Journey to the East: Leipzig, Chemnitz & Dresden

I decided to write this post after two weeks because frankly I did practically nothing particularly noteworthy during my last week of school before the autumn break apart from getting my visa officially approved. On the same day as getting green light on my visa, I visited the other Erlangen brewery, Steinbach, which is actually now the only brewery here as Kitzmann is now being brewed by Kulmbacher. It’s no real loss though as Steinbach’s beer is far superior and their house beer, a highly-quaffable Kellerbier called Storchenbier, is outstanding; they also have an impressive selection of seasonal beers.

This was also the first week when I started severely feeling the symptoms of culture shock. The honeymoon phase was clearly over after the Ehenfelder Kirwa and I began my descent into the so-called negotiation phase (which Germans simply call the crisis phase).

The main catalyst for my particular brand of culture shock has nothing to do with the environment, weather, food, drink or transport. Germany does all of those things quite well, and in many respects life is actually easier here than in Aus. However, for a person raised in an English-speaking country, social norms amongst Germans are completely alien.

Many Germans do not really like interacting with strangers and are very reserved around new people, even in the most comfortable and relaxed social situations, like a gathering. So naturally making friends with Germans can be quite hard (even for Germans). Not to mention that Germans tend to differentiate somewhat austerely between a “friendship” and an “acquaintanceship”. Annette admitted that it takes her about two years of contact with a person until she considers them a real “friend” and not merely an “acquaintance”. Despite this I’ve managed to start cultivating relationships with new Germans. But it will definitely be a long time and require a lot of patience until I really understand German people and their innate incongruities.

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Carp fillet with potato salad at Ritter St. Georg

I also ate carp for the first time which I’ve been curious about for a while, especially after going carp fishing. I found a list of trusted Franconian carp eateries from the local government’s website and one of the recommended restaurants was only a 10 minute walk from my apartment. I opted for a fillet instead of the usual half fish portion and it was well-seasoned and unexpectedly tasty served on a bed of tender potato salad.

Anyway, now for the fun stuff, after a period of procrastination and indecisiveness, I expeditiously planned a Saxony trip to the cities of Leipzig, Chemnitz and Dresden. I’ve been to Germany six times and this would be my first time in East Germany and I was very curious and excited to see the differences between East and West and also to try Saxonian cuisine.

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University of Leipzig

My first stop was Leipzig, Leipzsch in the Saxonian dialect, which has recently been christened “Hypezig” since some argue that it is taking Berlin’s place as the trendiest (yet still liveable) city in Germany. And I can understand why people think that; Leipzig is quite a beautiful city with a compact old town brimming with cafés giving it some Viennese charm. Historically, Leipzig was a significant medieval trading city and played a role in precipitating the end of communism in Europe, which I absorbed during the free walking tour I did shortly after arriving and on which I encountered four fellow English teaching assistants who happened to also be in Leipzig at the same time.

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Mephistopheles and Faust from the famous scene in Faust Part 1

One of the most notable locations we visited was Auerbachs Keller, a former wine bar and now an overpriced tourist trap, which was featured in Goethe’s Faust. Despite the high prices, I probably would’ve had lunch there if I didn’t already have plans to sample the regional beer.

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A beer sampling at Bayerischer Bahnhof: from left to right; pils, Gose, Schwarzbier and wheat beer.

Schwarzbier (“black beer”) is an obsidian-coloured lager with a rich malt profile featuring plenty of nut and coffee notes without the heft of ale. The German states of Saxony, Thuringia and, to a lesser extent, Brandenburg are famous for this dark brew, the most famous being Köstritzer. Leipziger Gose is wild ale brewed with wheat, coriander and salt, which originated in Goslar, Lower Saxony, but became so popular in Leipzig that it became associated with the city. Not long after the Second World War, Gose production ceased but has recently been revived and is now incredibly popular in craft beer circles. As a sour beer, Gose will definitely be a shock to the average beer drinker, but it’s far less pungent than the famous sour beers of Belgium.

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Saxonian Sauerbraten (“sour roast”)

I discovered a nice brewery (Bayerischer Bahnhof) on the outskirts of the old town which brewed both Schwarzbier and Gose and went there for lunch. They also brew a pilsner and a wheat beer, which are largely forgettable, but I did find their Schwarzbier particularly tasty. I also treated myself to Saxonian Sauerbraten which is really not that much different to the Franconian version just slightly less rustic.

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Leipziger Lerche: pistachio and original recipe

For dinner, I caught up with one of the few East Germans I know who actually grew up near Leipzig and we found a typical Saxonian restaurant where I tried Mutzbraten, a chunky shashlick made from pork neck served on a lump of sauerkraut, and drank some more local Schwarzbier. The next day I was able to manage to taste Leipziger Lerche a filling local pastry containing marzipan and cherries from a bakery recommended to me by my Saxonian contact. Lerche used to contain lark meat but, after the hunting of songbirds was banned, local pastry chefs crafted a sweet alternative.

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The biggest Karl Marx head I’ve ever seen

The train to Chemnitz was like something out of an East German spy movie from the ‘70s; it was incredibly old and rickety with compartments lined with faux timber linoleum. Chemnitz itself was a dismal and decrepit city. There were cops on literally every street corner and at least 10 police vans in front of the train station with several more in the main city square. This was due to the increased activity of right-wing extremists (neo-Nazis) since a violent riot which took place there a couple of months ago around the giant statue of Karl Marx. I only hung around Chemnitz for 90 minutes (probably too long) before heading the capital of Saxony, Dresden.

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Welcome to Dresden

Dresden has an absolutely beautiful old town, perhaps the most beautiful in all of Germany. The old town was heavily bombed during the war and has been immaculately restored; it has even earned the nickname “Disneyland” because everything is a copy of the original. Russian tourists flood the old town since there are direct flights from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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Dresdner Eierschecke: absolutely delicious

I was lucky enough to try Eierschecke (“egg jacket”) from Dresdner Kaffeestübchen which is a delicious local cheesecake that has the perfect consistency between custard and sponge cake with a scrumptious layer of quark cheese in the middle. After the not-free walking tour, I had lunch at a traditional restaurant with two women from India who just so happened to live on the same street as I in Erlangen.

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Dresdner Braadn: a very, very fancy scotch egg

Parts of the menu were written in Saxonian and I ordered the Dresdner Braadn (“falscher Hase”) which is basically a scotch egg with beans and mashed potatoes, which was delicious but looked distinctly un-German due to the amount of effort they put into preparation of the dish. The Indians unfortunately chose an English menu which was completely different to the German one and had fewer choices.

Later that night I caught up with yet another fellow English assistant all the way from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, who just happened to also be in Dresden, and we had dinner and drinks in the Neustadt (new town) which is a modern, hip area littered with pubs, restaurants and a lot of street art. We ended up going on a pub crawl slash tour led by a very eccentric, slightly provocative local where we got to experience all the quirkiness of this former micronation (Bunte Republik Neustadt: “Colourful Republic of Neustadt”).

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Fürstenzug (“Procession of Princes”): the largest porcelain artwork in the world; it’s just over 100 metres long

Carrying a slight hangover the next morning, I walked from the new town to the old town to the shopping district and realised just how neatly organised Dresden is. There’s  something for everyone and it’s definitely worth a visit for anyone who wants to do more than the typical Berlin and Munich visits that most tourists undertake. Apart from the fact that I saw two neo-Nazis during my short stay in Saxony I really enjoyed it.

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Dresdner Frauenkirche: Church of Our Lady

In any case, now I’m back in Erlangen, about to head to Nuremberg for lunch and slightly dreading that school goes back this week. The days are getting colder and colder which makes early starts a bit of a shock to the system. I’m considering doing a trip to the north of Germany for my next adventure, since my goal is to visit every state in Germany by the end of my assistantship and so far I’ve visited exactly half of them. So there’re only eight to go!

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