Florence on the Elbe: Dresden

In the minds of many, the name Dresden recalls only the carpet-bombing which occurred on consecutive days in February 1945. Until that point in World War II, the capital of Saxony was the only major German city which had been spared serious damage.
As a result of the war-time attacks, however, fifteen square miles of the downtown were nearly completely destroyed, a fact that remains controversial to the present day. For Dresden was considered Germany’s answer to Italy’s Florence: that is, a center of art, music, and science; it was the “Jewel Box” of Saxon royals for centuries. The good side to this story is that, in the decades since the war, the people of Dresden wanted the city rebuilt to reflect its former glory. And that has, in large part, come to pass.

Situated in far eastern Germany near the Czech border, Dresden is beautiful both geographically and architecturally. The Elbe River makes a sensuous curve around the city, highlighting an astounding number of architectural landmarks. To name a few, there is the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace), the Katholische Hofkirche (Catholic Cathedral), the Altmarkt (the Old Market Square), and the Rathaus (City Hall). Perhaps the most prominent sight on the skyline is the baroque Frauenkirche, interestingly a
Lutheran Church of Our Lady. The ruins of the church remained as an anti-war memorial for decades. But at the end of the 20th century, contributions poured in from around the world, allowing this and other buildings on Neumarkt (New Market Square) to be restored. More than 3800 original stones from the church were replaced exactly where they once were, a feat which required the original plans of the church as well as modern computer imaging software; the older stones, blackened from the firestorm, stand out against the lighter-colored new ones. The church’s oak doors were recreated after an appeal went out for old pictures from the general populace. Two thousand pieces from the original altar were also incorporated inside the church, whose baroque interior has now been completely redone.

Another unforgettable sight in Dresden is the early eighteenth century Zwinger Palace, built on the demand of Augustus the Strong after visiting Versailles. Heavily damaged during the
bombardment, the Zwinger was reconstructed during the 1950s and 60s. It is a treasure trove of architecture: the Kronentor (Crown Gate), the Nymphenbad (Nymphs’ Bath), plus many detailed scuptural decorations, such as friezes of Bacchus and Pan which adorn the walls. There are also fountains, gardens, and porcelain and art collections on the property.

There is so much to say about Dresden; I'll save our visit to the Semper Opera House for next week's posting. Auf Wiedersehen!

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