"Back to the Future: From Rubble to Baroque Beauty" Top 5 Page for this destination Dresden by Kakapo2
Dresden Travel Guide: 1,336 reviews and 4,024 photos
The War and its long lasting Symbol
When you walk through Dresden, or only when you read descriptions of Dresden’s architectural highlights, you are permanently reminded of World War II when the city fell into rubble in the last weeks of the war.
It happened at the start of the cold war, the war not over yet but already decided and Germany defeated. So no doubt about the reasons why this happened. It was pure vindication. Germans have only kept quiet about the issue in the attempt not to offend the Allies who, of course, have become friends in the meantime. They rather tell stories about American care parcels and chewing gums, the air bridge which saved Berliners from starvation.
When I think of Dresden I think of: Resurrected from ruins (Auferstanden aus Ruinen)... This was the title of GDR’s national anthem. You will not find any “historic” building that would have survived the American and British bombs of 13 and 14 February 1945 which destroyed about 15 square kilometres of the inner city and killed up to 35,000 civilists. Only some few significant parts of buildings (like the Fürstenzug/Procession of the Sovereigns) survived the attacks of 1500 bombers which dropped half a million bombs over the city from 9.30pm. It was pure destruction, with massive explosions and a fire storm that raged through the streets. The War was officially over for Germany on 8 May 1945.
Frauenkirche had been the symbol of this insane war and the equally horrible bombings. They left it in disrepair, so nobody would forget. Only after the Reunification it was reconstructed and is now the overrun tourist attraction number one.
Until this night of horror in February 1945, Dresden had been spared of air strikes as the Allies did not consider it very important strategically, as it was rather far away from the German air bases. The first air strike targeted an area west of the city centre on 7 October 1944 and killed about 400 people. But everything changed at the Conference of Jalta (4 to 11 February 1945) where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin discussed how to divide Germany after the war.
The Splendour of "Elbflorenz"
Dresden, until then a hive of art and artists, suddenly changed status from "unattractive blitz target" to "especially attractive target", and was flattened two days later. And the only goal was to demoralise the people and destroy an important cultural centre before the take-over by the Russians. The big military installations in the north of the city and the industrial zones remained more or less unaffected by the air raids.
The number of victims could never be established accurately as the city was flooded with refugees who had fled to Dresden from seemingly more hostile war zones. The number of 35,000 is only an estimate – could have been some less but also many more. Lots of victims burnt to ashes, and the bodies of many of those who were killed by falling debris were burnt on pyres to avoid epidemics. The red fire ball that engulfed the city could be seen as a red sky as far as Leipzig and Chemnitz. After the WW2 Dresden’s population had sunk to 375,000 from 630,000 before the War. 500 people lived in the rubble of the city centre. (Today Dresden has about 500,000 inhabitants.)
You would not think a moment of such a past if you did not know about it when you walk the streets today. Dresden, the city of art, culture and architecture, is back to its former Baroque glory which once made Dresden known as “Elbflorenz” – the Florence on the Elbe. (Florence in Italy is now one of Dresden’s sister cities.) Even the black patina that had coated the reconstructed façades of the major buildings, caused by dirty coal fires during GDR times, have been mostly washed down.
Polished Façades - River Cruises - Biking - Walking
Those black façades were my memory of Dresden when I came back to a polished and free city in 2007. I had been there in the late 1980’s, shortly before the Reunification. It was just so black – although you could see the beauty under the sad appearance. They had some luxury hotels for international visitors, and when you were inside the Bellevue Hotel (now: Westin Bellevue) on the Neustadt bank of the river, you felt like in any top class hotel of the west. I stayed in a central hotel eastern style, one of those concrete slab constructions. It was centrally (over-)heated, and you could not control the heat in the room. It was so hot that I had to keep the window wide open on the rather chilly days we were there. As I know now, this was my first contribution to global warming ;-)
Dresden’s location on both sides of the river Elbe which has its spring in the Giant’s Mountains in the Czech Republic, is very attractive. You get picture-perfect views from an incredible lot of places. The Elbe flows through a wide valley in big curves, and is very wide at times. They have not interfered with the river in this region, so it has remained very natural. There are big grass areas along the whole river – great for picnics, walking and cycling. The Elbe valley and Dresden had been a UNESCO World Heritage area from 2003 to 2009 when it was deleted from the list because they started to construct a four-lane bridge over the Elbe river. Do not miss to cruise the Elbe, or at least use the ferry. If you have no time to travel leisurely on the river, they offer 90 minute tours from the city.
Outside Dresden you have very scenic nature. The most well-known region is the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) in the south with its strangely shaped limestone rocks (Elbsandsteingebirge = Elbe Sandstone Mountains), and the higher peaks of the Erzgebirge are not far away either. Not to forget the many beautiful castles along or at least not far away from the river. Thanks to August the Strong there are plenty. He had so many mistresses… ;-)
A word about the time you need for a Dresden visit:
If you have only one day you have only time for a rough overview but surely no time for museums, parks, or a visit of the Opera or another cultural event.
Two days gives you a nice impression and enough time to experience some attractions in depth.
Three days would be ideal, it would leave you time to get into the outskirts, cruise the Elbe, visit a castle or two.
- Pros:Breathtaking Architecture and Fantastic Views
- Cons:Too much to see and do ;-)
- In a nutshell:Perfect Resurrection
Dresden prides itself of having the world’s oldest and biggest fleet of paddle wheel steamers. They have nine such... more travel advice
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