Katharina is one of the many European travellers that I met, whilst backpacking down in South America. I must admit: until I met her again this evening, I'd kinda forgotten who she was, or where I'd met her. But seeing her again sparked the recollection that she's a fluent Spanish-speaking German girl, who volunteered for several months in Peru; and that I met her while chillaxing on the beach in sunny Máncora, in northern Peru. Katharina lives here in Dresden (where she's currently wrapping up her master's thesis in geography), and it was primarily to catch up with her that I came here.
I arrived here in Dresden late this afternoon, after a quick 2-hour train ride from Berlin. By the time I reached the city, it was already (just for a change) cold and dark. I had little problem jumping on one of Dresden's excellent trams, and enduring the long tram ride over to my far-away hostel — where I checked in, popped round the corner to the shops (to buy some breakfast for tomorrow), and headed back into town on the tram.
Finding Katha in central Dresden turned out to be something of an exercise. She'd instructed me to meet her at the "Altmarkt Galerie DVB Service Point", and she gave me her mobile number in case I had trouble finding her. Well, I made it to the "Altmarkt" tram stop, and it was easy enough finding the nearby "Altmarkt Galerie" shopping complex. But where was the DVB (Dresden transport authority) "Service Point", and where was Katha? I asked the staff at the information desk, inside the shopping complex, where the DVB Service Point was. They had no idea what I was talking about: they just suggested that Katha probably meant the tram stop, and that I should go back there.
Eventually, I gave up and called Katha from a payphone. After two calls, she finally worked out where I was, and we managed to find each other. She rocked up with a friend of hers: a local guy, who's got a job in some kind of industrial plant here in Dresden (not her boyfriend — he's another guy, and he lives in Peru :P). Her friend is a nice guy, but he doesn't speak the world's greatest English — he's only really comfortable speaking German. And my German sucks. And to make matters even more complicated, Katha's English ain't so crash-hot, either: she's actually much more proficient in Spanish; and she found it quite difficult to resist talking to me in Spanish! So it was a linguistically mixed-up evening we had: most of the conversation was in English; but occasionally, Katha fell into Spanish when talking to me; and similarly, she fell into German when talking to her friend.
The first thing that Katha and her friend did — just to be completely different from the other folks I've met up with recently :P — was to take me to the Christmas market in Dresden's central square. The market was enormous — possibly the largest of the many Christmas markets I've seen in Europe of late — and it was extremely crowded. This being the second-last Saturday evening before Christmas, the festive spirit was in full swing; and all the usual fun market things were available in abundance, including Glühwein (of which we had a few cuppas — very much a necessity in the freezing weather).
This market was huge, and it was jolly good fun: but Katha and her friend insisted that they knew somewhere much better to take me to. And so, we said goodbye to the central square, and found our way at Christmas market No. 2 for the evening. This one was Dresden's famous "historic market": it's located inside a grand courtyard that looks centuries-old (although it's actually restored); and they charge a nominal entry fee at the gate. Once inside, it's a colourful and a very entertaining affair. Many of the stalls sell a variety of occult "medieval" trinkets, such as iron gauntlet gloves, and fierce battle-axes; and they're manned by locals dressed in elaborate robes, capes and tight leggings.
This evening, they had a "medieval band" playing: the music was quite bizarre (definitely had a German punk-rock touch to it), and involved the heavy use of bagpipes; I jokingly tried to convince Katha and her friend that I recognised the music, and that it's "really popular back in Australia" :P. Katha, in turn, forced me to learn how to say "I like the bagpipes" in German: I believe it's "Ich mag das Sackpfeife"; that's now my famous all-star German quote of all time. Katha and her friend were also (amazingly) impressed with how much German I know: however, I can't fathom why they were so impressed (clearly they're flattered by an Aussie such as myself knowing any Deutsch), since my knowledge doesn't go far past "guten tag" (good day), "eine zwei drei" (one two three), "sehr gut" (very good) and "ach shizer" (oh s$#%).
As we continued exploring, the fun little corners of this market seemed to be without end. At one stall, a fat local in green tights had set up an archery range, and was charging €1 for anyone to try their luck with his bow and arrow; for anyone who hit the bullseye, there was a grand prize to be had. A few stalls further down, they had a "medieval hot tub", where — for a small fee — you could have a dip in the steaming waters of their massive wooden spa bath. down in the lower-mezzanine centre of the courtyard, they had a big circular bar, where steaming bowls of hot soup were available to warm you up. And, of course, there was more Glühwein in abundance.
Katha assured me that Dresden is a reasonably big city, and that "not everyone knows everyone else" around here; but I wasn't convinced. Especially when, at the medieval market, she bumped into a friend of hers (doing the same course as her) who was working behind one of the stalls. Sadly, her friend had some bad news: apparently, her thesis supervisor is away in Chile at the moment; and by the time he gets back, Katha (who's not in town for much longer) will be back in Peru! And she needs to have a meeting with her supervisor, before she can continue with her studies. Ouch: that's a major pain in the neck. Anyway, maybe she'll be able to pop down to Chile when she gets to Peru, before he heads back to Germany.
For the rest of the evening, the three of us went over to the trendy downtown area of Dresden, where we found a cosy place called "Café 100", that serves really cheap food and even cheaper beer. I had a great spread for dinner, and plenty of drinks to wash it down as well. Always nice when you have locals to show you where to go: this place was about the best (and the best-value) that Dresden has to offer; although there doesn't seem to be any shortage of good places to eat and drink in this city.
So that was my reunion with Katharina from Máncora, and the highlight of my very quick one-night visit to Dresden. Katharina's having a hectic and complicated time at the moment: she's going back to Lima, to continue her field studies for her course in Geography; she's missing her boyfriend whom she fell in love with while in Peru; she's majorly stressed over her impending thesis deadline; and on top of all that, she's rather strapped for cash, and working several casual jobs at the moment while she's still in Dresden. Considering all of that, it was very good of her to find time to see me, while I'm here in Germany! If she ever comes over to Australia, I owe her plenty more than a beer.