I knew of Dresden because of the bombing.
In the last months of World War 2 the Allies bombed this city to a pile of rubble…. 15 square miles of a 800 year old grand city were wiped out and 25,000 people killed.
The bombing remains controversial because it seems to have been nothing more than a threatening show of strength to demonstrate to Germany the might of the English. How could it have taken so many civilian lives to make the point? Numbers of the injured are unknown.
But the indomitable spirit of a defeated nation rose again and Dresden has been in the process of full restoration for the past 70 years.
My first sight of Dresden on hot blue day was that it was too overwhelmingly dark and Gothic but on the second albeit overcast day I loved it for its architecture and its vast complexity
If I go on about this it is because the sight of the original old city visible now in its restoration, is remarkable. While this photo does it no justice, light up at night, the skyline is stunningly majestic.
This grand rococo and baroque city emerged under the Ruler of Saxony Frederick Augustus I who converted to Catholicism to became King Augustus the Strong of Poland in 1697. He gathered many of the best musicians, architects and painters from all over Europe to the newly named Royal-Polish Residential City of Dresden. During the reigns of Kings Augustus 2 the Strong and Augustus 3 of Poland i.e. in the first half of the eighteenth century most of the city’s baroque landmarks were built. Augustus 1 takes pride of place at the riverside entrance to the Old City.
But it wasn’t all duty for Augustus. This Bridge of Love, history has it, was built for him to leave the castle and enter the quarters of his mistress:
Old Dresden was an imposing city with its grand distinctive silhouette extending along the River Elbe. It was a centre of art and culture.
The Old City was awarded world Heritage status but lost it (one of two to do so) when they decided to demolish the old bridge over the River Elbe and replace it with a modern one. here’s an old bridge that wasn’t demolished:
Napoleon made it a base of operation winning the famous Battle of Dresden in 1813. In 1831 many Poles, including Chopin, fled here.
Following the Potsdam Conference that divided the spoils of World War 2, Dresden was located in the Russian zone known as the German Democratic Republic (the former communist East Germany).
The restoration begins
For me, who had been subjected to an English based view of history, I saw only the horrors of the Cold War… the Wall, the Stasi etc. So what a surprise it has been in my recent visits to Germany to discover that the GDR was an assiduous builder not only of residential housing but in the case of Dresden, the initiator of restoration of the grand buildings.
Many of the city’s important historic buildings were reconstructed during the time of the communists, including the Semper House and the Zwinger Palace (now a museum complex) with its faux Versailles Pleasure Gardens. (Some of the ruins were also razed in the 50s and 60s rather than being repaired.)
Some of the statues and details were delightful:
Since unification restoration of the Lutheran Cathedral was completed in 2005, a year before Dresden’s 800th anniversary, notably by privately raised funds. Restoration of Neumarkt Square where the Cathedral is situated will continue for decades. One of the standouts for me was the vast gilt ornamentation in this (I had presumed ‘austere’) Cathedral while the Catholic Dom where I expected the ornate statuary etc. was surprisingly stark, white and elegant with few Gothic touches.
Outside the historic centre
A short bus ride away, unsuccessfully attempting to visit the Museum of the Human Body, we fell across the delightful Grand Garden Palace in the Grosser Gardens;
While it is the old city centre that captures the historical imagination, the aspect of Dresden that struck me was the quite disparate quarters in the wider city, each representing a different time. Dresden seemed many villages in one.
There are the blocks of well laid out low-rise apartment buildings built by the communists; then there are areas with Art Nouveau housing and other ones of grand villas. Across the river from the centre are precincts of elegant 18th century townhouses.The photos below are indicative of the diversity:
We stayed in this last precinct in a fine Relais and Chateaux number a few hundred metres from the bridge. Pictures of the splendid breakfast are below:
Luxury car enthusiasts also liked the hotel:
Across the small square in front to the hotel was the excellent Epiphany Church:
While formerly Dresden was known for porcelain and has a museum to attest that fame, it is now well known for its technology and research clusters; the modern glass VW factory was a sign of that:
The city itself has around 550,000 residents and a large number are skilled workers. Dresden is approximately 143ks from Berlin and 143ks from the nearest Polish city, Wroclaw
Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war here; he survived the bombing in a slaughterhouse meat locker hence the book Slaughter House Five. I have a note that said Rilke, Hess and Kafka all came to the sanatorium here while just last night I saw the film Don’t Look Back about the artist, Gerhard Richter who was born in Dresden. In the movie, the old stone underpass collapsed onto a bus during the bombing:
No matter how grand, and no matter the architectural and heritage vales, a little whimsy in a side street never goes astray: