MOVING on from the Quedlinburg area of Germany (previous article in this series) we go by train for a little over an hour to Dessau.
This is the centre of a great many attractions, unique to this part of Germany.
A good base is the Radisson Blu Fürst Leopold Hotel (www.hotel-dessau.city.de) which is named after Prince (Fürst) Leopold 111 Friedrich Franz (1740-1817) who did so much for this area.
His great grandfather had married Henriette Catharina, a Dutch lady, so he built a huge palace for her at the village of Nischwitz just outside Dessau, and promptly renamed it Oranienbaum.
In 1811 Europe's largest orangery (175 metres, 574 feet long) was added to it, and still grows citrus fruit there today. Leopold thus had a good upbringing for such things, and decided to turn his estate into an enormous landscaped garden, at Wörlitz. It took from 1769 to 1773 to construct. These gardens are recognised by UNESCO (in 2000) and are incredible.
On certain days in the summer a train runs from the main railway station in Dessau via Oranienbaum to Wörlitz, 19 kms, just for visitors – it is that popular – the railway line is not used for anything else!
The gardens run to 142 sq. kms (55 sq. miles) and the best way to see them is by boat – or gondola as they call them. These are not like the gondolas in Venice, they are substantial rowing boats.
Passing by the stately Wörlitz Palace (completed in 1773) which was the residence of the Prince and is now open to the public, you come to the landing stages. The boats each have a burly guide who sits in the bows with his back to where he is going, and rows backwards using hefty oars. Down the centre of the boat is a long table, with tea, coffee, water, wine, and a whole array of cakes. A dozen people can sit on the bench seats along each side, and off you go!
The hard working guide has a practised knack of giving just enough strokes to keep you moving along while he tells you about the gardens, while with professional experience he never looks round to see where he is going – even in some narrow channels.
The lake is very big and twists and turns between banks, trees, bushes and islands to constantly reveal eye-catching views of the carefully placed buildings. These include such marvels as an artificial volcano! This can still be made to erupt! There is a Gothic house, a Roman temple, an altogether amazing collection of unusual buildings – I won't list them all – go and see for yourself.
There are some ducks on the lake and swans, used to feeding off the tourists' crumbs, and watch out for the smaller beasties who also love to feed off the tourists! There is also the Wörlitz synagogue, a rotunda built in 1790 to show religious tolerance, and based on the temple of Vesta at Tivoli in Italy – thankfully it managed to survive the Nazis. There is a lot to see here, you could easily spend all day here and still want to come back for more. See www.gartenreich.com
Returning to Dessau, which has a very interesting old town centre, but this is mostly reconstructed as heavy bombing in March 1945 destroyed 84% of the centre. The town was immediately set about rebuilding, the theatre being the first reconstruction, completed in 1949, and it is worth seeing.
There is a "Dessau Culture Trail" around the town, with details of a great many tours and places of interest available from the tourist office in the main "square" (actually more a triangle) where the street market is held.
The Post Office and the avant-guard 1920s Employment Office are worth seeing. There is another building that deserves a visit – the Bauhaus. This looks at first glance like a modern building – but it was built in 1926. It is a glass and concrete structure that allows in maximum light, and the internal arrangements are very clever. It is an internationally recognised school of architecture. To tour round this building (in between classes and lectures of course) you will see so many clever features that you wonder why, in the 87 years since it was constructed, we continue to build terrible buildings that have not learned the lessons that had already been solved here.
Nearby are the master's houses, some of which are open to the public, and others are being restored. Once again you will be impressed with the attention to detail that makes these houses so good to live in – they are designed around the human being and living spaces. Each aspect has been considered, designed, and is easy to use, from door openings, stairs, windows, and electrical fittings to the surrounding garden landscape and trees. It is not just theory though, in 1926 – 28 a housing estate of "affordable housing" (nothing new) was built at Törten. 314 houses were built with plenty of light, air and sun with gardens and skilled design. One of them is open to the public. An information centre is in a steel house, built to the same visionary designs. You can find out more at www.dessau-rosslau-tourismus.de
Yet another centre of interest in Dessau is the Junkers Museum. See www.technikmuseum-dessau.de. Professor Hugo Junkers (1859-1935) was an engineering genius. He had 380 patented inventions for engines and aeroplanes and all things mechanical.
He founded the famous aeroplane construction company, which produced its 1,000th aircraft in 1928. He invented, built and flew the world's first all-metal 'plane in 1915, the "J1".
The museum is in one of the old construction buildings, a huge concrete hangar where the pride of place is a JU52. This is the famous corrugated metal passenger and cargo plane with three engines, one sticking out on the nose.
You can step inside and see the very basic, minimalist seating and controls. With no lining to the metal walls, it must have been very cold in it! There are a great many model aeroplanes depicting all the models built by the Junkers factory, as well as some retired military 'planes parked outside, together with a railway line with some old locomotives and coaches on it.
Inside there are also some lorries, a farm tractor (also built by Junkers) and a display of domestic appliances which were also made by Junkers incorporating many of the Professor's patented heating and water systems.
Dessau is a great place to base yourself to explore the region. Nearby is the river Elbe, with its 126,000 hectares of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Here plants and animals are left alone to grow naturally, but you can visit the Auenhaus information centre and see Elbe beavers.
The ferries that cross the river have no engines, they work on the "reaction" principle, using the strength of the current alone to propel them across.
There are cycle paths, boat rides, and the Kornhaus restaurant, built in 1929/30 by the Bauhaus master architect Carl Fieger, this is a great place to watch the river go by.
Dessau has a close neighbour, Rosslau, and the two towns now operate as one, with a combined tourist office.
Every year in March Dessau – Rosslau holds the internationally renowned festival of Weill, Brecht, Broadway and musicals, with the Kurt Weill Festival. This has had to be extended to three weeks as so many world class artists come to perform. Also nearby are many grand palaces and places to explore.
This is just a quick over-view of what this area of central Germany has to offer. They are used to tourists, and make life easy.
You can buy the 3-day "D Card" for 8 Euros (which covers one adult and one child under 12). This gives you free entry to 4 museums, unlimited travel on all the buses and trams in the town, many discounts on entries, bicycle hire, the train to Wörlitz, and so on.
It is sold by the tourist office – City of Dessau – Rosslau, Tourism and Marketing, Zerbster Strasse 4, 06844 Dessau – Rosslau, Germany.