Dresden

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Saxony's capital Dresden is located in what once was called valley of the clueless - as the city is encircled by mountains and hills, the signals of the West German TV stations never seemed to reach people's antennas, forcing them to watch the propaganda programmes the Socialist party had hatched up for them. Once an important cultural and commercial metropolis featuring Germany's then most impressive architecture, Dresden was practically wiped out within two nights of air raids in February, 1945. The city never really got over that shock, but was eventually able to be resurrected. Nowadays, it is marked by hard contrasts: most of the famous buildings have been restored or rebuilt from scratch; the Neustadt, formerly a beggars' quarter, is flourishing to a surprising extent; various parks and recreational areas contribute to its beauty. Then again, it is notoriously full of monotonous districts and appalling areas. While these contrasts have clearly been typical of German cities since World War II, and are probably concomitant symptoms of large cities themselves, one is inclined to claim that majesty and deformity are scarcely as close to each other as in Dresden. It almost seems as if each side was the prerequisite to its counterpart.

Hellerau

Located in the city's very north, Hellerau is a quarter you might be predisposed to miss, but it's definitely worth a visit, being the first German "Garden Town". Its founding originates in Karl Schmitz's commitment to the city's plans, begun in 1907. Luckily enough, the remote district had not been a target for allied bombers in 1945; although, regrettably, it has been subject to progressive decline for some time now.

Loschwitz

Dresden's most impressive bridge, the "Blue Wonder" (Blaues Wunder), connects Blasewitz and Loschwitz. The latter is an excellent place to live in - provided that you can afford to rent or buy a residence here. Among the sights one should not possibly miss are the castles Schloß Albrechtsberg and Schloß Eckberg. Especially when seen from the other side of river Elbe, Loschwitz's villas and châteaus constitute an adorable view. Fairly close to the north of Loschwitz, the quarter named Weißer Hirsch is situated along the edge of Dresden's very own forest, the Dresdner Heide.

Weißer Hirsch

Driving from Bühlau towards Dresden's inner districts, one should look out for the automatic speed cameras. On a lighter note, the tiny yet appealing district Weißer Hirsch (White Stag), namesake of a traditional restaurant, is located here. This area is home to Dresden's upper class; they reside in charming dwellings, play tennis on tepid afternoons, enjoy the silent riverside atmosphere at the Elbhänge (Elbe slopes) or uses the cable railway towards Loschwitz. We, on the contrary, head for the city's inner parts and pass the Radeberger Vorstadt - host to the combined brewery and beer garden and the Waldschlösschen (Forest Castle) - to reach the Outer Neustadt.

Äußere Neustadt
By far Dresden's most lively district, the Outer Neustadt (Äußere Neustadt) is the area to the north-east of Albertplatz. Originally an economically and culturally unimportant poor man's quarter, it was neglected by British and American bombers in World War II. The city's catastrophe became the Neustadt's opportunity to gain attention: although the quarter continued to deteriorate after the War, first streams of young, alternative people began to inspire it. Some of the pubs and clubs that had emerged during the communist regime, like for instance the Planwirtschaft, do still exist, even though their appearance and character have altered since then. The German Reunification of 1990 brought West German real estate enterprises keen to renovate the rotten turn-of-the-century houses, and it attracted more students and businessmen willing to rent or buy apartments. Progressively, the Neustadt's temper and charm have changed, its alternative culture partially moved to the quarter's outer parts. The Outer Neustadt is marked by its population's heterogenity: punk teens with giant dogs sleeping rough, hip-hop kids wearing only the latest American brand outfits, white-faced people with black clothing locally referred to as Grufties (Goths), young, well-off entrepreneurs running internet companies, lots of students from all over the country, and - of course - those who have been living here since they were born, which was long ago. It is a peculiar mishmash, but also an intriguing one. The list of places to visit encompasses bars like Déjà vu or Scheune, innovative upscale boutiques such as Koma or Palazzo, the gorgeous Martin Luther Church and Pfunds Molkerei, billing itself the world's most beautiful milk shop.

Innere Neustadt

Heading west from Albertplatz, the splendid Königstraße (King's Street) leads us directly into the Inner Neustadt. This district burnt down in the fire of 1685, and World War II also left its mark. In the last years however, the quarter has been elegantly redeveloped, and currently it might be considered Dresden's most beautiful area. Indeed, the Inner Neustadt bears a resemblance to Munich and its well-looked-after baroque houses, its designer boutiques and extravagant restaurants, but somehow it lacks spirit and vivacity. The quarter evokes the impression of not being fully integrated into the city as there is but a small target group for haute couture and haute cuisine in Dresden. Of course, the occasional tourist group takes a stroll here, but altogether the Inner Neustadt is still an abstemious place.

Altstadt

Crossing Augustusbrücke (Augustus's Bridge) from here, the wonderful sight of Dresden's lovely silhouette - the famous Canaletto View - meets the eye. Particularly at night, when most buildings are beautifully illuminated until 1am, the Brühlsche Terrassen (Brühl's Terraces), the Semper Opera and their surroundings constitute a majestic view. The bridge leads us into the Altstadt, originally the town's older part. It had been almost entirely annihilated in February 1945, and for years thereafter, only the pitiable remains of the Frauenkirche (Women's Church) had been left as a depressing legacy of the Second World War. Eventually, however, Dresden's public overcame their apathy and began to reconstruct, redevelop and renovate the quarter that had once legitimated the city's international glory. Nowadays, the Theaterplatz is again one of Germany's most admirable places, even though it is permanently flooded with tourists from all over the world. Around this square, you'll find more architectural attractions than most other German cities have on the whole: irrespective of the aforementioned sights, there is the great Zwinger, the Castle (Schloß), the Cathedral (Kathedrale), the Fürstenzug and the Taschenberg Palais, to name but a few. The sophisticated reconstruction of the Frauenkirche is being performed using practically all of the original parts that could be preserved; its completion will take at least until the year 2005. Art lovers and history connoisseurs have to visit the Albertinum and the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe) that can be reached through Brühl's Terraces.

Innenstadt

At the Terraces' other end, one should walk a few steps up Carola Bridge and turn around. Here, Dresden's divergence is most impressive: To the right, there is the city's picturesque silhouette that could not possibly have been painted more romantically; to the left, however, nothing but greyish high-rises up until the very horizon. Following the St. Petersburger Straße, the road that Carola Bridge runs into, one is led into the city centre. That said, Dresden has no real centre, not in the sense of a huge shopping district, but at least there is the Prager Straße, a drab pedestrian zone featuring severe architectural violations such as the three almost identical Ibis Hotel campaniles, the grotesque Hertie building, or the two postmodern wells. Its nearly comical ugliness notwithstanding, the Prager Straße is a passable shopping street with all popular Western department stores like Karstadt or aforementioned Hertie, international chains such as H&M or Foot Locker, fast food restaurants, and a futuristic cinema called UFA Palace, incidentally Dresden's only film theatre showing the latest movies (in English too, if only from Sunday to Tuesday). To the street's southern end, you'll find the central station at the Wiener Platz, one of Dresden's many permanent construction sites, seemingly unlikely to be ever completed.

Südvorstadt

A stones' throw south of the main station, the university quarter commences. As Dresden University of Technology has no single campus, its faculties and institutes are widely spread over several districts, but the administrative centre and the majority of academic buildings are situated around the Nürnberger Platz. Opposite the newly constructed Auditorium Centre (Hörsaalzentrum) where most Business, Economics and Law students attend their classes, you'll find the university cafeterTa in an obscure shack. Meals for students are affordable at DM 2,80 (EUR 1,43), but the taste unfortunately resembles English cooking mastery. There are some student bars in the vicinity, but they are to be avoided if possible, but although they are cheap, most students prefer the remote Neustadt for nightlife activities. The occasional fraternity party has to be mentioned though.

Prohlis

Located in Dresden's very south, Prohlis is just one - and coincidentally the largest - of Dresden's many dun quarters marked by the Socialist art of city planning. It's not overly far from the university, so it might be worth an excursion if you're already there. What makes Prohlis so impressive (sometimes also depressing) is the ubiquity of grey in every imaginable shade and scale: get off streetcar 13 at Jacob-Winter-Platz, perform a full circumrotation, and you will have seen nothing but monotonous high-rises. By the way, avoid spending the evening hours here, as some youth gangs might not be all that friendly. Foreigners aren't the most popular group in Prohlis either, to be perfectly frank.

History of Dresden

First traces of settlements in the area of the Elbe valley go back to the neolithic period. In the 6th century BC Germanic settlers reached the Elbe lowlands and settled temporarily. However, the majority of them left this area one millennium later and so Slavonic tribes took possession of this land peacefully. The Slavonic settlement Drezdany, situated at the place of the present Frauenkirche, has given Dresden its name. Also, the marking of some quarters of Dresden like Zschertnitz or Gompitz go back to Slavonic roots.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

After 900 AD the first German settlers came to the area of Dresden, founding the castle of Meissen in order to underline their claim of ownership. The rule of the noble family of Wettin, who dominated Saxony's history for the next few centuries, began with Duke Conrad of Wettin in 1123. The first mention of Dresden in a document appears in 1206, whereas it was in 1216, that Dresden was first described as city. This is considered to be the founding date. The plague of 1349 is also reported in the chronicle. After the Leipzig separation, Dresden became the residential city of the principality of Saxony, under Prince Albert. The upswing, which was connected with this, allowed for Dresden's expansion. In 1539, the reformation was officially introduced to Saxony. Over the centuries Saxony gradually came to be considered a Protestant principality. In the 16th century, the city walls were reinforced in the face of growing danger from Turk invasion.

Baroque and Rococo

For many citizens of Dresden, the period in which the city flourished began with the baroque age, when Dresden became one of the most glamorous royal capitals in Europe. The public face of the City was heavily influenced by the erection of an array of buildings by acclaimed architects and the establishment of the Großer Garten. This époque was responsible for some of Dresden's undeniably beautiful buildings such as the Zwinger, Hofkirche or the Taschenbergpalais. Saxony started to gain importance politically and a refined reputation throughout Europe. Prince Georg III, declared war on the Polish king, Jan Sobieski, and beat the Turks at Vienna, which marked the end of the Muslim invasion in Europe. Moreover, his grandson Friedrich August I, better known as August the Strong became a well-loved historical personality and his memory grew into a legend that is today common knowledge to every child in Dresden. Reasons for his fame are his dissolute lifestyle, reputation with women and his alleged strength. August the Strong soon came to power and in order to secure the crown of Poland, he changed his creed from Protestant to Roman-Catholic, and his family soon followed suit. August succeeded and became August II., King of Poland, in 1697. The union of Saxony and Poland lasted until 1763, but for a short interruption, and this period is nowadays called the Augustian Age. In this époque, a great a dynamic development took place, especially in the fields of economy and culture. For example, the alchemist Johann Freidrich Böttcher invented European-style porcelain in 1709; the first European porcelain enterprise was founded only one year later, in 1710. Meißen porcelain is today a brand of international fame. In the art world, the Green Cave, the world famous jewellery collection was founded. It is the oldest specialist museum in the world. During the Seven Years War, Dresden was attacked by Prussian cannons and suffered heavy damage. The prince and his ministers fled to Poland.

Finally, in 1763 August the Strong died. His estate: baroque Dresden, with its French and Italian influences, proved one of Europe's leading and most beautiful residential cities. Dresden was also dubbed the Florence of the Elbe at this time.

Modern Age

Under the rule of August III., Saxony became a Kingdom through an act of mercy by Napoleon. After Napoleon was defeated in 1813, the Saxon King became prisoner and a Russian governor ruled Dresden until the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In the age of industrialisation, Saxony took a leading position within Germany. In 1835, the Dresden-born professor Johann Andreas Schubert constructed the first German locomotive. The infrastructure of Saxony was chracterised by excellence, thanks to the new railroad and steamships. The waves of the 1848 revolution reached the city with many terrible consequences. In the uprisings of May 1849, bloody battles were fought and the skirmish ended with a monarchist victory. The famous composer Richard Wagner took part in these fights. He escaped from the city after the defeat of the rebels.

With the foundation of the German Empire, Saxony lost its political independence. Yet Dresden remained a city of central importance in Germany. At the turn of the last century, Dresden blossomed into a metropolis with 517,000 inhabitants in 1905. During the World War I., Dresden escaped damage. The November Revolution of 1918 led to the end of the monarchy, the last Saxon King, Friedrich, was forced to abdicate. Dresden became the capital of the federal state of Saxony in the interim between the wars. By 1930, 632,710 people lived in the city.

The Destruction

In contrast to other German cities, Dresden did not see Allied bombs until 1945. This created the impression amongst citizens that Dresden would escape air raids due to its international reputation. On the eve of the destruction, many additional refugees from the eastern parts of Germany had flooded into the city. Neither war-important industry nor air defence was based in Dresden. On 13th February, at 10:13 p.m., the first bombs were dropped on the Saxon capital. In different waves of attack, British and American Bombers dropped more than 3,000 tons of explosives on Dresden in a space of fourteen hours. The result was disastrous. It is estimated that approximately 35,000 souls were killed in the firestorm. Buildings of great historical and cultural value were lost. Florence of the Elbe, one of the most beautiful cities in Germany, was destroyed in just one night.

Reconstruction and Socialism

Under Soviet military command, the survivors began to rebuild the city. According to the new GDR government, the rise of a Socialist metropolis was planned, not the reconstruction of the baroque ensemble. Some of the historical sights like Semperoper, Zwinger or Hofkirche were reconstructed. But on the other hand, a handful of ugly, concrete buildings were established, especially in Johannstadt Later, the authorities started to build this kind of housing along the outskirts of the city. Gorbitz and Prohlis are examples of this period. The communist rulers neglected the reconstruction of the only lightly-damaged part of the inner city. The Neustadt and the Hechtviertel remained run-down quarters of the city until reunification.

The political change and present time

With the political change in 1989 and the ensuing German reunification, Dresden was on the brink of a new era. In but one decade, many new buildings were commissioned, others reconstructed, particularly in the inner city. Conservation of old buildings was given priority and as a result, Dresden appears in new glamour ten years after the reunification. Of course, some mistakes were made in the dynamic process of reconstruction. Yet Dresden continues its glorious past as the capital of the re-established federal state of Saxony!

 

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