Rakotzbrücke, Görlitz, Bastei Bridge, and Dresden
As I’ve mentioned, and as all of our friends and family know, Ingo and I are totally addicted to travel. We are always checking fare finder on Ryanair and scheming about our next trip. Usually, our trips take us abroad, but sometimes, because of this, we miss the fact that some of the coolest and most beautiful places can also be in our own backyard. The trip we took this week was a reminder of that for me, and while I am definitely not done exploring other parts of the world, I am putting together a MUST-SEE in Germany Travel Bucket List for this summer.
Can you believe all of these pictures were taken within two hours of Berlin? Here is what we had on the itinerary this weekend, as well as some of my favorite parts along the way. If you are short on time and money and looking for an awesome East German road trip, this is it! If you would just like tips on planning your road trip, scroll to the bottom of the blog, otherwise continue reading to hear about our trip through some of East Germany’s most beautiful places.
First Stop: Rakotzbrücke (The Devil’s Bridge)
Rakotzbrücke is one of many devil’s bridges across Europe. Due to their extraordinary architecture, these bridges were dubbed so because people reckoned the devil himself was the only one who could have created such a thing. Alas, according to the sign at the bridge, it was in fact built by a mortal knight in 1860 who had a touch of creativity and probably a few men to help him build it.
When we arrived at the bridge, we were two of the few visitors due to the fact that there was a steady drizzle and it was still incredibly cold. I didn’t mind, as I know this place can get quite crowded in the summertime. The bridge is also a three minute walk through the woods from the parking lot.
In this amount of time, I was able to imagine myself back in time, perhaps riding my horse, and seeing the bridge appear through the forest. It would have been an odd and impressive sight for sure. Large pieces of black basalt rise out of the water behind the bridge like a bewitched island. The same rock structures were built into either end of the bridge. With the rain and the mist, it wasn’t the best conditions for seeing the bridge, but it set an eerily mystical scene that I didn’t mind so much.
The only bad thing about seeing the bridge in this kind of weather is that we were not able to see the full circle reflection in the water because there was ice over the pond. Ah well. If you are planning to see Rakotzbrucke, you won’t need more than between 30 minutes and an hour. Even with walking around the forest path and taking plenty of time to admire the bridge, it is a short visit.
Second Stop: Görlitz
From Rakotzbrücke we headed south to this unexpectedly hidden gem of a city. Wes Anderson and Quentin Taratino would agree, as these two famous directors chose Görlitz as the set for their award winning movies, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglorious Basterds, respectively.
When we drove into town, it was the last place you would expect Hollywood to be, but this is what I loved so much about it. Most strikingly, Görlitz walks a fine-line between beauty and decay.
We wandered through cobblestone squares with restored wall paintings and intricately detailed doors only to turn down another street with every window and door boarded up and all the paint chipped from the bare stone walls. This abrupt change around every corner gave me a sense of unfiltered history, and the belief that there might not be a chance to see the city this way again. The inside of The Grand Budapest Hotel was an abandoned mall before Wes Anderson found it, but because of the movie an investor has now decided to renovate it. It was still under construction while we were there, so we couldn’t go inside.
Another unique reason to visit the city is that it shares a sister city in Poland called Zgorzelec. There are not many border cities like this where all you have to do is cross a bridge and you are in another country. No border control. No fence. No checkpoint. We decided to go to Poland for beer and dinner. Nothing beats Polish beer for taste or price, and it was fun to walk between countries without feeling like anything changed at all.
Third Stop: Bastei Bridge
This might have been my favorite place because it is so shocking to see massive natural sandstone towers rising hundreds of feet above the forest and the Elbe River snaking along the countryside below. Along and on top of these natural pillars, the remnants of a medieval fortress can be seen. The bridge itself was first built in 1824 out of wood, and was then replaced in 1851 by the sandstone bridge you can see today.
Even without the bridge, the landscape around the area is stunning. Ingo and I decided to hike up a few of the climbers trails which took us away from the other people on the bridge. In fact, we didn’t see another person on the trail and spent most of our time sitting on a rock outcrop which overlooked the valley and the river.
Thankfully, we had much better weather on this day and because it was still cold, we almost had the bridge to ourselves! If you go in the summer, I would expect the bridge to be crowded with tourists, as this is one of the most famous landmarks just outside of Dresden. Not only does it make for an absolutely stunning view of the forest, the rocks, and the Elbe River, the old fortress and ramparts are definitely worth visiting.
Fourth Stop: Dresden
If you come to Germany, it would be a shame to miss Dresden. You might even recognize it’s skyline, as there is really no city like it that can match the spires, domes, and towers that made up the golden era of the Saxon Kingdom. The capital of Saxony, this city was once the stronghold of August II, King of Saxony and Poland. Being quite a lavish king, it was he who built the city to be a Baroque architectural jewel on the Elbe. One cannot help but be impressed when walking around the old town and it would have not been shocking to see all the taxis and cars replaced by horse drawn carriages.
The original city was almost lost to history when the allied forces bombed it to the ground in 1945. Only now through huge restorative efforts has the city started to look like it once did. After Gorlitz, it made me think about the price of conflict not only on people, but of an entire historical chapter. I feel grateful that places like Dresden have been carefully rebuilt and preserved. You can easily see the restoration, as many bottoms of the buildings are blackened, either through oxidation or fire, and all the new stones are still cream-colored.
I also had the great luck of getting the chance to stay in a hotel called The Taschenberg Palais Kempinski because of Ingo’s work connections. This hotel was the palace of August the Strong’s favorite mistress and is attached to his palace by a glass corridor. The front door leads you straight out onto a series of several courtyards, most of which have breath-taking views of the river. I noticed that everywhere we went, I saw people playing violins, clarinets, and other assorted instruments. Dresden is home to one of the most well-known opera scenes in the world and draws talented musicians because of that. It felt magical to walk down streets with the sound of classical music reverberating through the courtyards.
In modern day Dresden, there is also the new town located across the river and is about a 20 minute walk from the King’s Palace. What old town has in treasure, architecture, and courtyards, new town makes up for in burger joints, craft beer bars, and art.
After having our fill of palace strolls and the King’s treasure museum, it was fun to head to Hopcult, a local craft brewery, for a two euro beer informational session and tasting.
Although my German was lacking, my taste buds were not and I thoroughly enjoyed this evening of delicious German brews and down-to-earth Saxons hanging out on a Thursday night.
We finally made our way back to Berlin the next afternoon feeling like we’d gone much farther than 2 hours away. This is really what made the trip so worth it. If you are interested in doing your own East Germany road trip, I have included some helpful tips below. If you are reading this from abroad, well, this is one more reason for you to come and visit Germany!
The Suggested Itinerary:
12:00 – Leave Berlin and drive to Rakotzbrücke (2 hour drive)
2:00– Arrive at Rakotzbrücke
2:30– Leave Rakotzbrücke and drive to Gorlitz (1 hour drive)
3:30– Arrive in Gorlitz and wander around the city. Make sure to see the movie sets of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglorious Basterds! Go to Poland for dinner. Have some beer and goulash.
9:00– Leave Gorlitz and drive to Bastei (1.5 hour drive) Take the country roads to make it prettier and stop at a small town bakery on the way!
10:30– Arrive at Bastei. Hike the bridge, pay the 2 euros to walk around the old fortress. Take a hike in the forest or bring a picnic lunch.
12:30-Leave Bastei and drive to Dresden (1 hour drive). Good luck finding parking in the old town. Be patient.
1:00– Be totally in awe of old town and walk around until you stumble a beer garden on the river to rest at.
Rest of the evening: Go check out one of the many bars or live music places in new town.
10:00– See any of the museums you didn’t get to on Day 2. I would recommend the Green Vault, which is the treasure trove of August II.
12:00– Have lunch and hang out by the river.
1:00– Drive back to Berlin (2 hour drive)
Easiest way to get there:
I would recommend using hotwire.com for all of your car rentals out of Berlin. If you pick it up out of Tegel, then it will be even cheaper. Here is the route, but you can easily use google maps or a map to get to all four of these destinations.