By Yvonne Yorke
Germany’s Magic Cities of Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig, Munich and Nuremberg are an alliance of 11 destinations comprising a wide spectrum of German art, culture and entertainment. Taking a trip to four of the Magic Cities, I discovered the baroque splendor of Dresden, the crafts of medieval Nuremberg, and the Bach-filled streets of Leipzig before venturing to Frankfurt’s famed Museum Embankment.
Dresden, the state capital of Saxony, is often called the Jewel of the Elbe for its striking Baroque architecture. Among the many cultural institutions lining the banks of the Elbe River in the city’s historic Old Town, of particular note are the treasure-filled “Green Vault” in the Dresden Royal Palace, and the Old Masters Gallery collection of extraordinary paintings.
Every visitor to the Old Masters picture gallery (www.skd.museum) wants to see the Sistine Madonna – Raphael’s iconic painting of the Virgin Mary with two winged cherubs at her feet. Completed in 1512 and celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, the painting was the altarpiece in the Monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza, Italy before coming to Germany in 1754 as part of the art collection of the Elector of Saxony, Augustus III. The painting’s two mischievous cherubs have appeared on everything from posters to tableware, and even depicted on “Love Stamps” for the U.S Postal Service.
Dresden’s newest attraction is the Museum of Military History (www.mhmbundeswehr.de) with an added extension designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind. Its exhibit takes visitors on a chronological tour through 800 years of German military history from the Middle Ages to the present. Seeking to break traditional perspectives, the focus is not on military technology and weaponry but rather on the role played by people such as German actress Marlene Dietrich as a US forces entertainer.
Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria, is famous for the WWII war crime trials, as well as its annual Christmas market (one of the largest in Europe) and the Craftsmen’s Courtyard filled with traditional handicrafts. The city’s history and architecture go back to the Middle Ages, and today, it still features many medieval gabled houses in its Old Town district.
Prominent in the city’s cultural landscape is native son Albrecht Dürer, who painted and created works ranging from paintings, to altarpieces, and religious works in the 15th and 16th centuries. He is universally regarded as the greatest German Renaissance painter. At the Germanisches National museum (www.gmn.de) – one of the most important museums devoted to German arts and culture, I saw the most comprehensive Dürer exhibition in Germany assembled in 40 years. Themed sections showcased the links between Dürer and his personal Nuremberg environment, as well as the question of his role as a prototype of the modern artist.
Lepzig is a city where music is everywhere and savored with passion – be it in churches, concert halls, or the internationally renowned Bach festival in June. Even jazz interpretations of Bach’s works can be heard. Leipzig’s reputation as a city of culture is closely tied with European music history, with over 500 musicians and composers having lived and worked there through the centuries. Visitors can follow in the footsteps of Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and others on the new Music Trail.
Bach composed many of his most important works during his period as Cantor of the renowned St. Thomas Boys Choir, which celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2012. The choir can be heard three times a week in the late Gothic, St. Thomas Church. The Bach Museum houses a permanent exhibition presenting his life and works and a highlight is the Treasure Chamber, where original Bach manuscripts and other rare objects are on display. If you’re a die-hard, classical music aficionado, the GRASSI Museum of Musical Instruments holds one of the biggest collections of its kind with over 5,000 artifacts such the world’s oldest surviving pianoforte dating from 1726.
My next destination was Frankfurt, the center of finance and commerce, and known to many as “Mainhattan.” However, Frankfurt is also a treasure trove for those seeking art and culture. There are over 20 museums, strung like pearls on a string, along the embankment of the River Main ranging from the Modern Museum with the nickname “Tortenstueck” for its resemblance to a slice of cake, to Richard Meier’s Museum for Applied Art.
There’s also the renowned Stadel Art Institute, which presents works by European artists from the 13th to the 20th-century. When I stopped in, there was a Jeff Koons exhibition including the sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles – much larger and gaudier than you’d expect, but for some reason, you can’t seem to take your eyes off of it. Next, there is the unique Museum of Communication housing various graphic collections and documents on the history of communication dating from the time of the Counts of Thurn and Taxis all the way to the age of modern telecommunications.
Further down is the German Architecture Museum – the first of its kind in Germany, and beside it is my favorite, the German Film Museum. This museum features a variety of interactive exhibits from the world of cinema. Some interesting items in the permanent collection include the original Kodak film camera, the mold of the Alien monster, movie costume sketches, and Maximillan Schell’s Best Actor Oscar for “Judgment at Nuremberg”. The in-house art cinema presents up to three screenings every day (except Monday). There are special exhibitions per year, and currently until Oct 14, 2012, there’s one devoted to film noir. You might not want to explore it all, but there’s sure to be something among the 23 to pique your interest. •
Old Masters Picture Gallery
Museum of Military History
Germanisches National Museum