|Saturday 6th June. Up and away through the village and it was obvious what it was famous for with girly bars and discotheques in profusion but the name of one of the clubs ‘Sorrarz’ intrigued us. A line of high hills marked the border and after crossing them it was remarkable how different the two countries were. The roads, the housing and the sense of order changed so significantly that they might have been thousands of miles apart. Our route took us through pretty but tidy towns and villages until we reached the outskirts of Dresden a city whose wretched part in the war is hotly debated. Our aversion to big cities kicked in as we approached the centre in pouring rain and apart from seeing some monumental buildings we fled.
We turned north towards Meissen and the first European porcelain works. Parking at the factory we took the tour after following the instructions from the ticket girl. ‘You vill go up stairs, you vill go to end, you vill pick up headsets and you vill enjoy tour’. Surprisingly she was absolutely right! The first room was set up as a cinema where the history of porcelain was shown starting with the importing of finished product from China and Japan and then going on with the experiments with the raw materials. When the product was first manufactured it was in the basic glazed white. Soon the demand was for the imported coloured product and the film showed first, the development of under glazed colour then, to the famous over glazed colours of which there are some 10,000 variants.
Four demo rooms, each showing a different stage of production, were next. The rooms were set up as lecture halls with a pre-recorded sound track in German but translated to English for those with headsets, brilliantly choreographed with what each skilled worker was doing. The first room showed the basic throwing and forming of blanks, which were then fitted into moulds to make the final shape, every one identical. The next stage was to see a decorator applying the under glazed painting and to see the 16% reduction in sizes after first firing. The third stage was to see the preparation of the individual sections of a multiple part figure and how they were attached to make the whole. The last stage shown was the applying of over glazing to plates, which had had their first firing. The intricacies of design and the range of skills needed to finish a floral design on a plate were explained in detail and from this it was easy to understand why Meissen costs so much.
The last part of the tour was through the museum on two floors where thousands of items, many dating back to the start of production were to be seen. They also had on display some of their most extravagant creations including a ten foot high candelabra, room height table centre pieces and a myriad of huge bird and animal creations. One item was a chess set where every piece was a different female figure. This then led back to the ground floor where the shop was situated. There must be an enormous number of wealthy people in this world as the prices were incredible, dinner plates at €300 each and chess sets at €20,000. It was all so out of our reach that a cup of coffee was needed. Seated at our table in their beautiful café eating from onion style plates and drinking from onion style cups (each holding about a pint of coffee) we felt like royalty!!
Walking into the centre of town we were surrounded by many typical lovely houses of the area and very soon reached the town square where we hoped to hear the clarion of ‘Meissen’ bells play a set of tunes in the church tower. As we waited we heard music and sounds of a crowd enjoying itself so went to investigate. There in the next square was a fete run by the local Rotary Club in aid of Polio Plus. When is this disease going to be crushed? We chatted to some of the members and made our donation before returning to hearing the bells, which were lovely. Then the rain started again and we barely got back to the car before it started to pelt down.
Off to Leipsig. Soon reached the motorway but the rain was so hard that it soon became impossible to see ahead especially behind heavy vehicles so asked Judy, the navigator, to find a nearby village adjacent to the motorway where we might find accommodation. ‘Its Colditz’ the cry went up so off we went. There we found a sign saying ‘Hotel English Spoken’. How could we turn it down. Don’t mention the war came to mind but as we climbed the steps to the entrance we were met by John Smith a brewing expert from Yorkshire (I kid you not) and Ralph a two metre high Teutonic knight who is the local expert and guide on the Colditz story. We are looking forward to the next 24 hours!!
PS our room has a fantastic view of the castle above us.