A Weekend In: Dresden, City of Past and Present

Grey and gloomy as it was, Dresden still delivered quite a memorable punch. Located a two hour train ride south of Berlin on the way to Prague, Dresden makes a perfect weekend trip, or even a long day trip from either city. I decided to visit the city with a rich history and tumultuous past, on the banks of the economically important River Elbe. Dresden rose to fame, and served as the seat of religious and secular power in Saxony for much of the 14th-18th centuries, and still plays an important role in today’s world..

I spent my time in Dresden bouncing between Neustadt (New Town) and Altstadt (Old Town). Ironically, most of Neustadt is actually older than Altstadt, most of which was obliterated at the end of the Second World War. This two-day bombing blitz was the subject of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse V, which I “read” in high school (ahem: cliffnotes).

If you like museums, you will be a kid in a candy store; is easy to see why it was nicknamed “Florence on the Elbe”. With exhibits ranging from Renaissance painting to military history to (my favorite) science and math, you could easily spend a few days only in the museums. For most of the museums, run by the SKD, you can buy tickets to single exhibits/museums. You can also purchase day passes and multi-museum passes available on how many/which ones you are interested in.

Altstadt Dresden

Looking over Altstadt

Home to many of the iconic Dresden sights and skylines, as well as more museums than I can count, I spent my days exploring this section of Dresden. The architecture is phenomenal to just stroll through. If you are doing this trip on a budget you can easily spend a day or afternoon just looking at all the sights from the outside.

Dresden City Museum

Sin, Death, and the Devil

A small, but interesting museum focusing on Dresden’s rise to fame throughout time, the impacts of both World Wars, and its place in the GDR. It has a variety of artifacts and photos from the Dresden bombings as well. While most of the museum is in German, there is enough in English to make it worthwhile.

Frauenkirche Dresden

Dresden

Easily the most famous sight in Dresden, this church has been destroyed several times throughout the centuries only to be rebuilt time and time again. The last destruction of the church came in 1945 during the bombing of the Dresden by Allied troops. The hollow skeleton of the church remained in ruin throughout a separated Germany, and was only rebuilt in the 1990s. You can visit the inside of the church as well as climb up to the top of the dome for a great view over Dresden and the surroundings. Interesting to me was learning that they incorporated stones from many other bombed churches during its reconstruction

Zwinger Museum Complex

Zwinger

This complex is home to the Old Masters Gallery (16th-18th century paintings), the Porcelain Gallery, and my favorite museum. The Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon (Mathematics and Science Museum) is focused on various clocks, telescopes, and engineering tools from the 16-18th centuries. Maybe it doesn’t sound that interesting, but it is far from the usual museum fodder and helps put into perspective some of the things we take for granted (like my TI-83!). The Old Masters Gallery houses Raphael’s famous Sistine Madonna, also knows as “the painting that has those two angels, that is in every cheesy cafe”. And yes, the angels are just a part of a larger painting. My personal favorite painting in the gallery is Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by Johannes Vermeer. In an era dominated by religious scenes, fancy-schmancy portraits, this emotional, simple scene was beautiful. I was too nervous about being the proverbial bull in a china shop to enjoy the porcelain, but if that’s your thing, then enjoy!

Semperoper Dresden

Semperoper, Dresden

The Dresden Opera House, built in 1878, Guided tours are available, but i found it enough to just gawk at the outside, even more so at night.

Furstenzug

Fürstenzug

Located right in the middle of it all, you can’t help but see it. Pay a quick stop to this giant porcelain mural on the side of Dresden Castle, which shows a procession of the past rulers of Germany.

Dresden Castle

Theaterplatz

I did not visit this Museum complex, as it was closed on Tuesday (wha whaaa), but this complex houses a variety of exhibits including Renaissance works, Ottoman art, ancient coins, and a dazzling display of gems, jewels, and gold.

Neustadt Dresden

Goldener ReiterWhile this section is rather brief, by no means is it a dull part of town. On the contrary, I spent both nights exploring this hub of bars and restaurants set to the backdrop of some very nice street art. I got the impression the “hippest” places change frequently so just explore around the crossroads of Louisenstrasse and Alaunstrasse for whatever tickles your fancy. Alternatively search for places in Aussere Neustadt (Outer Neustadt) if you are more of the researching type. As you wander your way up Haupstrasse, browse the assortment of big box chains as well as local handicraft stores.

Dreikonigskirch

From

If you’re like me and like to get a higher perspective on things, wind your way over to Dreikonigskirch. This cheaper and less crowded alternative to the Frauenkirche doesn’t provide as dramatic of views, but I enjoyed having the entire place to myself. Also, from this vantage you can actually get the Frauenkirche in some pictures, because, obviously, you can’t when you’re standing on it…

The River Elbe

Dresden from DreikönigskircheCreating the divide between Altstadt and Neustadt is the river Elbe. Strolling up and down the wide paths on the north (Neustadt) side of the river gives some of the best views looking back at Dresden. Walking around here at night was definitely the highlight of my weekend trip to Dresden.

The south bank of the Elbe is much more built up, but still gives nice views to the opposite bank.Notice the topography of the north bank, long sloping plains, as compared to the walled south bank. This wall though is no more immune to flooding than the rest of the riverbank. If you have a keen eye, you will be able to spot several flood level markers from various floods in the past years.

Conclusion

ZwingerMuch more compact and walkable than Berlin, Dresden offers a bit of everything, from hipster cafes to horse-drawn carriages, and grungy tattoo bars to high-class museums. With enough to keep you busy throughout rainy days and sunshine times (not that I saw any), a weekend trip to Dresden was the perfect length.

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