adds another layer of magic to the experience, especially if you manage to get a good vantage point for the fireworks at midnight. But before that, some traditional German traditions should be experienced, from the bizarre to the delicious. This includes watching an unfunny and long-forgotten British sketch “Dinner for One” that has somehow become one of the most repeated specials in TV history, to preparing raclette, a form of melted cheese mixed with various savoury ingredients. Then, as the countdown to the New Year gets going, watch as the sky becomes filled with fire and smoke from the tons of private fireworks displays, making Saxony definitely worth braving the cold.