Friday, 20 June 2014


Since we were in Dresden we decided to visit the City of Meissen where in 1724 under the auspices of the King of Saxony a group of researchers found the secret of how to make fine Porcelain. Until that time all porcelain came from China and the City of Jingdezhen was the World Capital of fine Porcelain since the Yuan Dynasty. I visited Jingdezhen in 2005 for the 1000 anniversary of the invention of the process in transforming simple clay into fine Porcelain. At the time of the late Renaissance European rulers started to see a new product appear from their trade with Asia, at first cups and saucers to drink Chinese tea and then that new drink coffee or chocolate from the Americas.

Fine Porcelain was a luxury product available only to Emperors and Kings, a novelty item really at first to marvel at since no one in Europe knew how to make such fine and delicate objects.
The King of Saxony had the idea that if he instructed the alchemists at this Court maybe they could find out the process and if they could produce porcelain of the quality of what was coming from China then Saxony could become the producer and supply house for all the Courts of Europe.
A great idea but not one easily achieved.

So we decided to sail to Meissen on an original steam boat built in 1860 powered by coal and steam.
Such boats take tourists up and down the Elbe river between the two cities a 2 hour leisurely trip. If you book ahead you can have breakfast or lunch on board, they also serve an excellent coffee and cake.

Steam boat mechanism.

The Elbe river is very scenic, all green fields, cows, sheep and horses, vineyards and castles.
As we left Dresden, the boats are moored just below the Brül Terrace, we got a very good panoramic view of the whole city centre.

We passed near the tower of the slaughter house which is featured in Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughter House 5. The rest of the journey is spent looking at the wonderful countryside of Saxony on this very quiet river.

Tower of the Slaughterhouse as seen by Kurt Vonnegut

One of the many vineyards along the way producing mostly Riesling white wine

Meissen, Albrechtsburg Castle and Cathedral, said to be one of the oldest in Germany

The albrechtsburg Castle on the Misni Hill dominates the countryside. The foundation stone was laid by Duke Heinrich I in 929 as a fortress it was transformed by architect Arnold Von Westfalen into the first Palace in Germany by 1471 as a symbol of the power and wealth of the Wettin Family. The construction at the time used the most modern techniques and the castle rose on four floors using arches and support columns to carry the weight of each floor with large windows.

It was in 1710 that August II the Strong converted the entire castle into a porcelain fabrication research centre, he wanted to discover the secret process to make fine porcelain. The main residence of the Royal family had moved to Dresden many years prior and Albrechtsburg was the perfect setting for this secret work.  A cathedral built in 1260 is also part of this complex as well as the Bishops Palace.
The cathedral continued to function first as a Catholic church and then at the time of the Reformation it 1581 became a Lutheran Church. A Royal Chapel is the site of the burial of the Wettin family. The Cathedral has works by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

West door with Wettin Family tombs dating from the 13th century. 

art work by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in the memorial chapel of the Duke, scene here praying with his wife to the Saviour.

 People's Altar in the main sanctuary, note the Meissen porcelain crucifix and candle sticks.

 High Altar in the Santuary from the time when the Cathedral was R.C. reserved for the Monks.

View from the heights of the Castle with Elbe River 

In 1860 the porcelain making was transferred out of the castle to a new installation and the Castle was renovated and refurbished into what we see today. With large pseudo-middle-age paintings on the virtues of the Wettin Family, all very Wagnerian all Wotan and Lohengrin reminded me of Ludwig II castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, mind you it is the same historical period and the two families knew each other.

Difficult to imagine living in this decor around 1860. Though the King lived in the main Residence at the Royal Palace. Albrechtsburg was for show only.

Meissen as a town is quite beautiful, it is very clean and much is being done to erase the traces of the terrible flood of 2013 when the Elbe river invaded the city and the flood waters reach 2.5 meter in height.

There are of course many shops selling the Meissen Porcelain at very nice prices, a coffee set for 6 persons only 3900 Euros. It is the best possible porcelain you can buy and it is made with great care, truly a collectors item. In Canada we do not know Meissen Porcelain because of the monopoly of British Bone China which is not the same quality and is far more affordable.

We had a lovely lunch at the Castle with a view overlooking the whole region. The Hotel Burgkeller has a terrace with mature linden trees. A very good menu and good service, it was most pleasant.
Will had an apricot and strawberry soup and then white asparagus in a béchamel sauce with ham.
I had catfish in a fennel and dill sauce. See

Our return was with the S-Bahn which is a light rail train connecting all the small towns around Dresden. Only 30 minutes and we arrived at the main rail station in Dresden. Again efficient public transport for all, no need for a car.


1 comment:

  1. What marvelous photos. It is nice to see Dresden and all isn't still a rubble heap.