Back in October, I was very honoured to be invited by some of my friends in the DACH (aka Germany, Austria, Switzerland) tech community to be the keynote speaker for AWS Community Day 2022. This was going to be their first time back in person after two years of virtual events, and I was very excited to finally meet some of them in person. Rodd was going to accompany me, of course, and he had planned out some fun touristy things for us to do as well.
We caught the Tuesday morning train from Munich. It was about a 4.5hr trip, including a short transfer in Leipzig. I mostly used the time to finish off my slides for the keynote!
On Tuesday night, the local AWS Dresden group were having a pre-Community Day meetup so we went along. Here’s my buddy Mohamed presenting about a couple serverless apps he built, as well as Martin from Groundfog sharing how they built a personalised web experience for visitors.
Wednesday was the big event, so we headed over early in the morning to the conference venue to help set up. My friends Linda (from Vienna) and Markus (from Munich) were going to be kicking things off in the morning.
Markus insisted that I wear the AWS dress. 😂 He was also going to be introducing me on stage.
Eventually everything was ready and the hosts kicked off the morning. I was very excited to see them launch the Förderverein AWS Community DACH, which brings together all the different AWS groups into a single association. (Bonus points for the pun in the logo – in German, “Dach” means “roof”.)
Markus gave me a very humorous intro in which he’d scraped some dubious photos from my social media accounts, but thankfully he ended with the nicest one. ❤️
My talk started out quite personal, talking about how isolated I felt in the first ten years of my career. It wasn’t until I started going to meetups and hackathons that I finally felt like I belonged. At that point, it turned into a big soppy love letter to the folks in the room, who were my first friends when we moved to Germany. I ended by talking about how much AWS values the external community, and some of our plans to support them even more in the future.
One last photo of me with Markus and Linda, who I’m going to really really miss. 😢
We spent the rest of the day at the conference, going to sessions and meeting sponsors and attendees. It was a small but passionate crowd, and everyone was so excited to get back together in person. Thank you to the organisers for inviting me!
We were pretty tired that night but of course had to take advantage of the hotel sauna…
I worked from the hotel the next day, but Rodd got me out into the sunshine for a quick walk and lunch in the city.
We were very amused to see that there is actually an Australian restaurant in Dresden! The Snook was dubious, but hey, they serve kangaroo goulash soup. 😂
We walked up to Brühl’s Terrace, a large elevated terrace overlooking the Elbe. It was a beautiful day.
Here we are with the Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral), the most important Catholic church in the city.
We also found the Lego store, which had a “Selfie Point.” Okay, then.
Our hotel was very close to the famous Frauenkirche in Dresden. This Lutheran church was destroyed during the firebombing of the city in 1945 and left in ruins as a war memorial for 50 years. It was only rebuilt after German reunification and was completed in 2005. The darker stones you can see were salvaged from the original church and were able to be reused in the reconstruction.
We went inside to take a look as well. It was all soft pastels, trompe l’oeil, and extravagant carvings. Very pretty! The story of how they rebuilt it is truly amazing.
That night we had booked a special dinner at Genuss-Atelier, a local Michelin-starred restaurant. It was described as “rustic vaults” and it felt very cozy.
One of the coolest things was that the tables had built in drawers with all the cutlery you’d need, so the waiters didn’t need to keep bringing fresh sets. I’ve never seen that before.
We went with the six-course “Surprise” menu, and since it’s all seasonal and not printed, I tried to keep notes on my phone about what we had. We started with a couple small bites: pickled herring with potato chip, and felafel with yogurt.
The Snook enjoyed the little bread rolls and butter. (He may have also been drafting a post for We Want Plates.)
Our first proper course was beef tartar with sour cream and chives.
Next was a vegetarian course – turnip cabbage (aka kohlrabi), celery, and yuzu.
Next was the fish course – “eagle fish” (which we think is also called a “meagre“) with radicchio, celery, and capers.
For the meat course, we had lamb with pumpkin and polenta, and of course we opted for the extra shaved black truffle!
Everything was delicious and beautifully prepared. We were also having matched wines with each course, all of them from the local area. Rodd was amused when the waiter excitedly told him how one of them was matured in oak, which is something of a novelty in the region. (It’s very common in Australia!) Needless to say, we were having a wonderful evening.
And we finished with TWO desserts! First was “blueberry, butter cookie, and vanilla.”
And lastly, “banana, coconut, mango sorbet.” Yum!
Highly recommend Genuss-Atelier if you are ever in the Dresden area!
On Friday it was finally time to play tourist properly. Right down the street from our hotel was the Fürstenzug, a large mural of a mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony. In fact, it’s the largest porcelain artwork in the world.
We headed straight for the nearby Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle), which today houses several museums. We walked through the eastern courtyard with its beautiful colonnade.
Cute photo of me that Rodd took. ❤️
I liked the decorative horned animal heads at the top of each column. They made interesting shadows.
We found the main entrance to the castle just as it started to rain. Perfect timing!
We started out in the New Green Vault, which houses one of the largest treasure collections in Europe. I’ve been surprised over the last couple years seeing how many of these expensive treasures incorporate natural materials like coral, pearls, nautilus shells, and horn. I particularly liked this 16th century “drinking cup” from Abraham Jamnitzer that depicts the Greek myth of Daphne, who turned into a laurel tree to escape the advances of Apollo.
The museum also had several works by Johann Melchior Dinglinger, one of Europe’s greatest goldsmiths. This one is called “The Birthday of the Grand Mughal Aurangzeb” and features more than 100 figures, 5000 diamonds, and many other precious jewels.
I was intrigued by these ivory statues. They are both of Joseph Fröhlich, the legendary court jester of Augustus the Strong, and they were carved by Carl August Lücke.
One of the most precious items in the museum is the Dresden Green Diamond, a 41-carat natural green diamond. (Green diamonds are created by radiation!) It’s set into a hat ornament with 400+ smaller diamonds. It was very shiny.
We next headed to the Rüstkammer (Armoury) to check out the weaponry. Crossbows!
This is some real Domingo Montoya lookin’ work.
I was also excited to see that the Armoury has a permanent exhibition of the Kurfürstliche Garderobe (Electoral Wardrobe), including several complete outfits worn by the rulers of Saxony more than 400 years ago. I was blown away by the “landscape cloak” of Elector John George I, which featured a hand-embroidered landscape of Dresden and the Elbe.
We also ducked into the Turkish Chamber, which has one of the largest collections of Ottoman art outside Turkey. The first thing you see when you walk in is a 20m-long tent made of silk and gilded leather. It’s gorgeous.
The ceiling of the tent is just stunning.
The Turkish Chamber also has loads of armour and weaponry. Here’s the Snook having a laugh at the “jousting sticks.”
We next headed to the Royal State Apartments of August the Strong. The restoration of these rooms was only finished a few years ago! They were very luxurious and ornate.
The throne room of Snookums the Strong.
We assumed all the way along that Augustus the “Strong” was simply an honorific, but then I spotted a small item in the corner that blew up that theory: an actual horseshoe that the King supposedly busted in two with his bare hands!
Our final stop in the Residenzschloss was the famous Historic Green Vault, a series of 8 Baroque rooms filled with precious objects. These tickets are timed and no photographs are allowed. It’s incredibly over-the-top. We also learned about the 2019 burglary when daring thieves broke in and stole a number of priceless jeweled pieces. The crime was still unsolved at the time of our visit, but GUESS WHAT?? Literally last week the German police announced they had recovered a significant portion of the stolen items! Wow.
We had dinner that night at the Red Rooster, a Dresden pub. It was a nice enough place, though I was surprised to learn smoking is permitted indoors. *cough*
The next day it was time to get out of the city! We had a lovely breakfast at Oswaldz Cafe…
…and then headed to catch a train. Our journey took us past the Yenidze building, which I had seen before and thought was a mosque or other religious building. Turns out it was a cigarette factory (!) that’s since been turned into an office building.
Our train journey took us southeast from Dresden along the Elbe. Our destination was the “Sächsische Schweiz” (Saxon Switzerland), a national park of sandstone mountains very close to the Czech border. Note: It’s nowhere near Switzerland, which kept confusing me every time Rodd mentioned it.
We passed by the Bastei Bridge, which we hoped to hike to that day. It looked pretty high up! 😱
We exited the train in the spa town of Rathen and had a little wander around. The Snook was especially amused by Eisenbahnwelten, the “largest garden railway in the world” with more than 4km of track. (Of course, Minitur Wunderland in Hamburg has more than 15km of track, so we felt we had seen more than enough model trains by this point.)
To get to the Bastei hiking path, you need to cross the river by ferry. These run every few minutes, so we stood and admired the view as we waited. The day was cloudy but we were hoping that the rain would hold off for a few more hours.
The ferry only costs a couple euros and it literally just crosses from one side of the river to the other. We joined the small crowd and boarded.
A quick view down the river towards the Czech Republic. We knew we’d have a lot more river views later in the day!
The bit of Rathen across the river is very charming and touristy. There are a lot of guest houses. We followed the stream of people up into the village.
We followed our map to the beginning of the Bastei hike. Very few of the other tourists were brave enough to go that way! It started with a steep climb in the village.
There was a helpful sign pointing the way to the Bastei (and some other local attractions).
We quickly left the village and began climbing a path up through the trees.
The pathway was well-marked and honestly not too arduous if you’re reasonably fit. There are some steps though! My biggest worry was slipping on fallen leaves, but we did all right.
There are a few lookouts along the way where we stopped to catch our breath and take in the view.
I was really happy to see all the colourful autumn leaves. I knew I was going to miss that back in Australia!
Back into the forest. These hills are all sandstone, and you sometimes see huge towering trees growing right out of the rocks.
More beautiful Autumn views…
Still climbing. I realised at this point that my biggest error was in wearing (white) tennis shoes rather than hiking shoes. Even though it wasn’t raining, the ground was pretty wet and muddy.
More climbing. I was annoyed because there was a random guy in the forest singing opera in German, but he’d stop every time you got out a camera. Grrr. I think Rodd is listening to him here.
We’d been climbing for about 20 minutes at this point. Ooh, the path goes through a cleft in the rocks!
When we reached the top of those steps we realised there was another lookout off to our left along with an inscription engraved into the stone wall. This is the Tiedgestein, a memorial to the German poet Christoph August Tiedge.
And when you step around the Tiedgestein and see the view…
Wow. That’s Rathen and the ferry landing wayyyy down below us on the other side of the Elbe. I took a panorama of it as well.
If you’re thinking, “Kris, those clouds look pretty ominous,” you’d be right. But we were too close to the goal to worry about rain, so it was back to the path and lots more stairs.
Before you get to the Bastei, you first come to the ruins of Felsenburg Neurathen (Neurathen Castle). This was a castle literally perched on top of these high rocks, but it’s mostly gone now. For a couple euros you can enter the site and scramble across walkways between the archaeology.
We didn’t bother, as it was just about to start raining…
…and we were so close to the Bastei Bridge! That’s it, just beyond the cleft in the rocks up ahead!
At last, we made it to the Bridge itself. The climb from the river bank took us about 40 minutes all up, but that was for two fairly unfit people going slow and stopping frequently to rest and take photos. Here’s the Snook revelling in a goal achieved.
Nearby is the Jahrhundertturm (“Century Tower”), a big rock tower with some tablets on it commemorating centuries of Bastei tourism.
Of course, you can’t really get a good view of a bridge when you’re standing on it. Also, it finally started to rain. We crossed over the bridge and continued onwards so we could look back towards it and shelter a bit under the trees.
This guy was enjoying himself.
Me, not so much.
There is actually a hotel at the top of the ridge, just past the Bridge, and we had a vague idea that we might be able to get a bus back down to the bottom. I mean, how else did all those other people get up there? They weren’t on the hiking track! But we soon learned that actually most of them drive up, and there are plenty of car parks, but no actual public transportation back to the bottom. Not gonna lie – I was wet and tired and annoyed.
The only way forward was to go back the way we came. So we headed back to the Bridge, and thankfully the rain petered out enough to get a few more photos.
And then we headed back down the path. Obviously going down is less effort than climbing, but we needed to be careful on the slippery, muddy path. In the end we made it in less than half an hour, but my shoes were definitely the worse for wear.
Amazingly (and infuriatingly), the skies cleared as soon as we reached the river again!
The Snook had planned a very special way to return to Dresden – by steamship! We found the terminal for the Sächsische Dampfschifffahrt and waited with a few others for our boat to appear.
And there she is!
Right on time, we boarded the boat.
We found seats on the upper deck (under cover in case it rained again) and settled in for the 2.5hr trip back to Dresden. My mood had definitely improved!
It was fun to see the Bastei again, this time from far far below. (I can’t believe we actually climbed all the way up there??!)
Here’s where I zoomed in on the Bridge.
The view off the front of the boat was spectacular.
We saw lots of Autumn foliage. 🍂
We chugged past very charming little towns along the river and made stops in several of them.
The boat had a kitchen and bar on it, so we checked out the menu and opted for the “Flotter-Dreier” (“Threesome”): a cup of coffee, a piece of cheesecake, and a glass of white wine.
I was having a nice time. ❤️
Hey, we’re coming up on a bridge!
This town is Pirna, the gateway to Saxon Switzerland. It’s a cute little town with some very dark periods in its history.
Next we headed towards Pillnitz…
It was getting a little bit cool as the sun lowered in the sky, so I had to put my warm hat back on! I also pulled out the knitting for a bit.
I had to go to the bathroom, which was located in the lower middle of the boat right next to the engines. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make a little video as I returned to my seat.
He loves a steamboat ride.
For the past 30 minutes, he’d been regaling me with trivia about “The Blue Wonder.” This is another name for the Loschwitz Bridge. It was a technological wonder when it was built, and the SS even tried to blow it up at the end of WW2! It’s not very blue these days though.
We chugged past lots of vineyards…
…and palaces. This is Albrechtsberg Palace, a stately home and historic landmark that you can apparently rent out for events.
Just as the sun reached the horizon, the skyline of Dresden appeared.
I didn’t want the trip to be over!
Wow, Dresden is pretty. In fact, the entire Dresden Elbe Valley used to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it was stripped of that designation in 2009 when a controversial bridge was built.
We disembarked and walked up and over the Augustus Bridge. A busker was playing music, and it was just perfect.
At the other end of the bridge stands the Golden Horseman, Dresden’s most famous statue. It’s our buddy August the Strong again.
We finished the day at Watzke am Goldenen Reiter, a local brewpub. It was crowded with locals and tricky to get a table, but we managed in the end.
The next day we had another quick wander around the city before packing our bags and heading back to the train station for the trip home. Thanks for a lovely visit, Dresden!