Places

A jaunt through Dresden

Dresden (known as Drježdźany in Sorbian, Drážďany in Czech and Drezno in Polish) is the capital city and, after Leipzig, the second-largest city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the border with the Czech Republic. Its name derives from Old Sorbian Drežďany, meaning “people of the forest”. An important thing to note here is that there is a difference between Sorbians (also known as Lusatians) and Serbians; they are separate ethnic groups in Europe, with completely separate histories.

Dresden has a long history as the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendor, and was once the family seat of the Polish monarchs. The city was known as the “Jewel Box”, because of its baroque and rococo city centre. The American and British bombing of Dresden in World War II towards the end of the war killed approximately 25,000 people, many of whom were civilians, and destroyed the entire city centre. After the war restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city, including the Katholische Hofkirche, the Zwinger and the Semper Oper.

A view of Dresden in 1945, after the Allied bombing

We visited that old part of the city and we walked around in the section between the Frauenkirche and the Hofkirche in the course of an afternoon. We didn’t stay. We were on a fairly tight schedule and needed to move on. That evening, we made it to a small town named Radebeul, where we spent the night. Enjoy the photographs, there are 93 of them!

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Places

Leipzig Train Station

Inaugurated in 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (Leipzig main train station) is the central railway terminus in Leipzig, Germany. When its plans were finalized in 1909, it was the world’s largest railway station. Today, at 83,460 square metres (898,400 sq ft), it is Europe’s largest railway station measured by floor area. It has 19 overground platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298 metres (978 ft) long facade.

It was in 1898 that the Leipzig city council decided on a joint terminal for Royal Saxon and Prussian state railways north of the city centre. A building contract with both organisations was signed in 1902 and an architectural competition with 76 participants was held in 1906. The winning design by architects William Lossow (1852–1914) and Max Hans Kühne (1874–1942) featured two identical domed entrance halls facing the street, one for each company. The foundation stone was laid on 16 November 1909 and the platforms were gradually brought into operation station from 1912 onwards. When construction works finished on 4 December 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof had become one of the world’s largest railway stations with 26 platforms.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Places

Cecilienhof Palace

Inbetween the two days of visits to Schloss Sanssouci, we made time to visit Schloss Cecilienhof, which is nearby and is a larger compound, in spite of its less imposing facades. Sanssouci was originally projected with just 10 rooms to be used by Frederick the Great, while Cecilienhof was built with 176 rooms. Although the various buildings seem separate, they are interconnected at ground level and below ground and feature quite a few private gardens, set in private courtyards. We visited all we could manage in the space of an afternoon and evening that stretched till dusk, when we had to call it quits.

Cecilienhof is a palace in Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany built from 1914 to 1917 in the layout of an English Tudor manor house. Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the House of Hohenzollern that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire until the end of World War I. It is famous (or infamous) for having been the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, in which the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States made important decisions affecting the shape of post World War II Europe and Asia. In other words, the Potsdam Conference is singularly responsible for drawing the dark iron curtain of communism over most of Eastern Europe, so it’s not an event that many from Eastern Europe remember fondly. The palace’s history is also a fairly sad one, because in spite of its beauty and functionality, it was only used for its intended purpose for a few years.

On 13 April 1914 the Imperial Ministry and the Saalecker Werkstätten signed a building contract that envisaged a completion date of 1 October 1915 and a construction cost of 1,498,000 Reichsmark for the new palace. The architect was Paul Schultze-Naumburg, who visited the couple in Danzig to work out the design for the palace. It was based on English Tudor style buildings, arranged around several courtyards featuring half-timbered walls, bricks and 55 different decorative chimney stacks. The palace was finished in August 1917. It was named Cecilienhof after the Duchess and the couple moved in immediately. Cecilie gave birth at Cecilienhof to her youngest child, Cecilie of Prussia who was born on 5 September 1917.

However, when the revolution erupted in November 1918, for security reasons Cecilie and her six children moved for a while to the Neues Palais, where the wife of Emperor Wilhelm II, Empress Augusta Victoria, was living. Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland, where he remained until his death, on his estate Huize Doorn. (Incidentally, a film was made about the last years of his life and it’s called “The Exception” (2016). It stars Christopher Plummer, Lily James and Jai Courtney.) After the Empress followed her husband into exile in the Netherlands, Cecilie remained in Potsdam and returned to Cecilienhof where she lived until 1920. As the property of the Hohenzollern family had been confiscated after the revolution, Cecilie then had to move her residence to an estate at Oels in Silesia, which was a private property. Only her sons Wilhelm (William) and Louis Ferdinand remained at Cecilienhof while they attended a public Realgymnasium (school) in Potsdam. Crown Prince Wilhelm had gone into exile in the Netherlands on 13 November 1918 and was interned on the island of Wieringen. He was allowed to return to Germany—as a private citizen—on 9 November 1923.

In June 1926, a referendum on expropriating the former ruling Princes of Germany without compensation failed and as a consequence, the financial situation of the Hohenzollern family improved considerably. A settlement between the state and the family made Cecilienhof property of the state but granted a right of residence to Wilhelm and Cecilie. This was limited in duration to three generations.

Prince Wilhelm subsequently broke the promise he had made to Gustav Stresemann, who allowed him to return to Germany, to stay out of politics. He supported the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, who visited Cecilienhof three times, in 1926, in 1933 (on the “Day of Potsdam”) and in 1935. However, when Wilhelm realized that Hitler had no intention of restoring the monarchy, their relationship cooled. After the assassination attempt on 20 July 1944, Hitler had Wilhelm placed under supervision by the Gestapo and had Cecilienhof watched.

In January 1945, Wilhelm left Potsdam for Oberstdorf for a treatment of his gall and liver problems. Cecilie fled in early February 1945 as the Red Army drew closer to Berlin, without being able to salvage much in terms of her possessions. At the end of the war, Cecilienhof was seized by the Soviets.

After the Potsdam Conference ended, Soviet troops used the palace as a clubhouse. It was handed over to the state of Brandenburg and in 1952 a memorial for the Conference was set up in the former private chambers of Wilhelm and Cecilie. The government of Eastern Germany also used the palace as a reception venue for state visits. The rest of the complex became a hotel in 1960. Some of the rooms were used by the ruling party (SED) for meetings. After 1961, a part of the Neuer Garten was destroyed to build the southwest section of the Berlin Wall (as part of the Grenzsicherungsanlagen) which ran along the shore of Jungfernsee. Beginning in 1985, the VEB Reisebüro (state-owned travel agency) modernised the hotel.

Today, parts of Cecilienhof are still used as a museum and as a hotel. In 1990 it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin. The private rooms were opened to the public in 1995 after comprehensive restoration work. Queen Elizabeth II visited Cecilienhof on 3 November 2004. On 30 May 2007, the palace was used for a summit by the G8 foreign ministers. In 2011, Schloss Cecilienhof was awarded the European Heritage Label.

I hope you’ll enjoy this gallery of 113 photographs I took there!

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Places

Sanssouci Palace

After sightseeing in Berlin, we visited Potsdam (which in our days is technically within the territory of Berlin but was once a separate place), where we spent time over the course of a couple of days at Sanssouci Palace (Schloss Sanssouci). The Palace was once the summer home of Frederick the Great, the former King of Prussia. The town of Potsdam was a favourite place of residence for the German imperial family until the fall of the Hohenzollern dynasty in 1918.

An interesting aside: the House of Hohenzollern is also notable for being the official monarchy of Romania from 1881 to 1947 and unofficially from 1991 onward, with the current heir being Princess Margareta, Custodian of the Crown of Romania.

Sanssouci was built in order to fulfill King Frederick’s need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court. It was designed and partially built by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747. Because of a disagreement about the site of the palace in the park, Knobelsdorff was fired in 1746. Jan Bouman, a Dutch architect, finished the project. The palace’s name emphasises this; it is a French phrase (sans souci), which translates as “without concerns” or “carefree”, symbolising that the palace was a place for relaxation rather than a seat of power.

Sanssouci is little more than a large, single-story villa—more like the Château de Marly than Versailles. Containing just ten principal rooms, it was built on the brow of a terraced hill at the centre of the park. The influence of King Frederick’s personal taste in the design and decoration of the palace was so great that its style is characterised as “Frederician Rococo“, and his feelings for the palace were so strong that he conceived it as “a place that would die with him”.

Frederick the Great (1712–86)

During the 19th century, the palace became a residence of Frederick William IV. He employed the architect Ludwig Persius to restore and enlarge the palace, while Ferdinand von Arnim was charged with improving the grounds and thus the view from the palace.

Here is a gallery of 56 photographs I took there. Enjoy!

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Places

Three days in Berlin

During the same trip where we visited Prague, we spent three days in Berlin. It is an interesting, vibrant city that holds the tragic distinction of having been the most bombed city in history. During WWII, the Allies dropped 67,607 tons of bombs on the city, destroying 6,427 acres of buildings. As a result, the city’s architecture is a thorough mix of the historic and the modern.

Because it was the start of summer and it got fairly hot during the mid-days, I was able to appreciate the strong breeze flowing along the Spree, which you will see in a few of the photos shown here. It was also a blessing to be able to step into large, majestic historic buildings that always stay cool, to take shelter from the blazing heat.

Enjoy this gallery of 126 photographs!

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Romania Through Their Eyes

Romania Through Their Eyes – Paul Hemmerth

This (long-awaited) episode presents the story of Paul Hemmerth, a Saxon born and raised in Romania during Ceausescu’s regime, who emigrated to Germany with his family at the age of fourteen, and who came back, drawn inexplicably by the land of his birth, to spend as much time as he can, each year, in the Romanian countryside.

Paul has a website called SlowlyPlanet, where he promotes slow tourism — travel at a leisurely pace, where you can take in all that you see. We filmed the episode at Casa Noah, his B&B in Richis (Reichesdorf), a village near Medias in Southern Transilvania.

Various occurrences (some of which couldn’t be helped) delayed the release of this episode. The hard drive on my editing computer died, and the repairs took almost a week. We also had some scheduled travel abroad, and that delayed us by another week. Further shooting for the episode introduced an extra day or so to the workflow, and the extra editing time introduced by the show’s new format added another three full days to the schedule.

I really do hope you’ll enjoy the new format. It’s a lot more work for me during the filming and especially during the editing, because of the two-camera setup, but it makes the show more engaging. Just to give you a quick idea of the data behind the show, the raw footage comes to about 44 GB of 1080p video. The final version of the episode is 4.3 GB of 720p video, and it’s about 55 minutes long.

Enjoy!

Episode RTTE-005-DE-HD
Released 6/19/11

There’s an official Facebook page for the show, so head on over and give it a Like if you want to be kept up to date with day-to-day details about the filming of RTTE. There’s also an official website for the show. Also don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel, where the show’s episodes are posted, along with other interesting videos I create.

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Places

An evening in Munich

We were on our way back to Matrei from Innsbruck, we were tired, and we had a few more hours to drive. What to do? Stop in Munich for coffee, naturally! It was only a short detour of a little over 100 km from our route, so why not?

Coffee turned into a nice little evening walk through historic downtown. We arrived in Matrei really late and extra tired, but it was worth it.

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Places

A night in Frankfurt

Back in September of 2008, we were stranded in Frankfurt because of negligence on the part of United Airlines, who did not properly coordinate the transfer of passengers from a connecting Lufthansa flight. The whole ordeal is a nasty mess I’d rather forget. One bright spot in that whole filthy experience is that we got to spend a beautiful evening in Frankfurt, and I took the photos you see below.

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It was a case of making lemonade out of the lemons we’d been dealt. We had to find a hotel, which we did, by ourselves, and it was a really nice one too, a Holiday Inn about 7 minutes from the airport. After a nice, hot shower to wash off the nastiness we’d just experienced, we headed downtown, where we were treated to some very beautiful architecture and gorgeous river vistas.

We had dinner and walked for a few hours on the shore of the Main River, cris-crossing from one side to the other via the many bridges that span it. I took photos with my 50mm f/1.4 lens, which works great at night due to its large aperture.

Sometime between 11 pm and midnight, we got back to the hotel and had a wonderful night’s rest. Those beds were the most comfortable beds we’ve ever slept in. I don’t know what brand they were, and what they used in the mattresses and the comforters, but we’d have loved to sleep a few more nights on them. My wife still raves about them.

In the morning, breakfast awaited, after which we prepared ourselves mentally for some more nastiness from United (we weren’t let down) and the long flight back to the US.

There are more photos from Frankfurt in my photo catalog. And you’ll also see some photos from Munich in there.

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Reviews

The HexaKopter Micro Copter

Holger Buss and Ingo Busker are two Germans who have created an online community for micro copter fans in late 2006, called, appropriately enough, MikroKopter. Since then, they’ve come up with several micro copter designs, the plans for which they share freely on their site. One of their latest designs is the HexaKopter — an RC mini-helicopter with six propellers.

It is an amazing design, and the thing is incredibly nimble in the air, as you can see in the test flight video. The weight of the helicopter is 1,200 grams, and its max rated payload is 1,000 grams. In the test video, they loaded it with 1,300 grams (a digital camera used to film flight footage, and a 1 liter bottle of soda), and it did just fine. Flight time is up to 30 minutes with a small payload.

You can probably get some amazing aerial photographs and video with the HexaKopter. What can I say, I love German engineering! Kudos to Holger and Ingo!

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