I always like to know a little about a place I’m traveling to, not in terms of opinions or even necessarily highlights, but a little history to put it in context.
On my Dresden arrival I knew the following; Dresden is in Germany.
No really, I knew absolutely zip. It’s embarrassing really but it’s true. As a Brit, I grew up being educated at length about Berlin and the war, but I’d really never heard about this city. My stop came on a trip to Berlin and the Czech Republic, en route to Prague we decided to spend some time in Dresden.
Berlin was my first taste of Germany since being a small child. I felt a starkly contrasting vibe in the two German cities; Berlin felt torn, youthful and vibrant yet solemn and apologetic. Dresden felt unified and forward thinking, whilst gloriously historic.
Within the first half hour of arriving, I stumbled onto some information plaques which highlighted the basic recent history of the city. Dresden is a survivor. In the final year of the second World War 75% of the historical centre of Dresden was destroyed by allied bombing. In quite a controversial move, the city was flattened and many of the historically significant buildings met their ends. Over the last seventy years the city has been rebuilding and rebranding, standing once more as one of Europe’s most culturally significant locations.
I hopped off the bus I’d taken from Berlin, and wandered into the Zwinger. Built around 1710, this beautiful Palace was a hang out for royals and its lavish design is a testament to the city’s appeal for the elite of that time. Elegant and provocative statues line the gardens which are free to enter and wander. It’s a perfect place to start exploring as it sets the scene for Dresden perfectly. Entering the square I encountered a lady playing violin for passers by, she had an air of cool about her but fit perfectly into the historic scene which had opened up in front of me. I tried some basic German, saying hello, but as is often the case when I stretch my linguistical legs, the response came back in English. Could it be that my use of German grammar was not up to scratch? Perhaps my pronunciation was off? I pushed such crazy thoughts to the back of my mind and asked how often she played, ‘most days’ she replied, ‘for ten years now, most days.’ I looked around and wondered if the beauty of her concert hall was the reason she’d continued so long.
The Zwinger was originally a place to entertain a select lucky few, but tourists now lap up the views in the summer sun, and there are three museums in here which may appeal. The Old Masters Gallery is worth a stroll, there is a porcelain gallery, and if you like old clocks and telescopes, there’s something for you in here too. On a nice day, bring something to eat and just relax amongst the fountains of the courtyard.
Stroll out towards the river and you’ll find the Semperoper. One of the most superb opera houses in Europe. The opening night’s of some poignant works where held right here, including work by Wagner and Strauss. If you have time see what’s playing, though tickets go quickly so book ahead. If you want to tour inside tickets are extremely cheap and photography passes are only €2.
Dresden might have one of the most spectacularly beautiful city skyline reflections in the world. It’s certainly hard to top, with it’s domed churches, opera houses and palaces all creating shimmering replica’s in the tricking flow of the Elbe river. Particularly at night, the scene is jaw dropping. I recommend strolling east along it, and then head to the Residenzschloss.
If you’ve ever dreamt about discovering a room filled with gold and archeological treasures, like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, this is maybe as close as you will come. The Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) is an extraordinary world with gold, silver and ivory treasure literally piled up. After being bombed to rubble in 1945, reconstruction began twenty years later, taking fifty years to complete. It’s home to an array of exhibits, and it’s unique murals and baroque towers are incredible.
From the Residenzschloss it’s another five minute walk along the river front to get to the Bruhlschen Garten, a lovely outdoor park to stroll around, Dresden is a green city, 63% of the city is covered with park areas and forests. Take advantage of it before you head to the huge, domed Frauenkirche – Dresden’s most beloved symbol.
This building was the main highlight of Dresden’s skyline for hundreds of years prior to the ’45 bombing, which like much of Dresden, was left in a pile of rubble. In the late 90’s a project to rebuild was undertaken, literally putting it together piece by piece from the rubble. It took eleven years to complete and the result is an extraordinary replica of the original. The alter was painstakingly reassembled from more than 2000 pieces and is something to marvel at.
On your way to dinner stroll by the Fürstenzug. This immense piece of art is hundreds of feet long and illustrates the rulers of Saxony over the centuries. It was originally painted between 1871 and 1876, but in order to ensure it was weatherproof the paintings were replaced by approximately 23,000 meissen porcelain tiles between 1904 and 1907. I had to stop here for a while to admire the detail on the art and the change of fashion over the centuries.
If your mind hasn’t already been blown, Dresden has an amazing culinary scene with superb Italian and German restaurants. Wander the squares, which are full of cute cafe’s offering coffee’s and pastries, or enjoy some divine streusel whilst soaking in the atmosphere of this character filled European highlight.
When I got on my bus to make the second leg of my journey to Prague, I felt like I’d discovered a whole new world. A city that I’d never thought to visit prior to today was now somewhere I’d want to return to over and over. More than that, it had reminded me of all the reasons I love traveling in Europe.
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