We landed at Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport, got our rental car, and punched it to Dresden. Thanks to the long spans of autobahn that have a go-as-fast-as-you-dare speed limit, we made it in less than two hours. But why Dresden? Why spend any time at all in East Germany where life tends to be a little slower, and, as the Berliners say, “they’re still catching up”?
The simple answer is that we wanted to get some wine tasting into our German excursion and the Saxony wine region (Sachen in German) is easily reachable from Dresden. In general, when Jonathan and I travel somewhere, we always check to see if there’s a wine industry worth visiting. The Rhine Valley, which is where some of the best German white wines (Weißweine) are grown was just too far away from Berlin, which was the main event of our trip. [BTW, wine in German is wein and weiß is white. That crazy looking B is pronounced as a double S]
So Dresden was our consolation considering the short stint we were spending in the East German countryside.
Arriving in Dresden
I’d never been to Germany before so I didn’t know what to expect when we got to Dresden. The drive from Berlin reminded me of the French countryside we drove through on our way to Beaune from Paris.
At first glance, the city seemed quiet and ghost town-esque. The churches, opera houses, and bridges along the Elbe river felt old world as if aged thanks to ominous concrete stoically surviving years of frostbitten winters and an undercurrent of communist resentment at the West. To walk the streets you wouldn’t really know that Dresden is relatively new for European standards. Most of the city was destroyed during the WWII bombing of Dresden in 1945 when the US and British destroyed over 1,600 acres of the city center. All the ancient palaces, castles, churches and plazas from Augustus II the Strong and those that date back centuries have all been restored over the post-war decades and it wasn’t until recently that Dresden has been looked to as a major city in the East where tech companies and hipsters alike are beginning to play.
Everyone we did interact with was very nice and tried their best to speak English once they realized we weren’t German. It wasn’t until we got to Berlin that it all made sense; the East is still “catching up” when it comes to exposure to the globalized world. That is easy to see for sure.
The front desk was surprised to hear that two guys wanted a single bed. I’d experienced this cultural divide in the northern parts of Israel so I didn’t think twice about it, but once we explained that we were married and would like a single bed, we were surprised to see that the room she moved us too still had two twin beds separated. We called the front desk and asked for a different room, and they just said they would send someone to push the beds together, which never happened. At that point, Jonathan and I just let it go because the first item on the agenda was dinner! And boy was I starving.
Yelp was a really helpful tool. Though it’s not used quite as much in Europe as it is in the states, we were able to use it to find a traditional beer house (bierhaus) known for its schnitzel and spätzle; two German dishes I love.
Schnitzel and spätzle at Gaststätte Zum Schießhaus
The weather was perfect for an evening stroll into Dresden’s city center. Across the Elbe river and through the Opera plaza we walked to find the Gaststätte Zum Schießhaus, which seemed like the place where you’d want to go for a giant beer and some traditional German meat and potatoes.
The wiener schnitzel I ordered was bigger than my head. It’s a veal cutlet that’s been pounded thin and then breaded and fried. It was served over fried potatoes and steamed veggies in loads of butter….which is why I ate them all. The thick cut fries were also soaking up a dark brown gravy which was salty and full of umami goodness.
Now I’ve had some amazing schnitzel before, but nothing like this. The schnitzel in Israel is delicious, but it’s almost always chicken. Veal is the default for schnitzel in Dresden and all of Germany for that matter, and if prepared well, it’s not too thin, not too greasy, and moist. The schnitzel at Gaststätte Zum Schießhaus was exactly that. I don’t know how big the cow was that the medallion of meat they used came from, but after pounding it out, it was almost the full circumference of my large plate and the yet the meat was still thick, tender and juicy. Yum!
Jonathan ordered the spätzle with a side salad. The salad was delicious because the greens and veggies were practically drowning in the vinaigrette, but hey, if that’s what it takes to get people to eat their veggies. The spätzle was delicious. It’s an irregular shaped egg noodle served in a cheese and cream sauce. Sometimes you find it with fried shallots on top, and nowadays they might add bacon bits to it, or flavor it somehow to make it more exciting. It’s essentially an Eastern European macaroni and cheese. The addition of a splash of kirsch (cherry brandy) and some nutmeg give spätzle a unique bouquet and help round out the richness of the dish.
And of course, we had our first German beers (biere) at the Gaststätte Zum Schießhaus. The concierge at the hotel informed us that it’s traditional for restaurants in the region to offer house beers on tap and they’re either white, dark, or red. You also have to specify small, medium or large. A medium is 500ml of beer, which is two-thirds of a bottle of wine, and served in a glass I almost needed two hands to hold. I also found German beers to be a little less effervescent and slightly lower in alcohol content, which made it easier to drink loads of it without feeling bloated.
And we finished things off with classic apple strudel and vanilla ice cream. By then we were full, but I typically want to kick all our vacations off by setting the bar high!