When we first moved from Dresden to Seattle in the fall of 1999, I remember going to our little neighborhood pub, asking for a good local pilsner, and having the guy matter-of-factly say: oh, we don’t serve any light beer. It was confusing. The standard local drinking beer in Germany – village or city – is pilsner. It is lighter in color, but it’s full of flavor & bite (the best part!), which is what makes it so good with food, be that bratwurst or BBQ.
Radeberger Pilsner is Dresden’s shining star of pilsners … or should I say Radeberg’s shining star, as Radeberg is a village (now a suburb) on the northwestern edge of the city, on your way to the Meissener wine country which is several more villages out on the same road. Jens and I moved to Dresden at the end of December 1994 for him to start his residency in January of the new year. It had already been 5 years since the wall had come down, but you would never have known it. The East German autobahns were in the early stages of being rebuilt (since Hitler’s originals in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s) which was one of the first big capital projects (and one that had still not been completed when we left a decade later) and the city sat in its sad, gray, dilapidated state for several more years after we arrived before the funding came through for the rebuilding to begin.
We arrived in Dresden after dark that December day, and I remember Jens driving me down to the Altmarkt to see the famous ruins of the bombed Frauenkirche. It was snowing, and the huge flakes were falling slowly over the partially standing walls of the church, still perched within the remaining fallen stones. The Frauenkirche has since been rebuilt, an impressive technical feat as all the stones that were still in the town square at the start of the project (some 50 years after its demise on the evening of February 13, 1945) were chronicled in a sort of outdoor stone museum and then reused in the rebuilding in each of their original positions.
After stopping downtown, we arrived at our little student housing accommodations on Bodelschwingstrasse, the photos of Eric Honecker and Fidel Castro still hanging in the stairwell. Most of the buildings in our area had not been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden, but through lack of money & upkeep during the ensuing years of communism, they were condemned, awaiting money from West Germany to arrive so that they could be renovated and made livable again. (From the East German perspective they would be made unaffordable and therefore still unusable for the locals.)
Friedrichstadt, Fall 1995
There were few restaurants in the town when we first arrived, a legacy of not allowing public places to gather. But right in our neighborhood, next to the hospital, was Riesa Efau, an underground students’ club which had thrived as a meeting place under the old regime and continued to do so after German reunification. It was small and thick with smoke every time you entered. The mood (by Dresden standards) was generally festive, the food was cheap & good (with 2-3 items on the menu any given night), and the beer was Radeberger, served in tall, thin, upright German glass mugs. Radeberger (along with Meissener wine) was one of the few items that the locals could sell to West Germans for hard currency during East German times. And there was a reason it was so sought after as it’s some of the best out there: fresh, with mild flavors of herb & citrus and a nice hoppy bite. It wasn’t available in Seattle when we first moved back, but in the last years it has been imported to this area. Whenever I drink beer (which isn’t that often anymore), it always takes me back.
Hope you get a chance to try it! And better yet, I hope you get a chance to try it in Dresden. You won’t have the experience we did in the early years after reunification (today, it would take some luck to see a Trabi), but the “Pearl on the Elbe” is still a jewel, closer now to its former, pre-World War II glory.