Baroque escapade in Dresden

Zwinger © T.Joly
Painstakingly restored since the end of World War II, Dresden has rediscovered its former splendour. Boasting 37 museums, 36 theatres and 9 musical ensembles this German city located between Leipzig and Prague has all that it takes to seduce art lovers.

[ Practical ]

- Getting there
Lufthansa flights via Frankfurt and Munich. The airport is 9 km from the city centre and there is bus service between the two.
- Lodging
Hotel Kempinski, in the former Taschenberg Palace
Westin Hotel Bellevue, on the banks of the Elbe
Mercure Newa, striking interior decoration
Numerous 3 and 4 star establishments
- Restaurants
Alte Meister, Old World ambience, refined cuisine
Luisenhof, views over Dresden, Saxon cooking
- Going out
Semperoper, www.semperoper.de
Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra, www.dresdnerphilharmonie.de
Kunsthof district for nightlife
- Getting around
A system of trams makes it easy to get around town
- Good to know
The Dresden City Card (21 € for 48 hours) gives unlimited use of the buses and trams, free access to 12 museums and reductions in the others.
Since there are no direct flights from France you need to leave at least 4 hours to get from Paris to Dresden; so it makes sense to stay at least 3 days/2 nights if you can.
- T.O
Voyageurs du Monde, DB France, Europauli, Expedia.fr offer weekends in Dresden. Allow 270 to 350 € per person for a weekend (3 days/2 nights) in a double room with breakfast in a 3-4 star hotel.
- Information
German Tourist Office, tel: 01 40 20 07 46
Dresden Tourism :
www.dresden.de/dwt/
Any trip to Dresden must begin with a tour of the Frauenkirche, an extraordinary Protestant church built in the Baroque style and featuring five superimposed galleries capable of holding up to 3500 worshippers. Not only because it is the symbol of Dresden but also because from its 91 metre-high dome one has an unrivalled view over the city. The ideal spot to appreciate the architectural riches of the old town centre clustered around the banks of the Elbe and classed a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2004.


Zwinger © T.Joly
 Florence of the Elbe
It is hard to imagine that all this was in ruins on the morning of the 15th February 1945 after a devastating Allied bombing. But all of these historic buildings have been patiently and carefully restored. Minutely detailed work which was only completed in October 2005 with the reopening of the Frauenkirche which saw the capital of Saxony regain its 17th and 18th Century splendour and once again live up to its former soubriquet as “the Florence of the Elbe”. An impressive comparison and a tribute not only to its architectural riches but also to its museums, two of which are among the most important in Europe. One, the Old Masters Picture Gallery, has works by all of the biggest names in European painting: Vermeer Rembrandt, Raphael, Watteau, Dürer … The other, the Green Vault is home to an incredible collection of masterworks of goldsmithery and jewellery, featuring works made of amber, ivory, gold, diamonds, rubies and emeralds. The jewel in the crown of this collection is a reproduction of the Court of the Great Mogul composed of 137 gilded figures set with 5000 precious stones !!


Zwinger © T.Joly
These are the must-see attractions but some thirty other establishments also boast rich and varied collections. European and Asian puppets in the Saxon Folk Art Museum and Puppet Theatre Collection. Antique and Renaissance sculptures, Impressionist painting and German painting of the 18th and 19th Centuries in the Albertinum. Scientific, mathematical and astronomical instruments dating back as far as the 16th Century in the Mathematics and Physics Salon. Works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Dürer and the only known drawing by Van Eyck in the Cabinet of Prints and Drawings … In the town which invented the bra there is even a museum dedicated to hygiene. Most of these collections were begun in the 17th and 18th Centuries by the Prince Elector, Augustus the Strong, an enlightened ruler whose support for the arts was continued by his son, Augustus III. The latter was responsible for the acquisition of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, whose two pensive angels have become symbols of the city.


Château © T.Joly
 Master builders
These two leaders strove to make Dresden one of the most beautiful European capitals and it was under their reigns that the most imposing buildings were constructed. The Frauenkirche, of course. But also the Italianate Hofkirche, the largest church in Saxony and a rare example of a Catholic Cathedral in this land of Protestantism, built to mark Augustus’ conversion to Catholicism in order to become King of Poland. And the Taschenberg Palace, now converted into a luxury hotel. Their chef-d’oeuvre however is the Zwinger, a graceful complex of palaces, pavilions and orangeries arranged around a large inner courtyard decorated with pools and fountains. Considered to be the finest example of German Baroque, it was the setting for the royal family’s festivities and today houses their art collections.


Semper Opera © T.Joly
A stroll through the streets of Dresden also reveals other styles of architecture. The Renaissance castle, constructed between the 15th and 17th Centuries, houses the famous Green Vault and also features a fresco made up of 25000 porcelain tiles depicting the 35 sovereign rulers of Saxony. The classicism of the Semperoper, named after the family that built it, which since its opening has been one of the most important venues for lyric music in the world. Without forgetting the Communist buildings of the 60s and 70s; these are concentrated in the district around the train station and some have been recently and successfully renovated. The interior design of the Hotel Mercure Newa is a case in point, showing the creativity and freedom of 21st Century German architects. The new synagogue is another prime example. Dresden then is far from being one large museum. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has shown itself to be an extremely dynamic city, one in which all reaches of city revel in their rediscovered freedom.


Kunsthof © T.Joly
 A dynamic city
On the opposite bank of the Elbe the bronze statue of Augustus the Strong watches over Neustadt, a rapidly gentrifying district. Trendy restaurants and art galleries are springing up between posh baroque and neoclassical townhouses. A little farther on, on the edge of this exclusive neighbourhood is Kunsthof, the haunt of creatures of the night, hip intellectuals and members of the Dresden demimonde. A labyrinth of 19th Century workers’ lodgings, alleyways and courtyards which is now the home to bars, ethical commerce, artistic organisations and community action groups. There are some events that bring everyone together, regardless of their social status: the Christmas market, for instance, a tradition dating back to 1434; the Saturday morning flea-market on the banks of the Elbe; or the lawns on the right bank of the river. Everyone heads here in Spring and Summer to talk, drink and picnic in a laidback and friendly atmosphere, while enjoying the view of the city centre immortalized by the Venetian painter, Canaletto.

December 15, 2011
Thierry Joly 


[ The Elbe ]

Two sites near Dresden on the banks of the Elbe are worth a detour. The first, upstream from Dresden, is the Baroque palace of Pillnitz. The summer residence of the Prices of Saxony, this was where they went to forget the restraints of Court life. It is decorated in the Chinese style and surrounded by a vast park where you can find elegant pavilions, orangeries, palm houses and greenhouses full of camellias. The most pleasant way to get there is to take a paddle steamer and enjoy the vineyards and villages of coloured houses that line this part of the river.
Downstream from Dresden, the city of Meissen looks like something out of the Middle Ages. Perched on a rocky spur, its Gothic cathedral and castle dominate the Elbe and overlook a latticework of tiny streets, red roofed houses and little restaurants where you can enjoy the local wine. Tourists from all over the world come here to visit the porcelain manufactory, the oldest in Europe, having opened its doors in 1710.