No trip to Germany should exclude Dresden, a city full of history and fantastic architecture. The former capital of the Saxon Kingdom was also the largest city of now defunct Eastern Germany. Today, it is a fascinating example of a Central European baroque and rococo city, enriched by other styles, such as Renaissance, Historicism, Modernism and Postmodernism. Hard to believe that in 1945 the allies destroyed this beauty. Dresden is for sure the result of superb reconstruction. So when visiting Berlin or Prague, go ahead and organize at least a day trip to Dresden.
Architecture of Socialist Dresden
I visited Dresden because a close friend of mine was researching at the famous Max Planck Institute. We stayed near the institute and walked through socialist Eastern German neighborhoods all the way to the historical center. I found them quite interesting and some actually pretty. My favorite street in Dresden is pedestrian Prager Street, full of cool architecture and lively activities. The largest building in former East Germany, Le Corbusier inspired Prager Zeile, is on the street. Centrum Warenhaus Department Store, known for its honeycomb spiked facade, is another interesting building on Prager Street.
Dresden’s past glory is everywhere. The historical center is the small area between Wilsdruffer Street and the Elbe River. Do not miss the Neumarkt Square and the monumental Frauenkirche. The Dresden Castle, the Cathedral and the Semperoper won’t disappoint you either. However, our favorite spot were the gardens of the opulent baroque Zwinger Palace. There was no chance of us not going up one the towers that dot the center. We chose the less touristic Holly Cross Church and enjoyed some outstanding views.
The monumental Frauenkirche is an 18th Century Lutheran church designed by George Bahr, the city’s most celebrated architect at the time. The Allies bombed it heavily in 1945 and left in ruins for 50 years. Fortunately, it opened again in 2005 and is now one of the city’s most visited monuments. Go inside and notice the altar in the center, quite an innovative approach at the time. The impressive 96 meters high dome has altered Dresden’s skyline. It is so strong that it has survived several sieges.
The Semperoper, next to Elbe River, is home to the Saxon State Opera, Orchestra and Ballet. World famous architect Gottfried Semper designed it in the 19th Century. The building’s clear Neoclassical appearance mixes Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque styles. Once again, the allies destroyed it in 1945, just like the Frauenkirche. However, it was reconstructed earlier, in 1985. The Semperoper is quite special to music lovers since some of the world’s most brilliant pieces premiered here, including works by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.
The Zwinger Palace is a baroque palace built by the court architect Matthaus Daniel Poppelmann. He erected the palace out of the Dresden fortress, thus its name (the killing ground in front of a castle). Gottfried Semper added the neoclassical Semper Gallery on its northern side in the 19th Century. Today the palace houses three different museums: a picture gallery, a porcelain collection and a salon containing mathematical and physical instruments. Once again the palace was heavily damaged in 1945. However, the art collection was evacuated in time. Go inside and prepare to be dazzled!
Modern Architecture and Art
Dresden has a plethora of fascinating architecture that goes beyond historical buildings. As we mentioned, the socialist neighborhoods are worth visiting. Likewise, on the other side of the River Elbe stands the Kunsthof Arcades installation. If you get hungry, there are several eateries on the pedestrian Hauptstrasse Street. A completely different building is the oriental inspired ex cigarette factory Yenidze. Finally, be sure to look for the Ufa Cinema Palace by Coop Himelblau, one of the best examples of Deconstructivism in the world.
A group of local architects and sculptures designed the Kunsthof Arcades Passage in 2001 and it soon became a magnet for the young and creative. Each of the five courtyards has its own theme: elements, light, animals, mythical creatures, and metamorphosis. The most famous one, the Elements courtyard, consists of numerous metal pipes that turn into musical instruments when it rains. Let it rain! Take your time and walk about several cafés, restaurants, shops, and galleries.
The Yenidze is a former cigarette factory built between 1907 and 1909. The factory imported tobacco from Ottoman Yenidze (now Genisea in Greece) and chose an oriental look to advertise its business. Its architect Maryin Hammitzsch brilliantly combined art nouveau with oriental architecture. You will recognize the building from its high dome and colorful chimneys. As in many other cases around the globe, it wasn’t popular when it opened. Some people called it a tobacco mosque! Since 1996 it is a fancy office building.
Ufa Cinema Palace
Near Prager Street, you will find the UFA Cinema Palace, a complex of eight movie theaters. Viennese architects Coop Himmelblau designed this deconstructive building in the shape of a twisted prism. Opened in 1998, it has become the symbol in Dresden of contemporary architecture. Apparently, the building’s design follows its location, the buffer zone between commercial and residential areas. Notice the façade, done using several materials including Breton brut and metal fabric.
Where to Stay in Dresden
Dresden is a relatively small city and most of its historical architecture is around the Altstadt. Without a doubt, the best hotel in Altstadt is the extravagant Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski, a real 18th-century palace. The Westin Bellevue Dresden in Neustadt, across the River Elbe, is another fabulous historical palace hotel. If you don’t spend the night at the hotel, go for a coffee at its beautiful gardens and enjoy spectacular views. If you rather stay in something modern, stay at the wonderful Pullman Dresden Newa in the middle of pedestrian Prager Street. Finally, the Leonardo Hotel Dresden Altstadt overlooks the unique Yenidze and is within walking distance to most landmarks.
How to Get to Dresden
As mentioned above, it’s very easy to organize a day trip from Berlin and Prague to Dresden. Eight trains depart from Berlin each day and take about 2 hours. There are 7 trains each day from Prague that take a bit over 2 hours. Trains from Leipzig depart every half hour and reach Dresden in just over an hour. If you are coming from Wroclaw, in Poland, you currently have to change trains in Wegliniec. Granted, it is not so close for a day trip to Dresden, but you can spend a night or two and go back. Dresden’s main train station, Hauptbahnhof, is at the end of Prager Street, southwest of the center.