On the banks of the river Elbe, in eastern Germany, lies the “baroque jewel box” – Dresden. The linguist Victor Klemperer described her that way and for good reason. This small city, the capital of the Saxony region, is considered the most beautiful of the East German cities. The origin of the name is probably in the ancient Sorbian language and means “the people of the forest near the river”, a reference to the landscapes painted in green and blue that form the background of the compact, interesting city, “the German Baroque capital”, full of impressive architecture and a rich and developed culture.
In the past, the city was beset by quite a few disasters – fires, floods, and of course the famous bombing in World War II, but all of these forced the city to rebuild quickly and create a unique and charming texture of old and new, young and kicking modernity alongside pulsating pieces of history. Amazing palaces that served the princes of Saxony, impressive church towers built in the Baroque period, neighborhoods full of boutiques and festivals throughout the year – these are just some of the surprising and wonderful things you will find in Dresden.
The view from a balcony in Rohel
Dresden dominates both banks of the Elbe River, and is divided by it into the “Old Town” (Altstadt) to the south – a German settlement established in the 13th century, and the “New Town” (Neustadt) to the north – a German innovation on top of the remains of an ancient Slavic settlement. The main upheaval in the city’s status began with its becoming the capital of the Principality of Saxony, when it became the seat of the princes and kings. Since then, the city has been surrounded by a special historical charm, and its streets are decorated with magnificent palaces, impressive and wonderful churches and beautiful cultural buildings.
The Frauenkirche, whose name means “Church of Our Lady”, has been considered for years the symbol of the city and certainly the most impressive building in it. This Lutheran church located in the New Market area was built in the 18th century, but like many of the city’s buildings was destroyed by the bombing of Dresden. For years since then, the ruins of the round church and its huge dome stood as a memorial, but in 1994 it was decided to renovate it and it was reopened.
This is without a doubt the first mandatory stop in Dresden. Already from a distance you can notice a large and impressive building whose beauty grows stronger as you get closer and notice the details – the exterior walls of the church are studded with stones left over from the original building, the double dome is breathtaking and the interior of the building is beautifully decorated. The church is not only a symbol of wonderful architecture but also of the unique characteristic of the city – renewal and growth out of memory and respect for history.
At the end of the visit, don’t forget to climb up the dome, from where you will have a beautiful view of the entire city and the Elbe River.
Dresden Castle (Dresdner residenzschloss) is one of the oldest buildings in the city. The castle served as the residence of the princes of the House of Saxony between the 16th and 19th centuries, and you can imagine that this is a particularly impressive structure, built in a combination of several architectural styles. Today the castle houses a number of museums, including the Dresden Armory where there is an amazing selection of ceremonial armor, weapons and artillery. The Turkish Room dedicated entirely to Ottoman art is also in this ancient castle, but without a doubt the highlight is the Green Vault.
This is a museum spread over two floors in the west wing of the castle and presents the treasury room of the princes of Saxony, probably the most magnificent and impressive in Europe. The museum displays an exceptionally large collection of jewelry, rare gems, ornaments and tools made of amber, ivory, silver and gold. This spectacular collection intensifies the feeling we have already begun to get from the city – the infinite wealth, the life of luxury in the Saxon royal court and the industrial and manufacturing power are on display here for all to see.
Dresden is surrounded by historical charm that includes princes, kings, palaces and wonderful gardens. You can meet this magic in the Zwinger Palace, a building that served as an entertainment and entertainment center for the Saxon royal family and members of the aristocracy. This ambitious structure was built by “Augustus the Strong”, the Saxon prince who developed the city and whose name is worth knowing. It consists of several buildings surrounding a beautiful and well-kept courtyard, fountains, arched windows, statues and marvelous works of art. At the entrance to the complex stands the “Crown Gate” with its golden dome and the royal symbol of Poland that you cannot miss. Of course, the palace’s days of revelry have passed and today, instead of balls and tournaments, it houses several museums and galleries.
The palace is built of four wings, and wandering through them you will reach the “Wallpavillon” which is considered the most beautiful part of the palace and is famous for the special collection of sculptures by the German sculptor Permoser. Other complexes worth a visit are the “Gallery of the Old Masters” (Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister), which is mainly dedicated to the works of Italian and Renaissance artists – Raphael, Titian and more, the Porcelain Museum (Porzellansammlung), the Museum of Nature (Tierkundemuseum) and a wing devoted entirely to scientific instruments and dozens of globes (Mathematisch physical salon).
The Procession of the Princes, or as it is also called the “Wall of the Kings”, is a huge mural that adorns the north stable wall of Dresden Castle. The painting shows all the princes of Saxony and representatives of the regional aristocracy, from the first to the last, on horseback. These are 35 figures who ruled the region from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the 19th century, and the painting actually commemorates this long period that brought Dresden to greatness.
Beyond its size and the impressive effect it creates, what is so special and awe-inspiring about this work is the process by which it was created. It is about 25 thousand porcelain tiles, each painted separately, burned in special ovens and only then placed on the wall like a giant 102 meter long puzzle. Luckily the work was not damaged by the bombings in the Second World War and we can witness this work of the ants to this day. A nice fact about the painting is that the figures painted looking to the side and not to the crowd are the princes who ruled unsuccessfully and the citizens were not happy with them. If you’re passing through the area, it’s definitely worth going through this alley and stopping by the princes’ procession, to be impressed by the great work that went into it and to recognize the princes who were the black sheep of the Saxon royal court.
The Bruhl terrace is a charming observation point located on the left bank of the Elbe river and overlooks it and the “new city” on the other side. In its beginnings, the terrace formed part of the city walls of Dresden, but later, in the middle of the 18th century, it became the beautiful public garden it is today.
This terrace-promenade allows for a calm and magical walk of about 500 meters along the river, while admiring the beautiful buildings and bridges of Dresden and the sculptures placed along it.
The best recommendation regarding the balcony is to arrive towards sunset, at the moments when the sun paints the river and the skyline a mesmerizing red, take a seat on one of the many benches scattered along it and simply enjoy the beautiful and relaxing view.
As the seat of the princes of the House of Saxony, Dresden must boast a unique opera house. At the beginning of the 19th century, the task was assigned to the architect Gottfried Semper who created the original building and after which it is named. A few years later, the opera house was destroyed in a fire that hit the city and Zamper’s son was called to renew it in a different style. The building that you will meet today, an example and masterpiece of the excellent baroque architecture that characterizes Dresden, is a building that was restored after the war.
The impressive architecture and the great acoustics create one of the most appreciated and beautiful opera houses in the world. Many of the works of Wagner and Strauss were performed for the first time in this impressive building, and today it is the home of the Dresden State Saxon Orchestra headed by conductor Christian Thielmann.
The opera house is located in the theater square (Theaterplatz) which is surrounded by unique historical buildings. In front of it is a well-kept garden and statues. It is very worthwhile to check the schedule of shows at the opera house and come to be impressed by the acoustics, the splendor and the excellent performances.
After hundreds of years of restrictions, prohibitions and persecutions, at the beginning of the 19th century the status of the Jews of Dresden was improved and they were allowed to build a synagogue. This building was also built by Zamper, but the large and magnificent synagogue was destroyed by the Nazi regime on Kristallnacht along with thousands of other synagogues throughout Germany.
In 2001, the “New Dresden Synagogue” was established next to this place. Do not expect one of the luxurious European synagogues – it is a modern and minimalistic building in the shape of a cube, with a gradual twist towards the east. The intention is that it will remind of the first Temple and at the entrance gate is the only remnant of the original synagogue that was destroyed – a gold Star of David. One of the outer walls of the synagogue is the one that stood in the old synagogue, where a grove was planted. The uniqueness and symbolism of the building even earned it the award for the best European architectural building in 2002.
Opposite the synagogue is the current Jewish center. Tours can be arranged on site.
Dresden was renewed and almost entirely restored after the bombing in World War II, and continues to be renewed to this day. Besides historical sites, Dresden is full of interesting sites and museums, modern and full of character. Some of them are located in beautiful baroque buildings that are so characteristic of Dresden, and in some of them you will also meet the modern and interesting architecture that has begun to appear in the city.
The curators of the Albertinum Museum of Modern Art equate a visit to it with a study of a museum-sized research work on the subject. The time span of the works spans about 200 years, from the romantic period to the present day. The museum curates and presents two permanent exhibitions; The first is the “Gallery of the Modern Masters” (Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister) – one of the most important art galleries in Germany, where you can enjoy the works of European artists from the Romantic period, through the Impressionist period (Van Gogh and Monet are just some of the names you will find in this part of the gallery), up to Expressionists and contemporary works From the 20th century until today. The second exhibition is the sculpture collection, the skulpturensammlung, which presents finds and works from ancient times to the present day.
The Albertanium building itself is also worth a visit – it is an elongated and impressive building in the Renaissance style, whose ground floor is an arched hall that used to be an armory. It faces the Bruhl terrace with its beautiful view, right in the center of the historic part of the city.
The art lovers among you will be surprised by the wide variety of works that the Albertinum has to offer, by its well-known and lesser-known artists. Don’t miss this museum!
One of the most magical ways to experience the green and urban spaces of Dresden is by sailing on the Elbe River, which actually “grew” the city on both banks.
The river Elbe, which originates in the Czech Republic and crosses Germany, used to be a very important trade route and is actually the one that made Dresden a relevant and important city in German industry. Today it is a picturesque valley, with spectacular views that capture the hearts of locals and tourists alike. A short walk from the Bruhl terrace is the “Terrassenufer” mooring center where you can find a boat to join. The cruise passes by the expensive neighborhoods of the city, the beautiful villas and mansions in the area, and of course the magnificent palaces, baroque buildings, meadows and vineyards that adorn the banks of the Elbe.
The tour can change according to your choice – some of the cruises include stops, including visits to palaces, tours of wineries or a stopover for food and drinks (which in some tours are included in the ticket) in one of the magical meadows on the banks of the Elbe. You can sail on an old wooden boat that has been preserved, or on a modern steamship. Set aside the afternoon on one of your days in the city, and get ready for a magical and special experience.
The Volkswagen Center, or “Glass Factory”, is one of the coolest places to go in Dresden. This is a factory for assembling the luxury vehicles of the Volkswagen brand, and it is called in German “the glass factory” for two reasons; The first is that the building itself is transparent and you can see inside, and the second and most significant is the transparency of the assembly line. The visitor to the center will be able to see the two floors of the vehicle assembly line, from the initial stage of the chassis to the final stage of installing the headlights.
The Volkswagen company chose to locate this unique factory in the city of Dresden due to its artistic past. The people of Saxony in general, and Dresden in particular, have been known throughout the centuries as precise and creative craftsmen, full of inspiration and diligence. The city’s architecture, culture, and art befits Volkswagen’s luxury models. In the innovative, and even futuristic, circular assembly line, the vehicles are assembled by hand. In the center of the circle rotate robots that provide the technicians with the parts they need, and the circular parquet floor itself also moves and thus transports the workers between the different positions.
At the entrance to the building there is an information center in the shape of a hot air balloon, a tribute to the “Klugelhaus”, a rounded building that once stood in the exact same place and which was designed by a Jewish architect, and which was destroyed as a result during the Holocaust. In the center of the building there is a display center for all the golf models produced over the years, as well as futuristic models.
So you can come to the factory, assemble the car of your dreams and leave with it from there back home, and if you don’t have the budget for that yet, you can simply schedule a tour (in advance) and come see this factory, the only one of its kind in the world.
The new city is actually the district that stretches on the northern bank of the river Elbe. This quarter is called the “new city” not because it is so new, but because the “old city” that stood there burned down in 1685 and was rebuilt afterwards.
The new city is reached from the old city through the “Augustusbrücke” crossing the river Elbe and reaching the old market square, where stands the “Golden Reiter” statue of who but Augustus the Strong.
This is the most prestigious and modern area of the city, the center of cultural events. Here you will find dozens of cafes, bars, shops and boutiques offering unique handicrafts and vintage items. The residents of the new city are mainly students, artists and creators who live and work there.
The best recommendation regarding the new city is to set aside a few hours to walk around it, enjoy the cafes and boutiques and be impressed by the facades of the buildings and the colorful and unique passages that are decorated with strange metal constructions, psychedelic decorations and elaborate vegetation.
One of the places worth going to, especially if it happens to start drizzling, is the Kunsthofpassage, the collection of “courtyards with artistic design” – a cluster of alleys between buildings whose artistic residents have designed in an unusual way. Look for the “Court of the Elements” (Hof der Elemente), on one of whose facades a strange plumbing system was installed, which, in addition to draining the water, produces a musical effect when it rains. Also go to the “Court of Lights” (Hof de Lichts), which is full of screens showing multimedia shows and mirrors that create interesting patterns on the walls, and to the “Court of Mythological Creatures” (Hod der Fabelwesem) where the artist Niola Shofa decorated the walls with paintings and mosaics. In Konstoppassage there are bohemian and interesting stalls, art galleries and cafes.
There is no doubt that dealing with war and the army is a complex and not simple task, especially in Germany after the First and Second World Wars, and after the Holocaust. This is precisely the uniqueness of this museum from other museums dealing with military history. The renovated museum that opened in 2011 is not ready to “celebrate the war” in their language, and it mainly focuses on changing the approach to the complex military history of Germany – on the impact of conflicts on people, personal and human experiences of soldiers and citizens alongside the German technological and military development.
The museum presents exhibitions based on particularly human subjects – army and society, military education, animals and color, war and memory and more. Weapons, military vehicles, ammunition, uniforms and medals, but also musical instruments, historical documents and video clips, photographs and works of art are displayed in the exhibitions. There is also a permanent exhibition that presents the history of the army in the Saxony region in chronological form.
These two approaches to military history are also expressed in the architecture of the museum. The original museum is located in a former armory built in 1870, but with the renovation in 2011, a huge and pointed construction was added, made of glass and steel that looks like it crashed onto the roof of the museum.
Although it is not a particularly pastoral pastime, the museum’s important and unique approach and its important concern with the human complexity of war definitely makes it a must-visit during your stay in Dresden.
Not far from the city center is the green lung of Dresden – the Great Garden. This is the largest green space in the city and it is worth coming here for a picnic or just to spend a few pleasant and calm hours. In the center of the garden is a beautiful baroque palace, overlooking a lake with an impressive fountain in the center. The palace, like the garden, have been here for hundreds of years.
The vast garden provides a great escape from the city for locals and tourists alike, especially in the pleasant summer months. It is scattered with statues and benches and a variety of pastoral seating areas. If you are tired and still want to walk around and see the park, look for the miniature train that leaves every few minutes for a tour around the garden. If you come with children, know that they can play the honorary roles of ticket takers or train workers if they only ask.
At the southern end of the park is the Dresden Zoo. This is a large and interesting zoo, where you can meet thousands of species of animals. The zoo has created several enclosures with conditions that allow them to keep rare and unusual animals; One of these complexes is the “underground zoo” where you can observe the underground life of the mice, rats and other rodents. Another such complex is the “tundra” (Tundravoliere), which creates a landscape as well as weather conditions of Northern Europe and cold Siberia, and holds (and thus also saves from the danger of extinction) snowy owls, arctic foxes and other Siberian bird species.
A visit to the large garden is suitable for both children and adults, and it provides a relaxing and charming afternoon.