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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Seventeen: Dresden to Meissen

Michael Palin - New EuropeThere are vineyards close to the river now, small plots on hillsides divided up by dry-stone walls and the occasional red-topped dovecote.

'What is the end of Europe?' she asks. 'Is it in Egypt? Is it in Syria? What's the definition of Europe?'

This is exactly what I've been puzzling over these past few months, but further discussion is pre-empted as a shrill whistle from the 'Krippen's' bridge announces the approach of Meissen, a jewel of a town built around a colossal fortress, precariously and most skilfully poised on a steep and rocky prominence.

Meissen made its name from porcelain, and the tourist trail is flanked with shops selling the curiously fussy bits and pieces which people collect for enormous amounts of money. A less well-known spin-off from Meissen's traditional skills is the relocation here, from western Germany, of one of the country's largest manufacturers of bathroom appliances. This, strangely, is not on most tourist itineraries.

It should be, for the Duravit factory production lines are something of a work of art in themselves. They make 400,000 units a year, most of these toilet bowls. In one enormous shed, as hot and humid as a tropical rainforest, rows of drying lavatory moulds stretch far into the distance, looking like a lot of open-mouthed, recently caught, deep-sea fish.

The glazing ovens are dramatic, with lines of appliances, like some porcelain army being marched slowly down a 50-yard tunnel towards a distant blazing fire. But nothing in the process is more weird and wonderful than the robot in the paint shop. Every now and then the doors slide open, offering a brief glimpse of an electronic scarecrow, all in white, flinging itself about like a whirling dervish as it sprays another pan.

Isabella, my guide to this all-white world, tells me not only about the process and the product but also answers my more prurient questions, such as the reason for the German preference for flat pans in the bowl as opposed to the straight drop. This, I'm told, is called the 'wash-out' model and has practical and medical advantages.

'You can examine your business when you've made a number two,' she tells me, adding rather sweetly, 'as we say in Germany.'

I ask her views on the current controversy gripping middle-class Germany. Should men sit or stand to pee?

'It's a very new thing,' Isabella tells me, briskly. 'In every German family it's a big discussion point for the housewife, who has to keep the house clean, and yes, it is true that a lot of German men have decided to sit when they pee. They don't like to speak too much about it because they still consider it not very masculine, but young men of my age very often sit.'
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Seventeen: Dresden to Meissen
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Meissen
  • Book page no: 270

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