DRESDEN is synonymous with devastation; in fact, it's all about regeneration. Only Berlin or Hamburg suffered such total obliteration in the war, and Dresden had far more to lose. For two centuries before its Altstadt was reduced to a smouldering heap in February 1945, it was acclaimed the most beautiful city in Germany. Dresden's coming of age was thanks to Elector Augustus the Strong (Augustus Der Stark; 1696–1763), a self-styled Saxony Sun King who gathered to his court a brilliant group of architects and artists, who between them created a city of extraordinary grace.
Then came the bombs. After reunification Dresdeners began to rebuild the iconic buildings that had been left as ruins by the communists. Begun in 1990, the reconstruction became a metaphor for reconciliation, not just for East and West Germany but among wartime enemies. And when the wraps came off the Frauenkirche in 2005, the last icon of Europe's most striking Baroque city was resurrected.
Part of the attraction of the Altstadt is that it remains in the act of creation as the GDR past is airbrushed and the Baroque streetscape of its glory days reappears. Consequently the city fabric is patchy in places except around the showpieces that extend behind the Elbe between the two axes of the Altstadt: civic space Neumarkt, home to the Frauenkirche; and the Residenzschloss and splendid Zwinger pleasure palace – the former with some of its finest museums, the latter the great glory of Baroque Dresden. The Neustadt on the north bank emerged from the war with barely a scratch. Originally the Baroque "new town" of its name, it splits between the Innere Neustadt south of Albertplatz and Äussere Neustadt, where most culture is of the bar variety.
Dresden today is as rooted in its past as ever. Yet the two districts are effectively strangers. In one you have historic buildings and museums, tour groups and cafés. In the other, the north-bank Neustadt, is the best bar district south of Berlin. That they coexist happily accounts for much of Dresden's appeal as two cities in one.
Saxony's capital Dresden is located in what once was called Valley of the Clueless; as the city is encircled by mountains and hills, the signals of the West German TV stations never seemed to reach Saxony's antennas, forcing them to watch the propaganda programs the Socialist party had hatched up for them. Once an important cultural and commercial metropolis featuring Germany's then most impressive architecture, Dresden was practically wiped out over two nights of air raids in February, 1945. The city has recently undergone much renovation and is now reaching the splendor it once had. Nowadays, it is marked by hard contrasts: most of the famous buildings have been restored or rebuilt from scratch; the Neustadt, formerly a beggars' quarter, is flourishing to a surprising extent; various parks and recreational areas contribute to its beauty. However, the city is not without its bad districts. While these contrasts have clearly been typical of German cities since World War II, one is inclined to claim that majesty and deformity are scarcely as close to each other as in Dresden. It almost seems as if each side was the prerequisite to its counterpart.
Located in the city's very north, Hellerau is a quarter you might be predisposed to miss, but it's definitely worth a visit, being the first German "Garden Town." Its founding originates in Karl Schmitz's commitment to the city's plans, begun in 1907. Luckily enough, the remote district had not been a target for Allied bombers in 1945, and remains a popular destination to this day.
Dresden's most impressive bridge, the " Blue Wonder " (Blaues Wunder), connects Blasewitz and Loschwitz. The latter is an excellent place to live in, provided that you can afford to rent or buy a residence here. Among the sights one shouldn't miss are the castles Albrechtsburg Schloß and Schloß Eckberg (now a luxury hotel). Especially when seen from the other side of river Elbe, Loschwitz's villas and chateaus afford a fantastic view. Fairly close to the north of Loschwitz, the quarter named Weißer Hirsch is situated along the edge of Dresden's very own forest, the Dresdner Heide .
Driving from Bühlau towards Dresden's inner districts, one should look out for the automatic speed cameras. On a lighter note, the tiny yet appealing district Weißer Hirsch (White Stag), namesake of a traditional restaurant, is located here. This area is home to Dresden's upper class; they reside in charming dwellings, play tennis on tepid afternoons, enjoy the silent riverside atmosphere at the Elbhänge (Elbe slopes) or uses the cable railway towards Loschwitz. We, on the contrary, head for the city's inner parts and pass the Radeberger Vorstadt - host to the combined brewery and beer garden and the Waldschlösschen (Forest Castle) - to reach the Äußere Neustadt (Outer Neustadt).
By far Dresden's most lively district, the Outer Neustadt is the area to the northeast of Albertplatz. Originally an economically and culturally unimportant poor man's quarter, it was neglected by British and American bombers in World War II. The city's catastrophe became the Neustadt's opportunity to gain attention - although the quarter continued to deteriorate after the War, young folks and bohemian artists took over the neighborhood and deeply influenced the character it now has. Some of the pubs and clubs that had emerged during the Communist regime, like the Planwirtschaft , do still exist, even though their appearance and character have altered since then. The German Reunification of 1990 made West German real estate enterprises keen to renovate the old turn-of-the-century houses, and it attracted more students and businessmen willing to rent or buy apartments. Progressively, the Neustadt's temper and charm have changed, its alternative culture partially moved to the quarter's outer parts. The Outer Neustadt is marked by its population's heterogeneity: punk teens with giant dogs sleeping rough, hip-hop kids wearing only the latest American brand outfits, white-faced people with black clothing locally referred to as Grufties (Goths), young, well-off entrepreneurs running Internet companies, lots of students from all over the country, and of course, those who have been living here since they were born. It is a peculiar mishmash, but also an intriguing one. The list of places to visit encompasses bars like Dejà Vu or Scheunecafe , innovative upscale boutiques such as Koma , the gorgeous Martin Luther Church and Pfund's Molkerei , billing itself the world's most beautiful milk shop.
Heading west from Albertplatz, the splendid Königstraße (King's Street) leads us directly into the Inner Neustadt. This district burned down in the fire of 1685, and World War II also left its mark. The quarter has since been elegantly redeveloped, and currently it might be considered Dresden's most beautiful area. Indeed, the Inner Neustadt bears a resemblance to Munich and its well-looked-after baroque houses, its designer boutiques and extravagant restaurants entice many well-to-do travelers.
Crossing Augustusbrücke (Augustus's Bridge) from here, the wonderful sight of Dresden's lovely silhouette - the famous Canaletto view - meets the eye. Particularly at night, when most buildings are beautifully illuminated until 1am, the Brühlsche Terrassen (Brühl's Terraces), the Semper Opera House and their surroundings constitute a majestic view. The bridge leads us into the Altstadt, originally the town's older part. It had been almost entirely annihilated in February 1945, and for years thereafter, only the sad remains of the Frauenkirche (Women's Church) had been left as a depressing legacy of the Second World War. Eventually, however, Dresden's public overcame the tragedy and began to reconstruct, redevelop and renovate the quarter that had once legitimized the city's international glory. Nowadays, the Theaterplatz is again one of Germany's most admirable places, even though it is permanently flooded with tourists from all over the world. Around this square, you'll find more architectural attractions than most other German cities have on the whole: irrespective of the aforementioned sights, there is the great Zwinger , the Castle (Schloß), the Cathedral (Kathedrale), the Fürstenzug and the Kempinski Taschenbergpalais , to name but a few. The sophisticated reconstruction of the Frauenkirche is being performed using practically all of the original parts that could be preserved. Art lovers and history connoisseurs must not miss a visit the Albertinum and the Green Vault ( Grünes Gewölbe ) that can be reached through Brühl's Terraces.
At the Terraces' other end, one should walk a few steps up Carola Bridge and turn around. Here, Dresden's divergence is most impressive: to the right, there is the city's picturesque silhouette that could not possibly have been painted more romantically; to the left, however, nothing but futuristic high-rises up until the very horizon. Following the St. Petersburger Straße, the road that Carola Bridge runs into, you'll be led into the city center. That said, Dresden has no real center in the sense of a huge shopping district, but at least there is the Prager Straße , a modern pedestrian zone featuring several controversial architectural feats, such as the three almost identical Ibis Hotel towers and the two postmodern wells. The Prager Straße is a passable shopping street with all popular Western department stores like Karstadt , international chains such as H&M or Foot Locker, fast food restaurants, and a futuristic cinema called UFA Palace, incidentally Dresden's only movie theater showing the latest movies (in English too, if only from Sunday to Tuesday). To the street's southern end, you'll find the central station at the Wiener Platz, one of Dresden's many construction sites, showing that the city is still reconstructing and advancing.
A stones' throw south of the main station, the university quarter unfolds. As Dresden University of Technology has no single campus, its facilities and institutes are widely spread over several districts, though the administrative center and the majority of academic buildings are situated around the Nürnberger Platz. Opposite the newly constructed Auditorium Center ( Hörsaalzentrum ) where most Business, Economics and Law students attend their classes, you'll find the university cafeteria, or Mensa. Meals for students are affordable at 3EUR and the taste rather resembles English cooking. There are some student bars in the vicinity, though most students prefer the remote Neustadt for nightlife activities.
Dresden's local cuisine is what one might describe as hearty: sour roast, potato soup, Christmas stolen—those are but of a few of the typical treats of a Saxon kitchen. Good old, tasty, home-cooked food makes you feel like you're right at home with all you need for the perfect feast.
By the late sequences of the Second World War and due to the constraints of the GDR's economy, the traditional recipes were somewhat simplified. But fortunately, a fresh wind has lifted Dresden's cuisine to brand new heights since reunification! The creative use of spices and the development of various new twists anchored on an old theme (the time-old tradition of Saxon gastronomy) replaced a momentary bland repertoire of local dishes into an undeniably modern, cosmopolitan way of life amongst Dresdeners.
This new approach to cooking is particularly pronounced in the popular Dresdner district of Neustadt. This is a multi-cultural quarter, which seems to have grown into the center of all culinary excursions, due to the density of worthy chefs in the area.
In the Äussere Neustadt (Outer New Town) you will stumble across an array of well-known Dresden bars, such as the Havanna Club Bar , Frank's Bar or Studiobar .
If when you make your appearance in these hot-spots, they are crammed wall to wall, fear not, there is still a vast tally of other taverns to choose from whose credentials are by no means limited to the scope of their happy hour.
Should you have an unquenchable weakness for all things French, don't miss a trip to La Vie en Rose . Also, La Rue is worth its salt. It is set up to mimic a French street, complete with Bistro, restaurant, wine cellar and Creperie. Mind you, Italian fans will not go home empty handed either: the temperamental Ristorante Al Capone , the La Casina Rosa or the bistro-like La Pergola is at your service. Indian food is on the menu in the Scheune Cafe , and in the Raskolnikoff Restaurant you will be treated to a critic's choice fusion mixture of Russian-international cuisine.
Friendly Turkish establishments selling superb lunch dishes seem to be ten a penny and on every corner (Dueruem, Rothenburger Straße or Baguetterieas, Bag's, Louisenstraße); fans of Spanish Tapas will surely meet their match in El Perro Borracho which is situated in the beautiful Kunsthof.
Innumerable small and large Cafes offer the perfect spot to stay and savor a bite to eat or wake up with a coffee. Many of the taverns have a large variety of breakfast and brunch deals on the menu. To be fair, the requirements of your average 'breakfast-crazy' Dresdener, who swarm into the cafes on a Sunday are by no means easy to satisfy. In the Kontinental , in the Blumenau , the Planwirtschaft or in the Cafe Reale (with a bit of a Buffet) you can celebrate in style and easily get dragged into Dresden's breakfast culture. Part of the Innere Neustadt is characterized by noble, restored buildings and the ambling mile of the Königstraße. Many tourists love to be here and with good reason. Yet it is not just foreigners who enjoy the city's restaurants, such as the Czech Wenzel - Prager Bierstuben or the fine New California and Dresden's many small Italian restaurants dotted about. You will see many a local out for dinner, drinking Cappuccino, eating great big ice-creams or tourists writing postcards. Both the Schwarzmarktcafe or the Eiscafe Venezia are very enjoyable.
A significant tavern scene has also sprung up in the City Centre. Directly above the Shopping mile Prager Straße is Cafe Börse , which is mostly overfilled. The Barock is also ideal for the >Apres Shopping recovery process. At Zwinger and Semperoper one finds the exotic Busmann's Brazil alongside various other Cafes. The small restaurants owned by the Art'otel in Maxstraße are particularly well fitted-out, as is the Fischgalerie .
Most would agree that students are primarily a pub-going and hard-drinking species and because of this, the university campus is positively riddled with inexpensive facilities. Most central is probably the ale-house Bierstube in der Neuen Mensa and students can also expect to salivate over Hübner's , Müller's and Cafe B.Liebig .
Directly between Frauenkirche and Elbe is a further maze of gastronomical highlights. In the short Muenzgasse, one of the oldest lanes of the city, one can dine and stroll in beautiful surroundings. In the Cafe zur Frauenkirche , you are very close to the famous church and its construction and are also spoilt for choice when it comes to both German and French cuisine. Around the Hilton Hotel, you will find the Crêpe Galerie , the Australian-style Ayers Rock , the historical Kleppereck and the rather elegant Ristorante Rossini .
In the summer time it is most beautiful outside! Luckily, there is a sterling choice of beer gardens and catering with outside facilities. It is nice after a trip with the bicycle to restock on calories or to cool yourself with a Radeberger beer! This is possible among others in the Drachen , in the Lindenschänke or in the Fährgarten Johannstadt. The Kahnaletto is a restaurant which one finds not only on the banks of the river Elbe, but also on it! In the picturesque Villa Marie garden, you can see the river rushing and the famous bridge Blaues Wunder, with exquisite Italian cuisine right next door.
That in Dresden people love to celebrate and eat well is no secret. The Bunte Republik Neustadt is a multi-cultural district party at which you'll get mainly an unstrained mixture of international cuisine. The Elbhangfest is popular amongst young and old alike. All along the river Elbe, you can not only drink wine and tuck in to some decent food, but also enjoy all kinds of distractions. In winter, the Striezelmarkt is beautifully romantic, especially at Christmas and at each second stand one can try all sorts of delicious Saxon specialities, have you ever tried a Pflaumentoffel?
A stroll through the Old Town (Altstadt), which lies in close proximity to the River Elbe, is the best place to catch your first glimpse of Dresden and its many attractions. The main highlights are all located within a radius of less than one kilometer.
The Zwinger , our starting point, and also one of the tour's high points, is arguably the symbol of Dresden. Originally built in the 18th century as the architectural setting for a courtly festival, the ensemble, with its modern sculptures, remains unique today. The Zwinger courtyard was closed in 1855 when a museum building was erected, designed by Gottfried Semper.
The art gallery of the old masters, which is home to the world famous Sistine Madonna by Rafael ( Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister ) is especially worth a visit.
Once you leave the Zwinger behind, you come across the Theaterplatz . Without doubt, this is one of Europe's most beautiful squares; the buildings which back onto it are spectacular. Amongst them are the Semper Opera House , the Italian miniature village, the Schinkelwache, the Hofkirche , and the Royal Castle, the Residenzschloss . If you can't manage to get hold of the highly-sought-after opera tickets, there is always the possibility of embarking on a tour of the magnificent Semper Opera House. After the tour, take the opportunity to put your feet up and have a breather in one of the coffee houses, found in the Schinkelwache and the Italian village. Fully revitalized, you should not knock back the chance to visit the newly renovated castle, which belongs to the Hausmann Tower. From the top of the tower's platform, the view over the old town roofs and the neighboring St. Trinitatsis Cathedral is quite breathtaking. In the former court church, which is a baroque gem, the heart of Saxony's most famous ruler, August the Great, is stored.
Across the castle square steps lead to a terrace the Brühlschen Terrasse . The terrace, named after Earl Brühl, is often referred to as the Balcony of Europe. From up here you can look out over Dresden, from the paddlesteamer on the Elbe, the Schaufelraddampfer , to the new town and the Japanese palace, the log cabin and the town chambers. A small passage then leads away from the terrace to one of Dresden's most famous buildings, the Women's Church - Frauenkirche . Until German reunification, the building served as a reminder of the destruction caused in war. This Protestant place of worship is now being rebuilt with extraordinary public sympathy. One should certainly not leave Dresden without visiting this wonderful building.
A wander through the Münzgasse will take you past many restaurants, and for those who aren't too exhausted there is always the option of turning back to the terrace. Follow the tourist route past the Academy of Art, but don't go into the Albertinum . This assortment of museums, galleries, sculpture and coin collections and the Grünen Gewölbe - the legendary treasure chest of August The Great - should be saved for another outing, when you can devote an entire day to being there.
The final stop-off on this tour could be a visit to another architectural delight. Just yards away from the Albertinum and the Brühlschen Terrasse lies the New Dresden Synagogue . This synagogue was built very close to the spot where the original Jewish synagogue once stood; it was destroyed by Nazis in November 1938.
Should you have worked through all of Dresden's main attractions: the Semper Opera House, Zwinger and the Women's Church, turn your attention to exploring the hidden parts of the Old Town. The castle square leads off to the other side of the Elbe. The August Bridge, which stretches across the river, was built between 1907 and 1910. From the bridge, the panorama of the old town is amazing and not just for those who appreciate fine architecture. On the new town side of the river, you'll stumble across the gold-plated statue of August the Great (the Golden Rider), which was built in 1736. He invites you on a ride - or rather, a walk - through the new town. The Neustädter Markthalle , in which we now find ourselves, bears no resemblance to the famous Dresden Platz, which stood here before the First World War. The entire substance of the building fell victim to bombing in February 1945.
The Neustädter Markthalle and the tree-lined street (formerly Liberation Street) leading from the Markt to a boulevard of shops and delicious eateries were reconstructed during the 1970's. On the way to Albertplatz you pass the street's only remaining historic town houses. In one of the most beautifully restored buildings, you will find the small but fine museum of the Dresden early-Romantic period. The Three Kings Church, Dreikönigskirche , is just a stone's throw away from this museum. Between 1990 and 1992, the church was rebuilt following its destruction during the war and today it serves not only as a place of worship but also as a multi-functional church. Among other things, the Sachsen parliament (regional legislature) met here between 1990 and 1992.
If you have time, it really is worthwhile to take a look down the neighboring streets, which lead off from the left-hand side. The inner Neustadt has experienced something of a renaissance over the last 10 years, with the likes of Obergraben, Heinrichstrasse and Rähnitzgasse. After decades of dilapidation, the baroque-style buildings have finally been restored and brought back to life by a fresh assortment of shops, galleries and restaurants. The same goes for the Königstrasse, an adjoining street, which has been hailed as the new noble mile of Dresden.
Along this street, you will find just about everything that is new and expensive! From designer rags to Meissen china - you will find it all here. If you need a little something to eat at this point, there is a wide choice: from Wallgässchen, which cooks California-style, to the less traditional Wenzel , a Czech restaurant located on the Königstraße . For those who still have a thirst for culture there is always the Societätstheater , a small and relatively young theater, situated in the courtyard between Hauptstraße and Rähnitzgasse. The varied program offers national and international theater productions, as well as dance pieces.
From here, we march in the direction of Albertplatz. Once the home of two luxurious wells, Albertplatz is now, above all, a traffic junction. However, just north of it lies the liveliest area of Dresden, the Äussere Neustadt. The area is home to many pubs, which cover an area of around one square kilometer. In order to really discover Neustadt you need hours, if not days. If you don't have this kind of time on your hands, then you should at least take a walk down the Alaunstrasse, or the Loisenstrasse, which crosses Alaunstrasse at a right angle. Stop at one of the many cafes, bars or pubs along the way. In the Alaunstrasse for instance you may like to pay a visit to Scheunecafe , La Vie en Rose , or El Perro Borracho , which can be found in the wonderfully-decorated Kunsthofpassage. Historically speaking, Martin-Luther-Platz, which lies in the east of this quarter, is extremely interesting. At the heart of the square you will find the Martin-Luther Kirche . Very close to the old Jewish cemetery, and rather a sudden contrast in the program, is Pfund's Dairy , which prides itself as being the most beautiful dairy in the world! After you have had a stroll around the shop and maybe purchased a piece of cheese or two, you can take the tram-line number 11 all the way back into the town center.