In February 1945, the Allied Air Forces almost completely destroyed the center of Dresden, dropping high-explosive and incendiary devices. During the Cold War and since the Reunification, Germans have been working to bring Dresden back to its former glory. Even nowadays, cranes tower over baroque buildings, replacing some outdated East German structures with more modern ones to make the city more attractive. Dresden is still nicknamed the Florence of the Elbe for good reason. Visiting Dresden is worth the side trip.
With a car, visiting Dresden is only 2 hours away from either capital. If you have time, from Berlin, stop in the Spreewald region (around Lübbenau) and rent a kayak to explore the canals. It’s only a short detour, but well worth it! From Prague, you’ll be driving through the grandiose landscapes of Saxon Switzerland: A great opportunity to explore hiking trails.
Alternatively, the easiest and most comfortable means of public transportation is to take the train from either Berlin Central Station or Prague Main Railway Station, directly to the center of Dresden.
Dresden is internationally renowned for its art collections, located in the two castles: the Residenzschloss and the Zwinger. Beware: Both locations host extensive, although very distinct, collections.
The highlight of the Residenz is surely the Green Vaults (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe and Neues Grünes Gewölbe). The collections of jewelry and gold and silver plate will dazzle your eyes — everywhere precious stones, delicate masterpieces of ivory and amber, bronze statuettes, precious instruments and porcelains surround visitors. In the New Green Vault don’t miss, among other treasures, an enormous green diamond (41 carats) and the magnificent showpiece, made out of gold, gems and enamels, representing the birthday party for Great Mughal Aurengzeb.
Carefully restored after the war, the Zwinger is a marvel of German baroque. Inside the courtyard, statues and fountains adorn the classical garden, whose layout is perfectly symmetrical. It is at once both peaceful and overwhelming. From the terraces, the panorama extends to the new town, on the other side of the Elbe river, and to the rolling hills in the distance. The carillon of 40 Meissen porcelain bells exquisitely embellish the stroll around the palace. Even if you don’t plan on visiting the museums ー the Gallery of Old Masters and a Porcelain Collection, in particular ー at the Zwinger, you must nevertheless take time to admire the buildings and the gardens.
Completely destroyed in 1945, the Frauenkirche, then the biggest Protestant church in Germany, is once again the focal point of the old center of Dresden. The East German government decided to leave the rubble of this church untouched. Ruins of the church stood in the square with trees growing inside: decades after the armistice, passersby could still contemplate the extent of the devastation.
After reunification, an enormous project of renovation and reconstruction, lasting from 1994 to 2005, recreated this elegant baroque church. Some of the original stones, now darkened by oxidation ー not fire ー mix harmoniously with newly-cut beige sandstone. The interior is truly awe-inspiring. The cupola soars high above, light streams from the large transparent windows and delicate paintings enhance the walls and ceiling. What a perfect place to enjoy a concert!
The amazing supporting structure of the church is visible in the crypt, along with some original elements of the edifice. Visitors can also climb the dome for a view of the city and the Elbe.
The town of Dresden recently refurbished the square surrounding the Frauenkirche, the Neumarkt. One of the sources for the renovation was Views of Dresden by the Italian painter Canaletto. Returned to their pre-WWII appearance, the market square, the Frauenkirche and the surrounding buildings once again form a coherent architectural ensemble.
It is more and more difficult to find remnants of the GDR regime in German cities. However, the wall mural on the Palace of Culture has been preserved and is well worth seeing. In shades of red and grey, this artwork powerfully salutes the resilience of workers, farmers and teachers, who rebuilt their city, guided by their socialist ideals.
Augustiner an der Frauenkirche is part of the famous Bavarian brewery network. In Dresden, it serves Saxon food, along with more familiar Bavarian dishes: different types of schnitzels, pork knuckle, and knödel. Bring your appetite!
Alte Meister has a prime location between the opera house and the Gallery of Old Masters. Enjoy prepared dishes of fish or meat and flavorful desserts in the large studio used by sculptor Braun during the reconstruction of the Zwinger after the war.
For a sweet snack, step into Camondas, a shop where you can sample every possible type of chocolate, either in bars or truffles. There are so many delicious-looking treats that choosing is a little overwhelming: stick to the basics or be adventurous? Bittersweet truffles with hazelnut or a lavender-infused chocolate bar?
I first visited Dresden as a teenager, in the summer after the fall of the Iron Curtain. For years, I kept a vision of the destruction that had occurred 45 years earlier, which still scarred the city. Nevertheless, I loved Dresden, because of its location by the Elbe and the grandeur of the preserved buildings. In 1990, one could still see that Dresden had been amazing.
Visiting Dresden today, it is difficult to re-imagine what I had seen almost 30 years ago. Everything is beautiful and clean, glistening in the sunshine. Dresden has a strong cultural heritage and has taken every possible step to recreate its ancient glory. It has lost the outdated charm of the East German town where trees were growing in rubble. On the other hand, it has magnificently regained its baroque grandeur and has rightfully reclaimed its spot as the most beautiful city in Germany.
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