Eastern Germany is full of racists and crazy people so why would we want to go there? And Dessau – phar! These aren’t my words, but those of the other Germans in the west. Said with a smile and possibly only half joking. We (or is that just me) have been wanting to see the design Mecca of the Bauhaus school in Dessau for many years and an old friend of S happens to work in Dessau so that’s two good reasons to cross the Iron Curtain.
The further east we drove, the fewer cars we saw. Hooray, we’ve found a quiet bit of Germany! En route we stopped in a picturesque little forest carpark. As we turned to leave there was an unhappy crunch under Hans. Have I just driven over a Smart car?! Despite mirror checks, Hans had become intimate with a large rock. A seemingly immovable rock that was half submerged in the soil was now wedged under the side door step. Oh dear. Can’t reverse (plan A), the exhaust is in the way; can’t go forwards (plan B), the leading back wheel is there. So out with the shovel to dig a hole in front of the back wheel in an attempt to push the rock down into the hole so we can reverse and turn on full lock hoping to avoid the exhaust (plan C). Well the rock was almost too heavy for me to budge, but it did drop a bit after bending a metal pole I tried as leverage. So unleash Plan D. I would reverse up a levelling block under the front wheel which should give just enough clearance to save the expensive exhaust from damage. It worked! Like Captain Cook’s ditching of cannons to free the Endeavour from the Barrier Reef (sometime around 1770 for those old enough to remember) – an ingenious solution. Although Captain Cook not hitting a reef and me not hitting a rock would have been more ingenious.
So back on the road and we found the East German crazy people. A lovely sweeping road with good vision but not too many overtaking opportunities. An 80km/h road with Hans happily chugging along at the speed limit. So why people were so desperate to overtake on bind corners, crests or on completely straight stretches of road when oncoming cars are quite clearly too close is beyond me. Life threatening, pointless and utterly stupid. Some of the most dangerous driving I’ve ever seen. Now I’ve calmed down and reminded myself that violence is wrong, a message to the Sunday drivers of the Magdeburg/Dessau area – I fart in your general direction.
Dessau. Well on a grey day, it’s not at its best! Classic eastern Europe with large road junctions and electric bus powerlines criss-crossing above. Whether a building is commercial or domestic, oppressive boxy concrete is a special feature here. A bit grim and actually wouldn’t be out of place in the home counties as a “new” 1960’s London commuter town.
Thankfully Dessau has a lovely town square. Wandering out of the square and past some large apartment blocks with closed and sad-looking shops at street level, the town has an air of desolation. I came to the realisation that human activity makes all the difference in a concrete town like this. In Spain, you wouldn’t notice the concrete because the street would have a welcoming buzz. Admittedly there would be rubbish blowing around, but on the plus side, people would fill the bars and cafés, teenagers would be looking cool on their mopeds and little kids would be running around kicking a football right in the town square.
Seeing an old friend also helps when you’re having second thoughts about driving all this way. Kai, now featuring grey in his beard, met S when she was only 5 years old, so as it turns out is her oldest friend. He gave us a tour around some of Dessau and the highlight was his amusing English translations whilst trying to keep up with the German of the self guided audio tour of the incredible Federal Environment Agency building. The Germans are good at making stuff and they’re also good at making a decent attempt at environmental sustainability. As you can imagine, this building is packed full of gadgets as a shining example of an eco-friendly office snake. Office block, don’t you mean? Don’t be silly, this is a 780 office “snake” according to the bumf. And what a glorious undulating form of coloured glass, steel and wood it is. Natural light, passive air flow, geothermal heat exchange and photovoltaic power all feature. I particularly like the canteen being located in a separate building, forcing staff to walk and go outside at lunch time.
Give Dessau 20 years and I’m sure it will have many more swoopy buildings like this. By then I guess the grey 1950’s and 60’s boxes will be “classics” and protected as monuments.