Archive for the ‘Tour: Active in East Germany’ Category

Opposites and alikes

BUGA_Fuenfsindeins_Dahlie-e66edbbaIn New Zealand this year the end of daylight savings coincided with Easter Sunday, which meant a lot of people had an hour more to do their autumn garden shopping in those garden centres that were not abiding the law and risking a fine. And, as every Easter, a lot of voices could be heard regarding the pros and cons of changing this particular law. Take heart that this is not just an issue in New Zealand. In Germany the federal laws for the protection of the workers, Sundays and public holidays (all individual laws and amendments) prohibit trading on Easter Sunday! But just as their antipodean counterparts, the German garden centres and hardware stores find ways around these rules or just plain risk getting fined as well. Especially as this is the beginning of spring and after the long and dark winter nights everyone is keen to put seeds and bulbs in the ground to brighten up their world.

BUGA time again!

Erkenntnis_am_Havelufer_Hansestadt_Havelberg-559b24d6Two years ago we introduced you to Germany’s obsession of big time gardening: the BUGA, Bundesgartenschau, the federal garden show. And in an exciting twist, this year’s show will not be hosted by only one state and one city, but by two states and five cities. What do they have in common? They are all situated along the river Havel. This year’s federal garden show is a joined effort to revitalize the region and bring national and international visitors to this beautiful region in the north east of Germany. And just as an example of their commitment, they even have an English web site!

The countdown has started

BUGA in der HavelregionOnly 13 days to go before parks, installations and sculptures are ready to be enjoyed. With our Cosmopolitan North tour going to Potsdam (situated at the Havel) and ending in Berlin, this would be a fantastic opportunity to take a trip down the river and see what modern German landscape architects and artists have come up this time. Or, arrive a couple of days ahead of the Active in Eastern Germany tour and get started on appreciating man-made and natural treasures.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Görlitz bridgeThis is Germany’s easternmost town and lies along the river Neisse, together with its Polish twin Zgorzelec. Just before the end of WWII German troops destroyed all bridges crossing the Neisse. After the war the boundaries were redrawn between Germany and Poland and the Oder-Neisse Line divided this and other cities along the border. As to be expected the GDR confirmed the border from 1950-90, but the FRG took until 1970 to accept the border to Poland. In 1990 the reunified Germany signed a treaty with Poland recognizing the border between the two countries. These few sentences of course cannot convey the seriousness of this decision and for more info on the developments around these parts of Europe check out the articles on the Oder-Neisse line, the flight and expulsion of Germans, Former eastern territories of Germany and Poland’s pre-WW history in general.

The city itself has been on record since the 11th century and because it was situated on a Via Regia, a major trading route in the Middle Ages, it soon prospered and grew. Its name is derived from the Slavic word for “burned land”, describing the method predominantly used for clearing land then and there. Over the centuries and millennia its fortunes rose and fell, alliances and trade agreements brought different masters and it was a constant pawn in politics.

Modern times are looking better: since the reunification a lot of effort has gone into restoring and beautifying the town and it is becoming the eastern equivalent of a charming, history rich country town like Heidelberg. As the city was hardly damaged during WWII many of its medieval buildings have survived. Part of the city’s appeal to tourism, nationally and internationally, is its proximity and friendly neighbourhood to Poland, demonstrated in the 2006 joined application for European City of Culture 2010 award. Even though it wasn’t given them, they came second, they were renamed ‘just’ City of Culture to continue the German-Polish friendship and cooperation.

As the city was part of Silesia since 1815 it has a lot of museums and activities recording the cultural heritage and keeping it alive in music festivals, youth groups and a dedicated newspaper.

Goerlitz portal Silesian museum




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Sorben mapEven though the region had been inhabited since the Late Stone Age, a proper Germanic settlement existed here since the 3rd century AD. In the Middle Ages Bautzen was a member of the Six Cities Alliance of Upper Lusatia. Modern Bautzen has spread to both sides of the river Spree, with the historical centre located on the plateau above the Spree.

While Bautzen’s fame up to the first part of the 21st century was based on battles, concentration sub-camps and penitentiaries, the end of the century is defined by an effort of preserving the history and traditions of the indigenous Sorbian-Lusatian people. As Bautzen was the unofficial capital of Upper Lusatia, it still plays an important role in the economics, culture and politics of the region. A peek on the city’s web site will give you a glimpse of the year round activities centred around the Sorbian traditions.

This map shows the location of Sorbish speaking people and has some images of the traditional costumes of the region.

As the population in the region declines due to economic pressures, the groups struggle to keep their culture and language alive. In an effort to change this, the Witaj Projekt was started in 1998. Basically like Te Reo, they want to teach the children from an early age on, through immersion, their regional native language and continue the teachings at high school and Universities level. The lack of numbers is as always an impediment, but they manage to support a daily newspaper and children’s magazine in Sorbian.

Your guided city tour on the Active in Eastern Germany tour will give you the historical and architectural highlights and you should try to pick up the local paper to take home as a souvenir!

Bautzen town hall Bautzen historic town

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Prebischtor 1 This is Europe’s largest natural stone bridge and part of the Elbe Sandstone mountain range of this area. It is located just on the other side of the German- Czech border in Bohemian or Czech Switzerland. As the region was discovered by travellers in the 19th century an inn was built underneath it in 1826 and a proper hotel called Falcon’s Nest in 1881 by Prince Edmund of Clary-Aldringen.

The following 100 years and its visitors had such an eroding effect, that in 1982 the arch itself has been out of bounds and tourism activity monitored. Such an imposing structure inspired many artists then, one of them Hans Christian Andersen, and now: landscapes in and around Prebischtor were filmed for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The hotel nowadays functions as a gallery and museum, the ground floor containing the period restaurant with original paintings.

Perbischtor 2The Elbe Sandstone Mountains were created over millions of years ago by eroded materials from rivers being deposited in the sea. The variations of the layers were determined by the original material, its size and its chemical properties. Under the pressure of the water, chemical and physical reactions took place which gave the layers their individual properties. As the sea receded and these sediments were exposed to air and water erosion, the layers were carved into a variety of shapes. Add to that tectonic movement and volcanic activity, not everywhere and all the time though, and you get today’s amazing and diverse mountain range which is an important ecological habitat in Europe. For more details on the geology and history have a read here.

The mountain range is situated in two countries, Germany and the Czech Republic, and has been declared a national park in both of them. This ensures the thorough protection of small and isolated microclimates. Unique amongst the Central European Uplands are the constant changes between plains, ravines, table mountains and rocky regions with undeveloped areas of forest. This diversity is ecologically significant. The variety of different locations, each with its own conditions in terms of soil and microclimate, has produced an enormous richness of species. The numbers of ferns and mosses alone is unmatched by any other of the German central uplands.

During your day walk on your Active in Eastern Germany tour you will be able to observe this diversity first hand and enjoy the spectacular panoramic views from several lookout points.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Bastei around 1900           Bastei in 2004

Bastei artist impressionThe Bastei around 1900, in 2004 and an artist’s impression from 1826.

The Bastei is a rock formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains near Dresden, towers 194 metres above the Elbe and reaches 305 metres above sea level. Over 100 million years ago it was formed through water erosion of the sandstone area.

The name Bastei, ‘bastion’, indicates its inclusion in the old defensive ring around Neurathen Castle, which is an open-air museum/ruin nowadays.

MalerwegSince the 19th century it has been a very popular tourist location, attracting painters, writers, musicians and plain folk to experience the dramatic scenery. But as early as 1750 in the general exploratory stages of the nation, many young writers and artists went in search of uncharted territory within their home land and discovered the rugged beauty of the sandstone mountains in the Saxon Swiss Mountains. They tended to follow the same path, which became later known as the Malerweg, the painters’ path.

And just to give you an idea how close to Dresden everything is, here is a map of the greater region:

Dresden region map

In the first 100 years of their ‘discovery’ no less than 30 more or less known travel guides were published describing the mountains, their ascent and the terrain. The following influx in visitors meant constant improvements of the routes, for example building a new ascent to the Bastei (1818) or a new bridge to the Hockstein (1822).

But, not only bridges were built, inns were as well, providing the travellers with well-earned and needed refreshments. In 1812 a local butcher found a niche market and in 1816 was given the licence to sell liquor! In 1819 even Goethe commented on the pleasant fact that “Friendly huts and good service with coffee, double beer, spirits and fresh bread and butter really revived the tired wanderer…”.  And not much has changed in this regard: tourists are very welcome in the region and catered for in the many guest houses and huts along the travel routes.

Many of these guest houses will be in the classic Umgebindehaus style, a timber-framed, log styled house using building stones as well. A design typical for this region and very pretty to look at. During your stay in Hinterhermsdorf and the trips in the following days on you Active in Eastern Germany tour you will see some fine examples of this regional architecture.

Umgebindehaus-1 Umgebindehaus-2

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Dresden Augustus bridgeThe city is situated along both banks of the river Elbe, enjoys a mild, ‘humid continental climate’ and has been called Elbflorenz, the Florence at the Elbe. It is one of the greenest cities in Europe, with 63% of the city being green areas and forests.

It is surrounded by the Elbe Sandstone Mountains (Elbsandsteingebirge) and the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) and lies in a picturesque river valley. The best Dresden-green-viewway to enjoy this particular landscape (hence why we do it on our Active in Eastern Germany tour) is to get on board of one of the oldest steamboats in Germany and let the landscape glide past you. The Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt, the Saxon Steamboat Company, offers a range of tours which take you either along national parks and imposing sandstone formations or to impressive castles and romantic villages along the river and much more.

The proximity of river landscapes and mountain landscapes makes for a unique stay in the region, discovering the huge range of natural and man-made wonders.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

Dresden boat trip 3 Dresden boat trip 2 Dresden boat trip 1

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Dresden-castleAs Dresden had been a royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony for so long, its architecture was always at the cutting edge of the times. It’s not only a Baroque and Rococo jewel box, but also has fine examples of Renaissance, Historism, Classicist, Modernism and Postmodernism styles on display.

PICT1077.JPGAs to be expected the royal buildings will give a most comprehensive view of the older styles: the Dresden Castle for example has existed since 1485 and had been renewed, expanded and restored so many times that it is a mix of at least three styles.

Another one, the Zwinger palace, shows the transition from military use (place for cannons between outer and major city walls) to entertainment, art and festival use by the court. Today that function has survived and it houses galleries and exhibition spaces.

Dresden-Frauenkirche-1880Another group of imposing monuments are the sacred buildings scattered around the city. The most famous would have to be the Frauenkirche due to its destruction in WWII, the reconstruction and following association of peaceful protest in the GDR.

And, as to be expected, modern architecture is seen as controversial and highly debated amongst the people that have opposing views of what the development of the cityscape should do: preserve the old at all costs or develop the new or try to reconcile and have both live side-by-side.


Some ‘controversial’ examples of modern architecture would be the UFA Kristallpalast, an ultra modern cinema complex, the Transparent Factory of Volkswagen and the New Synagogue.

You can get a first hand impression of Dresden’s stunning and diverse architecture on your Active in Eastern Germany  tour.


 Dresden transparent factory

Dresden new synagogue








Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Dresden panoramaThe city’s name is derived from the Old Sorbian word “Drezd’any”, meaning ‘people of the forest’. Even though as far back as 7500 BC proof of habitation has been found (Linear Pottery), the main settlement of Dresden happened in the 10th – 12th century by Slavic tribes who had ventured east as part of the Germanic expansions. In the 10th century the region was established in the Margraviate of Meissen (Meissen lies ~20kms north of Dresden) which also furthered the settlement of more and more people in the region. The city expanded due to mining in the nearby Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) and over the next centuries it evolved into the capital of Saxony.

In 1270 Dresden became the capital of the Margraviate of Meissen and over the centuries became the seat of the dukes and electors of Saxony as well. Due to the ‘royal’ presence Dresden became also a centre of culture and the arts. Its nickname ‘jewel box’ is due to the extraordinaire amount of ornate buildings, cathedrals and museums which had been built in the Baroque and Rococo style.

Unfortunately the majority of these buildings in the city centre were destroyed during the aerial bombing at the end of WWII. After the war the GDR rebuilt many important historic buildings as well as re-designing the city in a ‘socialist-modern’ style. Since the reunification more work has gone into restoring and saving historical monuments, with a lot more needing to be done.

On your guided city tour on the Active in Eastern Germany tour you will get to see the varied architecture throughout the city and find out more about its history.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Meissen tee cupsTo understand the relevance of the porcelain manufacture in Europe in the 18th century, one has to know that until then the only Chinaware available was from China itself at horrendous prices. In China the art of making earthen- and china ware had developed over centuries. Some pottery finds are dated as far back as 20,000 years and the first true porcelain is supposed to have been made around 202 BC – 220 AD. Not until the 15th century did the West get to see some of these oriental beauties. And then we were hooked. By the 16th century trading companies were exporting and selling as much as they could, but civil unrest in China in the 17th century turned importers to the undiscovered market of Japan.

Meissen trademarkAt the time of Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus alchemists were trying to make gold out of dirt! One of them, Johann Friedrich Böttger, claimed to have been successful and was placed under protective custody by King Augustus II of Poland and asked to reproduce his success! Unsuccessfully of course. But, under Tschirnhaus’s supervision he experimented with the manufacture of porcelain and shortly after Tschirnhaus’s death in 1708 modified the recipe and told the King, he could make White Gold. By 1710 a factory had been established and production has started officially.

Even though the ingredients and production were kept secret, by 1720 Meissen was trademarking their products to separate them from other manufacturers. The initially used acronyms were replaced with the well-known crossed swords in 1731.

As the company developed a range of glazing techniques and designs, their reputation for excellence and refinement grew exponentially. They attracted artists to develop new ranges for different markets, as they extended their range from classic tea sets to all dining sets and completing chinaware (vases, bowls, watch faces, etc).

You will be able to have a close look at some of these amazing artefacts on our visit to the Meissen porcelain manefactory on the Active in Eastern Germany tour, which also includes a guided tour.


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Moritzburg exteriorThe first building on the site was a Renaissance – style hunting lodge built by and for Moritz of Saxony, Duke of Saxony in 1542. The Duke and his court were avid hunters and the lodge soon became a central meeting place. In the following century a chapel was added under instructions of John George II of Saxony, which was consecrated in a Catholic rite in 1697 by Augustus II the Strong, to secure his election as King of Poland. Between 1723 and 1733 Augustus II had the castle remodelled in the then prevalent Baroque style.

Moritzburg has four round towers and lies on a symmetrical artificial island. We enjoy a walk through the beautiful park and gardens surrounding the castle on our Active in Eastern Germany tour.

Moritzburg islandEven though the last rightful owner, Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony, was dispossessed by post war Soviet administration, the castle was maintained in a reasonable state. And as an interesting side info: the castle featured in a 1972 Czechoslovak-German fairy tale movie “Three Nuts for Cinderella”.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens


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