Great Sights in Dresden Germany
by Rick Steves
Then I realized I was on a Dresden high. In an eastern German town I've known for just a few years, I had enjoyed great sights and new insights.
The Wettin Dynasty ruled Saxony from Dresden for eight centuries, right up until the end of World War I. Their Louis XIV-style big shot was Augustus the Strong. They say he could break horseshoes with his bare hands and fathered 365 children. He loved being portrayed with the rose of Luther (symbol of the Protestant movement in Germany) being crushed under his horse's hoof.
The Wettins taught the rest of Europe's royal courts the art and importance of having their own porcelain works. The Wettins' Meissen was the first. I thought I knew the best crown jewels ... until I saw the glittering Wettin jewels in Dresden's "Historic Green Vault," which requires an advance reservation to see. They're absolutely dazzling, and a clear reminder that those Wettins were a powerhouse in their day.
After lingering to enjoy a group of street musicians, I zipped out to Volkswagen's "Transparent Factory" on the edge of Dresden, where visitors are welcome to watch fancy new models actually being assembled. The factory is so politically correct that parts are brought in by special "cargo trams," which congest the city's traffic less than trucks.
Back in town, along the Elbe River, I headed for the terrace called the Balcony of Europe -- once Dresden's defensive rampart. By Baroque times, fortresses were no longer necessary, and this became one of Europe's most charming promenades. A stroll beneath a leafy canopy of linden trees to the balcony's east end takes you to the Albertinum, which houses several of Dresden's best collections: the Sculpture Collection and the
Finally, the highlight: the restored Frauenkirche -- the heart and soul of the city. Dresden's 310-foot-tall Church of Our Lady was destroyed during the massive Allied bombings that flattened two-thirds of the city on
My visit to Dresden had started rocky. Riding the express train into town, I figured it would end at the main station. The train pulled into Dresden Neustadt -- the New City of Dresden. It sounded good to me. Most of the passengers got out. So did I. The train took off. I must have walked 20 minutes, in denial that I had gotten off at the wrong station. After circling the big block -- and pretty embarrassed at my mistake -- I pondered cutting my losses and just taking a taxi to my hotel in the Old Town. But another train was leaving in minutes for what must be the central station. I hopped on. Five minutes later we arrived. I hopped out at Dresden Mitte. The train took off and I stepped outside, only to realize: I had made the same mistake again. Another train came in a few minutes. I got on it and finally made it to my intended station: Dresden Hauptbahnhof -- a block from my hotel. As I tell travelers in lectures: "Many towns have more than one train station."
One of my best skills -- extremely helpful in my line of work -- is the ability to make mistakes ... with gusto. After a day in Dresden, the frustrating start was a distant memory. And I had a new appreciation of a city that nearly 70 years ago lay in smoldering rubble, 25 years ago was in a USSR-imposed economic hole, and today has caught up with Western Germany.
Today's Dresden is a young and vibrant city, crawling with proud locals and happy-go-lucky students who barely remember communism. While the city is packed with tourists, most of them are German or Russian. Until Americans rediscover Dresden, you'll feel like you're in on a secret.
In the tidy residential neighborhood near Neustadt train station, Hotel Bayerischer Hof Dresden offers elegant public spaces in a grand old building (splurge, www.bayerischer-hof-dresden.de). Bright and cheery, Hotel Martha Hospiz has a glassed-in winter garden and an outdoor breakfast terrace (moderate, www.hotel-martha-hospiz.de).
Jolly murals, cheesy music, and a lively crowd add to the fun at Altmarkt Keller, a festive beer cellar in the Old Town (Altmarkt 4). Dresden 1900, a streetcar-themed eatery, can't be beat for a good lunch (An der Frauenkirche 20).
Dresden's network of trams and buses is so slick you might just spend an hour joyriding. Berlin is 2.25 hours away by train (every two hours).
Dresden, capital of the eastern German state of Saxony, is distinguished by the celebrated art museums and classic architecture of its reconstructed old town. Completed in 1743 and rebuilt after WWII, the baroque church Frauenkirche is famed for its grand dome. The Versailles-inspired Zwinger palace houses museums including Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, exhibiting masterpieces of art like Raphael's "Sistine Madonna."
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Vacations & Travel "Great Sights in Dresden Germany"