Thursday, June 07, 2007

Halle, Leipzig, Dresden

I plotted a route through to Prague which would take me through Halle, Leipzig and Dresden - breaking up the 400 km journey with some significant stops.

My biggest incentive for visiting Halle, was to view the Nebra Sky Disk, a bronze-age artefact found in 1999, but not publically known until several years later when it appeared on the international antiquities market. Currently housed inside a Halle museum, I turned up to find that institution totally inaccesssible due to major rebuilding, a small detail not recorded on its website.

Martin Luther University
All was not lost, my ancestor John Balthasar Kuhne had attended high school here, and went on to the University, graduating in Theology in the 1780s, and becoming Rector and Deacon in Stassfurt at Johanniskirche in 1789. His sixth child, born in 1807, was the one who emigrated to Australia.

The University of Halle merged with the University of Wittenberg in 1817 to form Martin Luther University, which is where we parked ourselves for a while this fine morning. Together they have a fine set of graduates, including Handel, Georg Cantor, Oswald Spengler, andRudolf Clausius.

Looking from the main university building.

There was a definitely that feel of a good university town - one that was a principal seat of the German Enlightenment - and great universities need great cafes!!

Next stop, Leipzig, final home to JS Bach, and by coincidence today is the first day of Bachfest 2007. It was easy to find a park across the road from the Thomaskirche, where Bach was cantor and where his remains have been buried since 1950.

Choir rehearsals were underway when I stepped inside. The resident choir - the Thomanerchor (St Thomas Boys Choir) that Bach led, was founded in 1212. When Bach himself was 14, he studied in Lüneburg (near Hamburg), where one of my ancestral lines lived prior to moving down into the Stassfurt region.

Thomaskirche, inside and out.

Above and below, screens covering presumed building renovations.

The final stop before Prague was Dresden, controversially bombed by Allied Forces for 3 days in 1945, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five was based on his experiences as a POW in Dresden, one of seven to survive in an underground cell.

Much of what you see in these photos is post-war reconstruction and recreation, which is still continuing. Today this part of the city is overrun by tourists. The first restaurant I saw was an Australian-themed eatery, where you could have a meal completely unrecognisable to Australian palates.

Above, the reconstructed Frauenkirche. Queen Elizabeth II hosted a concert in Germany in 2004 to raise funds for this work.

The 120km drive on to Prague was quite interesting with the terrain much more varied than anything I'd passed through from Rostock to Dresden. At the border, the German police seemed to have fun flicking through my passport, perhaps wondering where I entered the country, as the Rostock folks inspected it without leaving a stamp. I got an exit stamp this time, but there were no Czech officials to process us further.

In Prague I've got a cheap apartment rented about 5km from the main centre, in the unpronounceable Vyšehrad. It's named after a 10th century castle in the area (which I haven't spotted yet) and the castle cemetery houses the remains of writers Karel Capek and Jan Neruda, conductors Karel Ancerl and Rafael Kubelik, and composers Fibich, Dvorak and Smetana.

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