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As a freelance lecturer on the Decorative and Fine Arts, I get to go on some fascinating trips. This one with Noble-Caledonia on the Elbe Princess. A new vessel with paddles at the stern rather like something from the Mississippi.

Having flown to Berlin the party boarded the ship at Potsdam. Personally I am very partial to Potsdam as it is the Prussian equivalent of Versailles with numerous palaces, pavilions and landscaped gardens dotted along the banks of the Havel. The palace of Sans Souci was Frederick the Great’s idea of getting away from it all, his Petit Trianon. Here he entertained the intelligentsia of Europe including Voltaire. Sumptuous rococo architecture by von Knobelsdorf.

Germany is fortunate that it is criss-crossed with a network of waterways both real and man-made which enabled us to wend our way to Dresden, and to Prague.

It is hard for us to perhaps comprehend why Dresden was once one of the richest and most elegant cities of Europe; the “Florence of the Elbe”. That river was one reason for its prosperity as it connected the city with the North Sea and the wider world. Along it was carried the mineral riches of the Erzgebirge Mountains including silver for the silversmiths of Augsberg and the semi-precious stones for the jewellers of Europe. It helped that its rulers, Augustus the Strong, father and son,  were addicted to luxury, whose minions discovered, in 1710, the secret of porcelain manufacture in the nearby town of Meissen. Porcelain, another luxurious material to add to the splendour of Dresden.

Prague, one of the most beautiful and unspoilt cities of central Europe stands on the banks of the Voltava and is dominated by the citadel of Hradcany. The outstanding feature of this is St Vitus cathedral. Like the cathedral at Cologne, this cathedral took several hundred years to complete, only completed in 1929. The foundation stone was laid in 1344. Inside, rather surprisingly, is a magnificent stained glass window by Alfons Mucha, more frequently recognised for his posters of luscious Art Nouveau ladies, including Sarah Bernhardt.  Almost rivalling it amongst the plethora of sights in the cathedral is the tomb of St John Nepomuk. Standing some 20 feet high this staggering silver baroque tomb is the work of the famous architect, Fischer von Erlach. He is responsible for the Karlskirche and Schômbrunn palace in Vienna.

Central Europe, the centre of so much strife over the centuries has so much to offer particularly for those interested in the Decorative and Fine Arts. For lovers of the Baroque it is a continuous feast not only of buildings but in the work of artist such as Rubens, and the gorgeous offerings of the Treasure Chambers of the various rulers.

The next Noble-Caledonia cruise from Berlin to Prague departs on the 15th October 2024.
Contact Noble-Caledonia on 02077520000 for further information.

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