Dresden, a town in eastern Germany (formerly East Germany), lies on the river Elbe near the border with the Czech Republic. Famous for porcelain and its Semper Opera House, where works from Wagner and Strauss had premiered, Dresden has a lot to offer the visitor. Everywhere you look in Dresden, you see history. From the baroque architecture and kings of Saxony, World War II, the Cold War architecture to the recent history of post-German Reunification, Dresden’s culture reflects it all.
Dresden can easily be reached by air, rail and road. Finding hotels and aparthotels shouldn’t be a problem, a walk around the baroque Altstadt will reveal many, many places to stay in the heart of the city, to suit all budgets. Restaurants are many and varied, if you like steak; a Canadian steak house, a Brazilian steak house, a Mexican steak house to recall just a few. But, if I have one negative thing to say about Dresden it’s that the food really isn’t too much to write home about.
But don’t let cold chips put you off this beautiful city. Culture vultures and history buffs are bound to love Dresden. Here are five of my top five points of interest in Dresden.
The old town of Dresden is a masterpiece of beautiful baroque architecture. Amazingly, after the controversial bombing of Dresden towards the end of World War II, most of the city was destroyed. Since then, the city has worked, using historical records to restore and rebuild the Altstadt, in detail, back to its former glory. A walk through the old town is a treat for the eyes; you could take hundreds of photos of every interesting detail you find. And all built anew after near total destruction. As I walked around the city, I was delighted to see members of the Dresden Baroque Traditions Club take to the streets in full costume. The club provides services to teach the people of Dresden about the baroque history of their city.
This church, built in the 18th century, suffered during the bombing of Dresden. Not hit directly by bombs, the intense heat of the fires all around the church caused the eventual collapse of the dome. After the war, the East German authorities decreed that the church should not be rebuilt and plans to rebuilt were scrapped. The people of Dresden protested against the removal of the ruins and the pile of ruins and rubble were declared a memorial against war. After German reunification, efforts to rebuild the church were renewed. The church was rebuilt from stones from the ruins along with new stones. Only the dome, a colossal architectural marvel, was built from all new materials with new bells cast.
The interior of the church, which displays the twisted, charred original cross from the top of the dome, has been beautifully restored and can be visited throughout the day. It has become a very popular tourist site for visitors to the city with millions of visitors since the church reopeend. Well deserved, too; it’s an amazing place.
A very short walk from the Frauenkirche and down towards the Semper Opera House (more about that in a minute), the Fürstenzug, or Procession of Princes, is an epic mural along the outside of the walls of the stables in Dresden Castle. According to Wikipedia, it’s 102m long and the longest porcelain artwork- made of Meissen porcelain tiles- in the world. A portrait of all the rulers of Saxony since the 12th century, amazingly it sustained only minimal damage during the bombing of Dresden in 1945 and today is a wonderful historical reminder of 800 years of Saxony.
Remnants of the old East Germany
Every now and then, you find something left over in Dresden which is a stark reminder that Germany used to be unhappily split in two. This communist mural on the wall of the Palace of Culture- a multipurpose centre used for the arts in many different capacities- is just one.- It’s said that you can find both Karl Marx and Lenin in the mural (we think we found both). Or you might see the Trabant Limousine taking tourists around the city in East German style; the Trabant being the most popular car in East Germany during the Cold War. Outside of the Altstadt you find endless, rectangular, concrete, soulless apartment blocks, possibly the greatest reminder of the bad old days. However, one of the most endearing relics from those times has to be the Ampelmännchen (the little crossing man), the iconic design of the green and red crossing men to help you cross the busy roads of the city. In more recent years, the Ampelmännchen has become a very popular logo for tourist souvenirs. The happy green man, striding across the road with his hat on has to bring a smile to everyone who sees him, I’m sure.
The Semper Opera House
The Semperoper might be Dresden’s most famous landmark. Built originally by Gottfried Semper in 1841, the opera house burnt down a couple of decades later, due to the gas lighting system inside. It was rebuilt by Semper’s son, Manfred while the father was in exile from Dresden. Then, in 1945 the opera house was destroyed again during the bombing of Dresden. It was rebuilt during the East German years and reopened in the 1980’s.
The Saxon State Opera is a repertory theatre company with several operas and symphonies rotating from month to month. During the day guided tours lasting an hour can be taken for €9 per person (an extra €3 per person if you want to be able to take photos). This is a tour well worth the money with lots of insight into the building, decoration and history of the opera house.
Tickets to the actual shows are usually quite easy to come by unless the company is premiering a new production, in which case the tickets are sold out well in advance. I’m definitely going back another time to enjoy one of their operas and to enjoy more of the wonderful history and culture Dresden has to offer. Maybe the food will have picked up by then.