There are few places in Europe with a more disturbing history yet of such surprising beauty: Dresden, capital of Saxony in the former East Germany, devastated by an infamous air raid in February 1945 and by the millenium floods of August 2002 exactly a decade ago – yet shining ever so proudly above the banks of the Elbe river with beautiful buildings both historic and new.
Every time we arrive in Dresden, guests are pleasantly surprised by the city´s charms, beauty and unparalleled historic legacy. From driving into central Dresden and seeing its magnificent skyline, preferably from the other side of the Elbe river in Dresden Neustadt in what is called the “Canaletto view”, to exploring the area around Our Lady´s Church and the recently restored Neumarkt, Dresden is a place of discovery, depth and character. For centuries it served as the seat of the WETTIN dynasty, the kings of Saxony, whose most illustrious leader AUGUSTUS THE STRONG also converted to Catholicism and built the Catholic Court church to become king of Poland in what is otherwise the Cradle of Reformation. His alleged strength was mostly sexual according to legend, since he had incountable mistresses and children and some say all Saxons are direct descendants of Frederic Augustus. During his reign, numerous artists, writers and musicians came to the Wettin court and contributed to Saxony´s artistic wealth and legacy, among them Gottfried Semper, who built the magnificent Opera house of the same name. The first European porcelain also hails from Saxony, from the nearby town of Meissen, and the porcelain bells of the carrillion as well as the Porcelain museum inside the Zwinger palace are true highlights of any visit here.
Few things anywhere in Europe can compare to the exhibit of the Wettin treasury at the NEW GREEN VAULT inside the Residence. Exuberant displays of marble, diamonds and ivory amaze and surprise visitors. Nowhere else may we find such a priceless collection of treasures. Augustus the Strong also had a huge 22000 piece Meissen china collection – parts of which equally on display at the porcelain museum and the Green Vault. The other great museum, the Old Masters Gallery inside the representative ZWiNGER palace with the highlight of Rafael´s “Sistine Madonna” also attests to the great artistic taste of the kings of Saxony.
Adjacent to the Residence and Catholic Court Church we find a wall called “Parade of Princes” where all the leaders of the Wettin dynasty are immortalized on the wall by way of precious Meissen porcelain tiles. Yet the latest addition and unquestionable highlight of Dresden is its landmark, Our Lady´s Church – devastasted by a huge fire in the aftermath of the 1945 air raid and left in ruins as a symbol of war until the 1990s, when it was decided to rebuild it mostly from private donations. A key role was played by the mutual reconciliation efforts between Dresden and Coventry in the UK and with such mutual support and the help of private donors, the church could be reerected in its original form using both original stones (dark) and new Elbe sandstones (light) to be reopened to the public in 2005. Since Elbe sandstone tends to oxidize and turn dark, the two-colored look of Our Lady´s Church will only last a few decades before turning darker altogether along with the other landmark buildings of central Dresden such as the beautiful Zwinger, Court Church and Albertinum.
For a modern contrast to the restored historic center of Dresden, me way wish to head down Prager Strasse pedestrian zone towards the Central Station, where amazing examples of modern architecture await us, including the Kugelhaus, Centrum Gallery and Altmarkt Gallery retail complexes. The former even features a beach on its roof in summer time, where it is possible to escape the city for a few hours over chillout music and a drink in a lounge chair. Lastly, a drive from formerly destroyed and now restored central Dresden to the suburbs of Blasewitz and Loiben untouched by the war, gives us an unparalleled impression of beautiful villas and grand vistas along the Elbe valley featuring vineyards in the Northernmost wine growing region of Germany, castles of rich industrialists that made a fortune with tooth paste and mouth wash and many more surprises in a city that has made a comeback like almost none other in Europe.