Dresden

 

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Dresden: The Florence of the Elb

Dresden sits in the Elbe Valley Basin on either side of the Elbe River, between Berlin and Prague. With a population of 500,000 within the historical city limits, and 1.25 million in the greater Dresden area, it is the largest city in northeastern Germany and the capitol of the German State of Saxony. The city is easy to reach by plane, train or automobile and once in town it is nice to walk through the old city, or get around by bus, tram or bicycle. As the historical home of the Kings of Saxony and the Wettin Dynasty, Dresden has been a center of art, culture and music, with its city center built in the Baroque style. It is also one of the greenest cities in Europe, with over 63% of its area made up of parks, forests, nature preserves and meadows. Just north of the city one finds the Dresdner Heide, 50 square km of forest. One can enjoy picnics and festivals in the numerous meadow areas, not to mention the many beer and wine bars and restaurants along the river. One can also enjoy a day trip on the historic paddle steamers that go up and down the Elbe River.

Although the area of Dresden was inhabited as early as the Neolithic period by Slavic tribes, the city of Dresden was officially born in 1206 when Dietrich, the Margrave of Meissen, built his second residence there. By 1270, Dresden was the capitol of the Margravate and became the property of the King of Bohemia. In 1319 it was restored to the Wettin Dynasty, and in 1485 it became the seat of the Saxon duchy. Frederick Augustus I, also known as August the Strong, King of Poland, ruled Saxony from 1694-1733, and was the largest contributor of architecture, art, music and culture in Dresden’s history, earning the city the nickname of, “Florence on the Elbe.” It was under August the Strong that European porcelain was invented in Dresden, and it was he who brought the best architects and artists to the city. Music blossomed under his rule as did art and technology. From 1806 to 1918 Dresden was the capitol of the Kingdom of Saxony, although it was also part of the German Empire form 1871. In 1918 the last Saxon King abdicated the throne, ending the Wettin era of rule. In the 19th century, Dresden became a center for industry with the production of automobiles, medical equipment and processed food. During the Second World War, much of historic Dresden was destroyed during allied bombing, and until reunification little was done to restore its past glory. As Dresden approached its 800th anniversary in 2006, however, much of the historic city center was rebuilt along the original Baroque plans, maintaining the integrity of the original designs. Now one can once again appreciate the glory of Baroque Dresden as it is once again a culture center on the Elbe.

Main Attractions

Frauenkirche

This Church of Our Lady built under August the Strong was a symbol of religious tolerance in Dresden, having been built as a protestant cathedral by the Catholic ruler. It was also Dresden’s greatest symbol with its solid stone dome that dominated the skyline. The original design was by George Bähr, and construction took place from1726-1743. The church was completely demolished on February 15, 1945, at sat in ruins until 1994 when international efforts helped pay for its reconstruction following the original 250 year old plans and using original stone when possible and stone from the original quarry otherwise. Now once again open to the public, it is worth a visit. Within one finds the organ by Daniel Kern that was played by Johann Sebastian Bach, and the view from the bell tower is worth the climb.

Royal Palace

First built 700 years ago, this home to the Wettin Dynasty has undergone numerous additions and renovations. It was destroyed by fire in 1701, and then rebuilt by August the Strong, to again be destroyed by bombing in 1945. The latest rebuilding in 1991 reflects the palace as it was in the 16th century. Now one can tour the building and appreciate how the Wettin family lived.

Schloss und Grünes Gewölbe

The Historic Green Vault is one of the largest treasury museums in Europe. It is filled with the Saxon royal jewels, jeweled receptacles, bronze statuettes, ivory carvings, and gold work. There is even the largest green diamond on exhibit there. The items are displayed as they would have been for the royal family on consoles and tables, allowing a close proximity for visitors. For this reason the number of visitors at a time is limited, and tickets indicate a specific time for each visit. The Treasure Chamber Museum is located in the Royal Palace.

Zwinger Palace

This palace was built from 1710-28 by architect Pöppelmann and sculptor Permoser. It is considered the best example of late German Baroque architecture. The structure was originally designed for use as an orangery and for court festivals, but was often used for exhibitions. One now finds five different galleries within: The Old Master’s Picture Gallery, the Rästkammer (The Armory), The Porcelain Collection, the Mathematish-Physikalisher Salon and the Zoological Museum. If visiting the Old Master’s Picture Gallery, be sure to see the Madonna Sistina by Rafael.

Dresden’s Cathedral

This is the largest church in Saxony and was built by Italian Gaetano Chiaveri in the Baroque style from 1738-1754. The Rococo pulpit within is by Balthasar Permoser (1722), while the altarpiece is by Anton Raffael Mangs (1751) and the organ was made by Gottfried Siberman in 1755. There is a Pietá by Friedrich Press painted on porcelain that he made in 1973. Below in the crypt one find the Wettin sarcophagus and within a special case is the heart of August the Strong.

Albertinum

This museum was built by Carl Adolf Canzler from 1884-1887 on the site of the former arsenal. Its gallery is a collection of the “New Masters,” with works by artists from Caspar David Friedrich to Van Gogh. The gallery also displays the Numismatic Collection, the Sculpture Collection, and many special exhibits. The museum is temporarily closed for renovation until 2008 so much of its permanent collection is now on display at the Zwinger Palace.

Großer Garten Park

This 2 square km park is Dresden’s largest park and built southwest of the center of the city. It was commissioned in 1676 by the future Elector Johann George III and was set in front of the town gates. In 1683 the Baroque palace was built in the center of the park, and is now the site of cultural events, concerts, and festival balls. In addition, there are a number of open air stages in the park that are used throughout the year. Also in the park is the Dresden Zoo, the fourth oldest zoo in Germany. It opened in 1861 and now houses over 3000 animals and 400 species, with a special focus on Asian animals. Within is also the Zoo School where all ages are taught about animals, ecology, environmental protection and ethical issues. The Park Train, made up of two steam engines dating from 1925, runs throughout the park and is a favorite with youngsters.

Dresden’s Fortifications

Located under the Brühl Terrace, a promenade of trees and walkways built from 1739-1748 for the Prime Minister Count Brühl, is the old city fortification. It was part of the city walls and once included a moat, and is now the oldest structure in Dresden. The four hundred year old Brick Gate is intact, and is the only surviving city gate in Dresden. Here one can see the guards’ rooms, relics of the medieval defense system, and the old town bridge. There is also a permanent exhibit with a model of Dresden as it was, showing how it defended itself called, “The Renaissance Town Fortifications.”

Fürstenzug

At 101 meters long, this royal mural depicting the procession of a succession of Saxon princes and kings is the largest porcelain painting in the world. Here the rulers are dressed in parade apparel and on horse back leading the way to the Stallhof, the best preserved arena contained inside a castle, where in the past tournaments were held. Most of the Wettin princes are included.

Deutsches Hygiene Museum

This modern science museum concentrates on exploring and educating people on the role of man in our world and the impact of science on society in the 21st century. The museum is on the edge of Großer Garten Park in a modern building built by Wilhelm Kreis for the Second International Hygiene Exhibition in 1930. The 2,500 square foot museum focuses on exploration, experimentation and discovery with many hands on exhibits that look at architecture, media, cultural, scientific, and social issues that are relevant today. Within one finds an exhibit on the human being, including the Transparent Woman, and a great Children’s Museum.

Panometer

For those who wish they could have seen Dresden as it was in its glory, this is the place to go. Artist Yadegar Asisi has used a combination of computer technology, drawing, illustration, and painting to recreate a 27 meter high and 100 meter long panoramic view of Baroque Dresden as it has been in its glory under the rule of August the Strong circa 1756. The exhibit which is housed in a 19th century gas storage building truly gives visitors the illusion of over looking the great city as it was.

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  1. Great info! Dresen is a beautiful city, one of my top picks in Germany.

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