Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony (Freistaat Sachsen) in eastern Germany. Today, with a population of just over half a million, it is a thriving city as part of a reunited Germany. But it is perhaps best known for the massive firebombing that destroyed most of the city and killed at least 25,000 people in the last months of World War II.
Fortunately, much of the city’s past architectural and cultural glory has been restored, most of it since 1990 and German reunification. One of the most recent restorations is the Frauenkirche, completed in 2005. Originally built from 1726 to 1743, the landmark Protestant church in the city’s Old Town was totally destroyed by Allied bombs in 1945. It took 60 years, but government, corporate and private donations finally led to the church’s reconstruction, stone by original stone (with the help of IBM computing power to track each stone). The church’s rededication took place in October 2005. Today Dresden can still lay claim to its nickname of “Florence on the Elbe” (das Elbflorenz).
Dresden or Meissen china (porcelain) is another thing that the city is famous for. The art of making porcelain began in Dresden, but the industry moved to nearby Meissen in 1710.
Dresden is easily reached by air, rail or auto. The Dresden International Airport (DRS), with flights connecting to many German and European cities, is only about six miles north of the city. A rail line and taxis make it easy to get to or from the airport.
Several autobahn routes (A4, A13, A17) and rail lines connect Dresden to the rest of Germany and the nearby Czech Republic. Berlin is only about 120 miles north of Dresden. Prague in the Czech Republic lies only 90 miles south of Dresden. Leipzig and Chemnitz can be reached in about an hour by car.
Scenic Sights and Attractions
Dresden is Saxony’s second largest city, after Leipzig. (It may soon catch up; its growth rate is now higher than Leipzig’s.) Dresden has two main sections, the Neustadt (“new town,” which is actually older than the “old town”) on the right bank of the Elbe and the Altstadt (“old town”) on the left bank. Among its many attractions are…
- Frauenkirche | Standing again proudly on Neumarkt square, Dresden’s Church of Our Lady is an architectural icon. Designed by architect George Bähr, Germany’s grandest baroque Protestant church was erected between 1726 and 1743. Its unique bell-shaped dome, known as the “stone bell,” collapsed days after being damaged in Allied bombing raids in 1945. The ruins were a moving anti-war monument until the early 1990s, when reconstruction began (thanks in part to donations from all over the world), using the original stones in their original locations as much as possible. The church reopened in October 2005.
- The Zwinger | This courtyard complex was originally built as the forecourt of a castle. Today it is a pleasant place to wander about and enjoy the architecture that surrounds it. The Zwinger is home to the Semper Art Gallery, the Porcelain Collection, and several other museums. See the photo above.
- Semper Opera House | Dresden and the name “Semper” are inseparable. Built between 1871 and 1878, the opera house is named for the architect Gottfried Semper (1803-1879), who designed and built the classic building to replace the first Hoftheater (completed in 1841) that had burned down. Gottfried Semper also designed the nearby Semper Gallery and other notable buildings in Dresden. Ironically, because of his participation in the 1849 democratic May uprising, Semper was forced to leave Dresden and never return. His son Manfred had to supervise the construction of the opera house his father designed. The Semper has undergone two major restorations since the end of WWII. Guided tours offer a glimpse inside.
- Brühl Terrace | The Brühlsche Terrasse above the Elbe River is somewhat über-grandly called “Europe’s Balcony.” Originally designed as a private garden for the Saxon Count Brühl, this promenade is now the best place to enjoy a river vista, good views of the Neustadt section of Dresden across the river and the Terrassenufer boat landing below, where the Elbe tour boats dock.
- The Elbe and the Dresden Elbe Valley | Dresden is situated on both banks of the Elbe River at a spot known as the Dresden Elbe Valley. This unique site was a UNESCO World Heritage site until June 2009, when that status was revoked because of Dresden’s refusal to drop plans to construct a four-lane bridge (the Waldschlösschen Bridge) across the valley. Also see Elbe Steamboat Tours below.
- Der Fürstenzug | The “Procession of Princes” in Dresden is a remarkable panorama made up of 25,000 Meissen porcelain tiles (photo below). The world’s largest tile picture was created between 1904 and 1907 to honor the royal house of Wettin with larger-than-life images of its princes, margraves, dukes, and kings on horseback. Representing 1000 years of the dynasty, the Fürstenzug extends for 102 meters (335 ft) along the north wall of the Stallhof on Augustusstraße from near the Semper Opera over to the Frauenkirche. Also depicted walking in the procession are distinguished artists, scientists, academics and craftsmen, as well as children and farmers — a total of 94 people, including 35 royals. The original 1589 wall fresco and later graffito by Wilhelm Walther in the 1870s did not weather well. In 1904 Walther’s images were reproduced in tile. Remarkably, only about 200 tiles had to be repaired because of WWII damage.
- Kreuzkirche | The Protestant Church of the Holy Cross, not far from the Dresden city hall (Rathaus), was designed by Johann Georg Schmidt to replace the 15th century Catholic Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Basilica, which had replaced an earlier 13th century church). The present baroque-style church was built between 1764 and 1792. It has been the home of the Kreuzchor (Cross Choir) boys’ choir for almost 800 years. As with most things in Dresden, the church was badly damaged in WWII, but reopened in 1955. A fundraising project hopes to finance a badly needed comprehensive restoration.
- German Hygiene Museum | Founded in 1911, the unusual Deutsches Hygiene-Museum offers a wide range of exhibits, from the first toothpaste to more recent scientific developments — particularly those in reproductive medicine, brain research, and nanotechnology. See the “Glass Woman,” a transparent model of the human body. WEB: Hygiene Museum (English)
- Christmas Market | If you visit Dresden in late November or in December, be sure to go to the Striezelmarkt, one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets. Taking its name from Dresden’s so-called “Striezel” cake (aka “Dresden Christstollen”), the Striezelmarkt has been a Christmas tradition since 1434. WEB: Dresden Striezelmarkt
- Elbe Steamboat Tours | A day-trip river tour along the Elbe offers a wonderful way to see the city and the region. Traditional paddle steamers pass castles and villas along the Elbe. Boats take about two hours downstream to Meissen. You can take the boat back to Dresden, but it’s faster to take the S-Bahn (rail line, 40 minutes). Another popular day-trip by boat or S-Bahn is upstream to the scenic rock formations of Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz).
- Radebeul | Don’t miss the Karl May Museum in nearby Radebeul. Located in May’s former Villa Shatterhand home, the museum reveals an entire “Wild West” literary history you’ve never heard of before. WEB: Karl May Museum
Next | City Guides: Germany
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- City Guides: Germany – More cities
- Hotels and B&Bs
- Driving in Europe – Tips for driving in Germany and Europe
- Air Travel – Flying to or in Germany
- Rail Travel in Germany
- Travel and Tourism – Travel-related information for Germany, Austria, Switzerland
- Notable People – Bios of notable people from the German-speaking world
ON THE WEB
- Dresden.de (official website, in English and German)
- Dresden International Airport (arrivals/departures, etc.)
- German Hygiene Museum (English)
- Erich Kästner Museum – in English, German
- Karl May Museum – English and German
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