We left Berlin early and headed for Prague. Focusing on Budapest, Poland and Berlin in my pre-trip research, I’d done no research on Dresden, the capital of Saxony. It was only a 2.5 -hour lunch stop on the way. Dresden’s beautiful transformation from bombed out ruin to architectural film-gobbler took me totally by surprise. We crossed the Elbe River from north to south and got off our bus in its old centre on the Elbe’s left bank. The Elbe flows into the North Sea. Our tour director told us about the intense, sometimes controversial, rebuilding that has taken place since Germany was reunified in 1989. She told us about Augustus the Strong and Friedrich the Wise. Post-trip reading on Dresden revealed the importance of Saxony in German history and the deep, torn religious fervour of its rulers. I pondered, chuckling about how Friedrich der Weise, a devout Catholic in the early 1500’s who somehow found the courage to support Martin Luther, throughout his life collected and filled his castle church with about 19000 Catholic relics that included St. Anne’s thumb, a twig from Moses’ burning bush, hay from the Holy Manger and milk from Mary’s breast. Gems like this encourage me to keep on doing research on the olden days…
Saxony has been a significant actor in European history. Between 962-1024 the Duchy of Saxony contributed three Ottos and one Henry to the list of Holy Roman Emperors. Round about 962, Otto I divided the land he now ruled into margraviates. The North Mark eventually morphed into Prussia. The Margraviate of Messien, about 20 km NW of Dresden, morphed into Saxony.
The illustrious, eight-century-long, succession of Margraves and Kings of Meissen that began with Conrad in 1127 and ended with George of Saxony in 1904 was honoured by a 102-metre mural on the East wall of Dresden Castle. It was done in paint between 1871 and 1876 and was replaced between 1904 and 1907 with 23000 Meissen porcelain tiles. Germany by then had became a very wealthy country, complete with its own colonies.
This magnificent mural on Augustusstrasse is called the Fürstenzug in German and the Procession of Princes in English:
In 1181 Saxony was cut up into small pieces by the HRE, an act that ultimately caused Germany to become a group of quarrelsome petty states for centuries. In 1356 the Duchy of Saxony dissolved and a small area around Wittenberg was made the Electorate of Saxony, one of a select group of seven electorates that shared the power to choose the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1422 this power was passed to the Albertine line in the Margraviate of Meissen and the seat of prime electoral power was moved to Dresden. The Saxons in this area were involved in several major European wars and in major turmoil during the Protestant Reformation, culminating with the Thirty Years War from 1618 until 1648. Following this the royal Saxons changed back to Catholicism. They changed sides with much dexterity and questionable judgment in a good number of situations over the years. A prime example: In 1806 Elector Friedrich Augustus III rejected an alliance with Prussia and fought on the side of Napoleon. Napoleon made Friedrich King of Saxony. When the Battle of Leipzig in October, 1813 clearly appeared to be going against Napoleon, the homogeneous Saxon soldier divisions deserted Bonaparte and joined the successful Russia-Austria-Prussia side, showing some dexterity of their own…
More photos of Dresden:
A Reflection On War:
Reflecting on Dresden is hard: so many great works of art destroyed as a result of war; so much human tragedy. Some costly triumph (and some controversy) in the expensive reconstruction. Coventry underwent similar mass destruction. Warsaw’s ancient centre was flattened, and 90% of its citizens killed in 1945. Then there’s Berlin. None of this is innocent, even in a rare, “just” war.
So many treasures disappeared from the museums in Baghdad as a result of a criminal, phony war interested only in flaunting the ability to create Shock and Awe. Oh yeah, I forgot – and Oil. The perpetrators had zero respect for the treasures of a major cradle of human civilization. They did not bother to protect the museums. In the Afghanistan War, another moral and political failure, it is hard to forget the indelible image of immense buddha statues being destroyed by the Taliban – a force that is the simple by-product of a rivalry between superpowers for strategic geographical control of a possible pipeline route to take gas and oil from the Caspian Sea to BP and Exxon tankers, for example, in the Persian Gulf.
We can relate to the tragic toll on a bombed and terrorized population. It is harder to imagine the emotional toll on those who fly the bombers and release the bombs. There is serious PTSD and attrition among the ranks of the soldier-technicians who regularly bomb by sitting an ocean or two away at a computer screen, selecting their drone’s targets with the knowledge that many innocent people will be killed or maimed simply because there is a statistical possibility of hitting the military’s desired human target.
A blog that I follow caught my eye with a post called Dresden 1945. It was about the writer meeting a pilot who had participated in the bombing of Dresden. She had looked into his eyes with a thousand burning questions that she was powerless to ask. Then her post quoted Kurt Vonnegut’s piece on reversing the whole event by the bombers flying backwards and sucking back all the bombs and damage, ultimately going back into the past until Hitler was a baby. A wise comment appraised Vonnegut’s piece and the whole issue from a Buddhist viewpoint.
Apart from the direct relationship between the issues raised during my Europe 2015 trip and the subject of Emma Bee’s post, the Vonnegut healing, reversing, “sucking in” flight reminds me of the inspiration behind Tonglen meditation as explained by Pema Chögrön:
Breathe in suffering; breathe out healing.
I combine this Tonglen concept with my Tai Chi routine, reversing the accepted Tai Chi breathing paradigm. My Tai Chi routine is described in this post.