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A Short Visit to Switzerland

After almost a week of pounding the pavement of various German cities, we needed a nature break. Southeast of Dresden is Sächsische Schweiz, (Saxon Switzerland), a  national park along the Elbe River. Known for its rock formations, the park is popular with everyone from your average tourist to avid rock climbers.

Typical rock formations in Sächsische Schweiz

Despite the projected 95 degree heat, we forged ahead with our plan to get some exercise. Hopping on the S-Bahn with hordes of other tourists at Dresden’s Hauptbahnhof, the ride to Sächsische Schweiz was a short 40 minutes. Getting off the train at Kurort Rathen, the final part of our journey was a ferry crossing to the opposite bank of the narrow Elbe River.

At this point, I somewhat doubted our decision. Not only was the hot late morning sun beating down on us, but the hordes seemed to have multiplied on the ferry.

The Bastei trail

However, once off the ferry, we quickly separated ourselves from the pack, located the trail and headed up. As our hikes in Europe go, this one was pretty mellow. We were shaded from the scorching sun and we weren’t in the back country. It was more of an uphill walk  comparable to the walk to Andechs, just a bit steeper.

Being Germany, we knew we were going to be rewarded with beers for our efforts. Sure enough, when we reached the top, we found a little beer garden amongst the complex of buildings. Sitting down for a rest, we enjoyed a couple of Hefeweizens and a Bratwurst from a nearby stand.

Then we headed back down the trail from where we came. It wasn’t like our hikes in the other Switzerland; in fact it looked nothing like Switzerland.  But we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. And there was beer.

The view looking towards the Czech Republic

Obviously, there had to be a plan to visit a brewery somehow in this journey. Hopping back on the S-Bahn towards Dresden, we got off three stops up the line in Pirna. The brewery was located on the opposite side of the city from the train stop.

A very welcome sight

In a way, the several kilometer walk to the brewery was more difficult than our hike. Crossing a bridge over the Elbe River, we passed through the city center and then headed up a hill. While it was not as steep as our hike, we had no protection from the midday sun. And we weren’t quite sure where it was. I was very relieved to see the sign that said Brauhaus Pirna zum Giesser was only 300 meters away.

Merideth enjoying a Pils after a walk in the sun

Finding a table in the shade, Merideth and I quickly ordered beers from our waitress. Having not found a beer menu in the 30 seconds we had been sitting down, we both just instinctively ordered a Pils. Good guess on our part. The golden brew tasted amazing after the long, hot walk.

Finally finding the Getränkekarte, Brauhaus Pirna zum Giesser had an eclectic stable of beers. Unfortunately, the ones I really wanted to try were the seasonals. We had just missed the Maibock and were too early for the Rauchbier. After the Pils, I also tried the Pirnaer Stadtbier, an amber and Weltmeisterbier, their light, summery World Cup beer.

It was our last full day in Germany on the trip. As we enjoyed our late lunch and beers, we reflected on our many beer adventures. The next day, we would be in Prague.

Dresden

Our stop in Dresden really didn’t have much to do with beer. For years, I have been fascinated by the city and its resurrection from the fire-bombing by Allied planes February 1945. It is estimated that 25,000 civilians died in the raids and subsequent firestorm.

A view of the Dresden’s Altstadt from across the Elbe River.

My recent interest stemmed from our first visit to Munich in 2001. We were at our very first dinner in Germany and Merideth and I were struggling with the Bavarian dialect menu. Nothing seemed to be in our Germany dictionary.

There was an elderly couple sitting close to us. After about 10 minutes of looking at the menu then looking at the dictionary then looking back at the menu, the man finally asked in perfect English, “Can we help with the menu?” We gladly accepted and he and his wife spent the next few minutes translating the menu for us item by item.

In subsequent conversation, we learned that he was a Dresdener and that he was in the firebombing. Having a degree in History and an interest in the Second World War, it was very special to get to talk to this elderly man.

Nine years later, we finally made Dresden part of our Germany itinerary.

The Frauenkirche in Dresden’s Altstadt

A symbol of Dresden’s resurrection is the 18th century Frauenkirche. It seemingly survived the raids only to  collapse into a heap of rubble the last day. It remained a heap of rubble for almost 50 years. Reconstruction began in 1993 and was finally completed in the 2000. Using the original plans, the church was rebuilt with the existing stones where possible.

Our hotel was across from the Frauenkirche. Arriving late afternoon, we quickly checked in and then headed out to walk the Altstadt’s cobbled streets. It was one of the most beautiful we had ever seen in Germany. From the impressive buildings to the blindingly gold statues, we wandered around in awe.

The Frauenkirche rose impressively out of the central square. The checkerboard pattern of new and salvaged stones had us pondering how did the builders know where to put them.

Enjoying an Augustiner Edelstoff aus dem Holzfass in Dresden

Merideth and I were quite parched from the walk around the Altstadt in the hot and humid weather. Located the the opposite side of the Frauenkirche from our hotel was Augustiner an der Frauenkirche. Normally, we wouldn’t be drinking Munich beer in Dresden but we learned from our friend Paul that they poured a beer from the barrel. That’s too good an opportunity to pass up.

While Merideth ordered her cherished Helles, I went with Edelstoff aus dem Holzfass. An “Export” lager, the Edelstoff was a bit warm from being out in the heat. The temperature gave it a ‘real ale meets lager’ mouth feel, but the brew was still crisp and refreshing. The next day, I was fortunate enough to have another one. This time from a freshly tapped keg. The beer’s temperature was much more what I would expect from a German lager. Both were excellent, but the colder version paired better with the hot and humid weather.

There are several breweries in Dresden. We needed to cross to the opposite bank of the Elbe River to seek out the first. Looking at my printed out map, I was unsure of whether we could walk there in a timely manner, but we set out on foot anyways. After about twenty minutes of walking, it looked like we were barely halfway there. Reaching a tram stop, we climbed on the next tram headed in our direction. We were dropped off right in front of Brauhaus am Waldschlössen.

Germany’s first shareholder brewery

The history of the Waldschlössen (little forest manor) dates back to 1790 with brewing commencing in the 1830s. The current brewery reopened in 1997. Quite an impressive building, Brauhaus am Waldschlössen sat on top of a hill with Dresden’s largest beer garden overlooking the Elbe River Valley.

The heat of the day was finally breaking and the evening turned quite pleasant. Merideth and I grabbed an unshaded table on the edge of the beer garden.

Waldschlössen’s Zwickelbier and Hefeweizen

Merideth was in luck as Monday was Hax’ntag. For less than 9 Euro, Merideth got  a pretty good sized pork knuckle which also included a half liter beer. She paired her Haxe with the Hefeweizen. My beer choice was the excellent Zwickelbier which I paired with a two 75 Euro cent pickles.

We enjoyed the view of the river and the distant Dresden skyline as we devoured our haxe and pickles and drank our beers. Another day, another beer garden, another great memory from Germany.

Anything Gose

I’m pretty good at coming up with brilliant ideas. Recently, one of my best ideas was in planning our train trip from Berlin to Dresden. I noticed that one of the intermediate stations was Leipzig, which I remembered was home to one of the few Gose breweries in the world. Realizing that this was a good beer travel opportunity, I planned for us to get off the train in Leipzig, visit the two breweries in the city and get back on the train to continue our journey to Dresden. After confirming that Leipzig Hauptbahnhof had luggage storage, the train tickets were purchased.

Leipzig’s Rathaus

But even great ideas can have flaws. We got off the train in Leipzig and quickly found the luggage storage lockers. Opening the door to one of the available lockers, I slipped my bag in only to have it be several inches too long. Panic set in as I realized that I wasn’t going to be drinking Gose that day.

While, I was panicking, Merideth was thinking. She realized that if we tilted our bags at an angle, they would fit. It took a few minutes of wrestling each bag, but they were eventually safely stored. Soon after that, we were walking the streets of Leipzig in search of our first brewery.

The construction around Bayerischer Bahnhof

Bayerischer Bahnhof, one of the few Gose breweries in the world, was a 20 minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof. Approaching the brewery, I had my second panic attack within an hour. Bayerischer Platz was a fenced in construction zone. “What if the brewery is closed?” I thought to myself. To my relief, we found the entrance, and they were open.

The beer garden at Bayerischer Bahnhof

Bayerischer Bahnhof is an expansive facility. The huge rectangular building is flanked on one side by a tree shaded beer garden. The brewery sits in the middle of the restaurant that seems to go on forever. The first customers of the day, Merideth and I found a table outside.

Bayerischer Bahnhof Gose

Originating in the town of Goslar, a Gose is a top fermented wheat beer flavored with corinader and salt. Fresh from my Berliner Weiße trauma, I was a bit worried about having a similar beer experience. My confidence suffered the added blow seeing on the menu that the Gose could also be flavored with raspberry or woodruff syrup. Merideth also had the option of getting the “Lady-Friendly”, Gose flavored with cherry liquor. Passing on all the girly versions, Merideth and I both ordered “Original Leipziger Gose”.

Our waitress brought over the beers and the big moment had arrived. From the first sip, I loved the brew. The slightly tart beer was wonderfully refreshing, especially on yet another beautiful summer day in Germany. A hint of coriander, which became more prominent as the beer warmed up, gave the beer a kick of spiciness.

By my second or third Gose, I was patting myself on the back for the brilliant plan. Merideth and I enjoyed a nice, semi-leisurely lunch in the beer garden. I even moved on to try another one of Bayerischer Bahnhof brews, a wonderful Schwarzbier.

The tomb of Bach

Leipzig’s other brewery, Brauhaus an der Thomaskirche was located in the center of the Altstadt. As the name implies, the brewpub is next to the Thomaskirche, the 15th century church that holds the tomb of Johann Sebastian Bach. Not being complete beer heathens, Merideth and I went to the church to see the final resting place of the great composer and former choirmaster of the Thomaskirche. We even got the added treat of  choir practice, soothing background music to our five minutes of culture. With our normal tourist duty completed we retreated across the street to the brewpub’s beer garden.

The Pils at Brauhaus an der Thomaskirche

To the background music of the laughter and screams of the town’s children playing in the fountain in front of the brewpub, Merideth and I contemplated the Brauhaus beer menu. With a lineup closer to the more standard German variety, they did not brew a Gose. While I started with the Pils, Merideth went for the banana-y Weißbier. I finished up with the Schwarzbier. While not as good as the one I drank earlier in the day, it was still quite nice.

Our time at Brauhaus an der Thomaskirche was short and sweet. We quickly drank our beers and then headed back to the Hauptbahnhof to catch our train to Dresden. We spent less than four hours in Leipzig but it was a great four hours.