Dresden & the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen

I went to Dresden yesterday. Very impromptu. Decided Wednesday evening I needed some art. And travel. A quick adventure. I’ve only ever passed through the Hauptbahnhof in Dresden, and it’s 2 1/2 hours away by bus — less by train, though quadruple the price, and my current collecting of places I’ve never been is determined by places I can get to and from in a long day.

So, up at 5:30am, off to Südkreuz for the 7:15 bus, slight dozing mid-trip, mostly enjoying the scenery which evolves from the smooth former sea bed of the north into rolling hills very reminiscent of Vienna, and into Dresden Neustadt half an hour before the museums open. Enough time to walk — like I won’t be doing much of that today — across Marienbrücke so I can have the full experience of architecture lining the Elbe.

It’s seriously beautiful. I don’t have words for how stirringly picturesque it is, how utterly baroquely Europe. Dirty also. Like almost all German cities it had its teeth kicked out in 1945 for being a mouthy prick, and between the rubble of the remaining stumps lies the typical barren former-East German depression. Think of any big city you’ve lived in, Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto, Paris, and imagine on every city block there’s at least one empty wasteland, sometimes several grown together. Where you’d expect a thriving, vibrant inner city, seventy years after the Second World War, in Dresden, Magdeburg, even Berlin, these dead spaces remain. Nothing that some immigration couldn’t fix — ah, yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

The inner city, the Altstadt — so like Vienna. There’s even streets using Gasse, which I associate entirely with Austria. One even used Gässchen! Places like the Semperoper I’ve heard of for years, suddenly I’m gawking at it. I’m here for the museums though. Museums! Plural! The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden has quite a few. There’s the Zwinger mit Semperbau which has the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, and is where I’m heading first; across the road is the incredible, gorgeous Residenzschloss with the Grünes Gewölbe; a skip past Frauenkirche is the Albertinum with the Galerie Neue Meister; there’s the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Jägerhof, Japanisches Palais, and all the way in the next city over in Chemnitz is the Gotische Skulptur in Sachsen in the Schloßbergmuseum.

Two-thirds of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is closed. The Zwinger had been Baroquely imploding for some time. Currently it’s about 2 years off completion. The Historisches Grünes Gewölbe I didn’t make it to, nor any of the aforementioned last quartet. Nor either the Daniel Libeskind-ed Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr, which curiously has a rather nice bunch of Mediæval and Renaissance art. Obviously I’ll have to go back. It’s times like these I wish I had a driver’s licence and a car to use it in (WRX, yes please).

Museum people: super-friendly and helpful, young and old, facial piercings and all. Nice! Art: I took 580 photos so that’s a yes! And narrowed that down to around 280 — across seven collections mind, so not unduly excessive for first round of selecting. So so so very many brilliant works, the vast majority not mediæval art because that’s the collection that got the chop when the Gemäldegalerie had to partly close.

I’m going with Birgit Deiker’s 2007 work, Kleine Diva which I found in the Albertinum’s Skulpturensammlung in a dark chamber among shelves of heads and busts as my “This was Dresden Museum!” piece. So out of place, so inchoately horrifying and seductive.

I made it until just before 18h, camera battery dying as closing time veered in as toes, feet, body protested. “Frances, but isn’t going to see art supposed to be enjoyable?” Enjoyable? Museums and art are objects of endurance, acts of physical labour. To come out the other side, 9 hours later flattened and exhausted having enjoyed beyond satiety is the experience of a museum.

And then to get home. On a train from Prague.