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Dresden City Guide

Devastation and Reconciliation

by André Gayot

A panoramic view of Dresden over the river Elbe
A panoramic view of Dresden over the river Elbe

Resurrection is the word that qualifies the contemporary history of Dresden, the capital of Saxony. For three days (February 13, 14, 15 in 1945) most of the city was pulverized by ceaseless allied bombing. The number of civilian victims was a horrifying 25,000 (more, according to some). Today, Dresden claims to be the most beautiful city in Germany, and many call it the “Florence of the Elbe” after the name of the river on the banks of which the city was built in the ninth century by a Slavic mission settling to convert the barbarian Sorbs, a Slavic tribe.  The Sorbs converted but kept their language. Some villages at the nearby Polish border carry a double name in German and in Sorbian as well, a clear indication of the cultural diversity of this region.
Theaterplatz square with equestrian statue of King Johann of Saxony, Cathedral and Royal Palace in Dresden, Germany
Theaterplatz square with equestrian statue of King Johann of Saxony, Cathedral and Royal Palace

In the seventeenth century, under the auspices of Augustus II The Strong of the Wettin dynasty that governed Saxony for 800 years, the arts flourished. Augustus, patron of art and architecture, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, amassed art collections and also financed the research that lead to the development of the industry of the “white gold,” the Saxon porcelain established in nearby Meissen. Patron of the arts Augustus, inspired by Versailles and the Sun King, is credited for many realizations such as the construction of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in the baroque Neumarkt (New Market). Destroyed, the church remained in ruins for 45 years. Rebuilt in a decade after the demise of communism with the help of German and international money and goodwill, it has become a symbol of reconciliation. There, one can feel that no one wants to see such blind destruction, such fratricidal conflicts again and the devastation of a World Heritage UNESCO site. The “Zwinger” (Royal Castle), a masterpiece of baroque art composed of several wings, shelters famous art collections in different galleries. The most important of which is the gallery of the old masters that contains 2,000 paintings, among them pieces by Rembrandt, Raphael and Albrecht Dürer.

The 18th-century Church of Our Lady was destroyed during World War II and lay in ruins for 45 years. Today it stands as a symbol of reconciliation

The 18th-century Church of Our Lady was destroyed during World War II and lay in ruins for 45 years. Today it stands as a symbol of reconciliation.

No construction is allowed to surpass the 100 meters of the Rathausturm (Town Hall Tower). In the Italian Renaissance style, the Semperoper (Saxon State Opera), rebuilt after a fire, several operas of Richard Wagner, who resided in Dresden as a Kapellmeister, were created such as the Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser. The opera also heard for the first time the music of Carl-Maria von Weber and Richard Strauss. The Residenzschloss (Royal Castle Residence) boasts exceptional collections in the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) such as the treasures of the Princes of Saxony, jewels, precious stones, enamels, ivory and amber. The Augustinien Museum hosts modern painting. The Hofkirche is the largest Saxon baroque cathedral with 78 statues and an impressive eighteenth-century organ. Music, painting, architecture, objets d’art…the entire city is a living museum and a delight. Don’t mistake the colorful bulb sticking out of the Saxons’ heritage for a mosque. It’s a cigarette factory disguised to make acceptable the presence of a plant in this artistic environment.

From Dresden, a number of excursions are tempting such as the Kleine Sächsische Schweiz (Little Saxon Switzerland) with its own “Monument Valley,” the castles and gardens of Augustus the Strong in Moritzburg, the curious city of Bautzen in the upper Lusatia region where Sorbian culture persists, Meissen, the capital of the “white gold,” the Saxon porcelain, the Muskauer Park (another UNESCO World Heritage site) near Görlitz on the Polish border, another architectural gem of a city that boasts 4,000 listed buildings from Gothic to Art Nouveau. Also, just an hour away beckons Berlin, the German capital.

DRESDEN HOTELS:

Innside Dresden
Salzgasse 4
49 35 17 95 15 0
www.innside.de
A modern hotel in the city centre next to the Frauenkirche, the Elbe River and the museums, Innside Dresden offers a perfect location for sightseeing with 180 designer studios and suites featuring innovative bathrooms. View on the dome of the Frauenkirche from the bar.

Maritim Hotel Dresden
Devrienstrasse 10/12
49 35 12 16 0
www.maritim.com
This elegant hotel offers direct access to the convention centre on the banks of the river Elbe. Originally a storage building erected in 1913, it has been transformed to host 328 rooms, well appointed with large bathrooms.

Pullman Dresden Newa
Pragerstrasse 2c
49 35 14 81 40
www.accorhotels.com
Built by the communist government for foreign visitors of the international trade fair and remodeled to fit western world standards, hotel Pullman Dresden Newa faces the main station and offers views of the city. Curiously, the glass shower stands in the middle of the smallish rooms.

DRESDEN RESTAURANTS:

Alte Meister
Theaterplatz 1a
49 35 14 81 04 26
www.altemeister.net
Sup on traditional yet elegant food in the museum café of the world-famous Zwinger gallery. Small but good menu.

Bean & Beluga
Bautzner Landstr. 32
49 35 14 40 08 80 0
www.bean-and-beluga.de
A starred, top spot for gourmands. Select wines and also sixteen aperitifs to choose from.

Caroussel im Hotel Bülow Residenz
Rähnitzgasse 19
49 35 18 00 30
www.buelow-residenzen.de
Elegant, lavish decor and equally elegant, fresh fare at the Relais & Châteaux Hotel Bülow Palais & Residenz.

 

<< Previous

Intro: East Germany, a Luminous Past and Thriving Present
Hamburg: Venice, German-Style
Lübeck: City of Steeples, Scribes and Marzipan
Wismar: A Walk in Medieval Times
Stralsund: Created by the Sea and for the Sea
Leipzig: Where the Fall of Communism Originated
Dresden: Devastation and Reconciliation

* Dresden panorama image by Antoni, Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus e.V.
* Church of Our Lady image by Torsten Krüger, Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus e.V.
* Theaterplatz image by Hans Peter Merten, Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus e.V.
All images courtesy of the German National Tourist Board

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(Updated: 10/17/12 CT)

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