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Blick auf den Neumarkt mitsamt der Frauenkirche, Bild: leoks / shutterstock

Dresden – the myth of splendor that does not fade away

In a wide valley basin of the upper Elbe lies the worldwide fame Dresden. Travellers feel transported to more southern climes when they follow the Elbe downstream. Vineyard terraces are staggered on the slopes and well-kept estates peek out from behind fruit trees. “Florence on the Elbe” is the decorative epithet of a city that looks back on a long and eventful history. Surrounded by a lovely scenery, Dresden inspires with countless treasures in the Mediterranean-looking Elbe Valley. When Brühl’s Terrace, Palace, Court Church, Semper Opera House and Augustus Bridge are reflected in the Elbe, a moving panorama is offered.

Three associations are associated with Dresden: the rise of the city during its heyday under Augustus the Strong, the destruction of Dresden in the night of the bombing in 1945 and finally the encouraging reconstruction, especially after the unification of the two states.

In the triad of art, history and nature

Image: canadastock / shutterstock

Under the protection of the castle built in 1200 on the Taschenberg, the Sorbian settlement “Nisani” emerged. This grew into the “Dreszdany”, which was first mentioned in 1206. As the residence of the Albertine line, Dresden gained increasing importance, driven by Elector Maurice, who made Dresden the capital of the Electorate in 1547. Between 1694 and 1783, the city lived through the “Augustan Age” – glamorous and lavish.

For Augustus the Strong, water and architecture have belonged together since his Venice experience. He wanted to repeat the magic of the lagoon city north of the Alps: the Augustus Bridge as the new Rialto, the Elbe as the Grand Canal and the castles on the river, which he could easily reach with his magnificent gondola – in short: Dresden’s answer to Venetian palaces. However, his passion for building was far from satisfied. Like a string of pearls, Augustus the Strong had impressive castles built by skilled architects in the city and on the banks of the Elbe.
In the Augustinian era, most of the buildings were built that established Dresden’s world fame as the “Florence on the Elbe”. Dresden became a pearl of courtly Baroque.

Until the day when the magical city sank into a fiery hell: “Those who have forgotten how to cry will learn it again at the fall of Dresden. I personally experienced the downfall of Dresden. I stand at the exit gate of my life and envy my dead fellow intellectuals who have been spared this experience,” wrote Gerhart Hauptmann at the time. On Ash Wednesday 1945 – Germany was already on the ground – the two waves of bombers wiped out the old Dresden, which was rich in art monuments. More than 35,000 people die. Militarily senseless, this attack explained the downfall of Dresden.

Majestic buildings and the most beautiful of all city silhouettes destroyed? Standing in horror in front of the smoking rubble, the citizens declare their city lost.
But a few years after the firestorm, Dresden is restoring its former glory.

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Dresden. Risen from ruins – rubble stones in new splendour

Dresden, Elbe
View of the Elbe in Dresden, Image: RastoS / shutterstock

What once made artists and poets go into raptures can no longer be found today. In the inferno of the night of the bombing, the old town was almost completely destroyed, and the scars heal only slowly. After great efforts, there is still a lot to be guessed at today of the former baroque splendour of the Elbe city.

The reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, once a ruin and memorial to the victims of the bombing war, is a visible sign of reconciliation. The church was once Germany’s most important Protestant church building. While the Zwing, castle and Semperoper are already in ruins, the church will stand for exactly one more day and save the lives of 300 people seeking protection. The sandstone was not able to cope with the high temperatures, and a day later the church building collapsed. Dresden’s heart was reconsecrated in 2005. Today, the baroque church has a great symbolic power and looks like a triumph over death.

Dresden, Semperoper
The Semper Opera House, Image: TTstudio / shutterstock

The Semperoper was also completely burned out in 1945. What the viewer sees today is a reconstruction from 1985. However, the acoustics are better than those of Milan’s La Scala – according to many artists who have performed here.

The Zwinger, the masterpiece of European Baroque architecture, was also severely destroyed. The then SED government invested considerable sums in the reconstruction, which was completed in 1964, in order to boost foreign exchange tourism.

The Zwinger – Masterpiece of World Culture

Dresden, Zwinger
The Zwinger, Image: leoks / shutterstock

Perhaps nowhere else in Western architectural history has such a unique combination of festive architecture and lively, imaginative sculpture been achieved as in the pavilions and galleries of the Zwinger. Cherubs, arches and columns adorn one of the most original masterpieces. The site was once a fairground for courtly games and surrounded by simple wooden buildings. It was not until 1770 that Augustus the Strong commissioned a permanent building to his later court architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann. The kennel had not been built for residential purposes. It was intended solely to meet the representative demands of Augustus the Strong. Today, Dresden’s most famous building captivates visitors like a magnet. With the Zwinger, the Saxon king created a unique monument to the courtly Baroque.

Dresden – proud Saxon metropolis with works of art of immeasurable value

Anyone who visits the city today needs days to pay tribute to the museums. The Zwinger houses several museums and collections.

  • The Wallpavillon is the jewel of the Zwinger. At the apex of the westward-facing arched gallery, the expressiveness of the figural splendour created by Permoser reaches its climax. Behind the pavilion is the wonderfully playful Nymphenbad.
  • To the right of the Kronentor, the Zoological Museum houses the skeleton of a manatee that became extinct 300 years ago.
  • In the gallery half to the left of the Kronentor you can admire the porcelain collectionof Augustus the Strong, founded in 1717.
  • The largest German collection of globes and the oldest calculating machine in the world are worth a visit to the Mathematical and Physical Salon.
  • In the “Old Masters” picture gallery, important works of European painting from the 15th to 18th centuries, including Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”, can be seen.
  • The Armoury houses the magnificent weapon collection of the Saxon electors from the 16th to 17th centuries.
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Dresden, Christmas Market
The Dresden Christmas market is considered one of the most beautiful in Germany, Image: Feel good studio / shutterstock

The Zwinger is bordered by the Theaterplatz. This is where the heart of historic Dresden beats
and the magnificent buildings shake hands. The Semperoper dominates the area. Not far away are the castle and court church. From the 110-metre-high Hausmannsturm of the castle, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the Theaterplatz. The Old Town Guard and the Taschenberg Palace complete the ensemble. Past the Hofkirche, you reach the “Balcony of Europe”. The Brühl Terrace, which stretches over the banks of the Elbe on the remains of Dresden’s fortifications, is the only surviving witness to the mighty fortifications from the 16th century. Visitors from all continents stroll here and let their eyes wander over the flowing Elbe with its imposing steamships to the other side of the Elbe with Dresden’s Neustadt. On Brühl’s Terrace, in the Albertinum, art lovers can look forward to the “New Masters” picture gallery with works of art from the Romantic period to the present day. The Green Vault, just a few metres from the Albertinum, is a crowd-puller – a sparkling casket and the richest treasure chamber in the world.
From the Albertinum it is not far to Neumarkt, which was probably the most picturesque square in Dresden until February 1945. The Neumarkt is dominated by the rebuilt Frauenkirche. With its famous stone dome, it shapes the city skyline.

East of the old town is the Great Garden from 1676 with an open-air stage, puppet theatre, zoo, botanical garden and a park theatre. The centre is the garden palace with the palace pond and the cavalier houses. The sculptures, borrowed from Greek legends, are particularly impressive.

From the old town, you can reach the Neustädter Markt via the Augustus Bridge, dominated by the equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong.

Dresden’s most famous bridge – the “Blue Wonder” – leads into an oasis of upper-class architecture. The mighty iron construction was built between 1891 and 1893 and connects the towns of Löschwitz and Blasewitz. A fantastic panorama lies at the feet of those who take the suspension railway up to the Oberloschwitz district.

Also worth seeing: the German Hygiene Museum with its enormous charisma and the “Transparent Factory”, proof of Dresden’s international appeal as a business location.

If you can’t get enough of Dresden, you are welcome to take a look around. In the immediate vicinity, Radebeul – the place where Winnetou’s spiritual father died, Moritzburg Castle, the forest park with game reserve and, last but not least, the charming town of Stolpe, which is picturesquely situated on a basalt dome and shares the tragic fate of the Countess of Cosel, beckon.