On Alcohol / The Valley of Those with No Idea

Czech beer is the best in the world. Or is it Belgian beer? What about German brewing? You must try Latvian beer, Lithuanian beer, they’re all very proud of their beer. Polish vodka is good, French wine is perhaps the best, and what about all the strange little spirits each country produces? Alcohol and Europe go together. There is no escaping it. Want to understand us? Drink what we drink. The similarity between each nation in Europe is that each thinks their alcohol is the best. It is everywhere.

I do find the pervasiveness of the stuff somewhat perverse, but I still drink. I still enjoyed several Czech beers in Prague. Although, for what its worth, Belgian beers are the best.

Prague is a beautiful city only ruined by the sheer number of tourists that crowd the main sites, but step a street or two away and you can enjoy the architecture and the scenes, as well as a healthy bustle, away from the impenetrable hordes. The Czech people themselves seem a very friendly and helpful bunch.

It is only a little over two hours and across the border that from Prague you can reach into the east of Germany and arrive at the resurrected city of Dresden. I sat next to an Austrian man on the train and he told me that due to Dresden’s location in the Elbe valley, during communist rule it was unable to accidently receive Western TV or communications. It was, he told me, known as the ‘valley of those with no idea’, which is rough translation of just one unspellable German word. I later wondered whether this epithet could have applied before the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). I wondered whether the citizens had any idea of the bombing raid and following firestorm to come that would decimate the city and kill so many during the second World War. The city has been rebuilt. In the old town it was largely reconstructed as it had been. In some cases a number of the original stones have been used. There is no missing the jet black, scorched stones that serve as a permanent reminder of what happened here.

As much of the rebuilding of Dresden was undertaken during communist rule, there was a strong desire for a fresh start, and this has led to a large number of socialist modernist buildings. The Kulturepalast in the city centre is a glorious piece of modernist architecture and is the best of the style. Most of the architecture of the GDR, however, is in the typical concrete block style. Concrete is a material that became synonymous with communist architecture, perhaps because it’s strong, functional, and inflexible. It is the State as a building material. It is also ugly and intimidating.

Today Dresden is once more thriving, a centre for arts and learning in the region once more. Certainty ‘the valley of no idea’ no longer applies.


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