Just short of ten years ago, I clambered out of a claustrophobia-inducing Lufthansa coach seat in Frankfurt, grabbed my luggage, and headed for the parking garage. I had paid for my own flight — which did not surprise me in the slightest, because I was a cycling journalist at the time, not an automotive one. After a brief disagreement with my wife concerning the likely German phrase for “parking garage,” we found the right building, then the right floor, and finally the right spot. Occupying the spot was a Volkswagen Phaeton not entirely unlike the two that I’d left in my driveway at home. It was a short-wheelbase model with a VR6 and a specification too modest to ever cross the Atlantic, but the relative familiarity of the car and the controls made it slightly easier for me to get used to driving in Germany.
As we headed east and the evening fell in the windshield ahead, the perfect order and strident prosperity of what I’d grown up calling “West Germany” gradually faded, replaced by open fields, small towns, and abandoned concrete cube housing sprouting a decade’s worth of weeds. We were on our way to Dresden — to the ruined cathedral, to the cobblestones, to what Sandra, my bright-red-haired guide, called “the Saxon temperament.” We were headed to Die Gläserne Manufaktur. The Transparent Factory.