Should Dresden be visited because it used to be the gorgeous baroque pearl once called the ‘Florence on The Elbe’ or should it be visited to understand how it was reduced to rubble during WW II? Both motives are good enough, but better still is to actually wonder at a city that has struggled to rise beyond its destruction as it rebuilds itself slowly but surely. Its story has become associated with both devastation and reconciliation.
We begin our three hour tour at Schloss Platz, at the foot of Augustus Bridge, the oldest bridge in Dresden. This is a good place to begin with the history of this little village that was to eventually become the capital of Saxony and be introduced to the family Wettin that was to rule it for more than 800 years.
We will then reach Theaterplatz, a grand square named after the Royal Theater House that was built by the architect Gottfried Semper in the 19th Century. This square, presided over by the equestrian statue of King John (Johann), is framed by some of the city’s most important historic buildings that were painstakingly rebuilt over decades following their destruction. This is a good place and time to discuss and reflect upon the legendary bombing of Dresden.
We now walk through the Zwinger and back into the resplendent Baroque Era where Friedrich August, also called August the Strong, threw his sumptuous parties and organized colourful pageants. The Zwinger also houses The Gallery of Old Masters, a part of the Dresden State Art Collections. This Gallery attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year from all over the world.
Following the trail of the art collections we wind our way towards the Residenzschloss or the Royal Residence, which at one time was amongst the most impressive Renaissance palaces in Germany. Learn its story as well as about the various world class museums now housed here and decide which one to explore later at your leisure.
Walking along the Fürstenzug or the Procession of Princes is like time travel. This porcelain mural is history upon a wall and depicts the changing fortunes as well as fashions of the Wettin family that ruled Saxony. Along the way we learn about the major milestones that impacted them including the paradox that gave rise to the gigantic protestant Church of our Lady on one end of the street and the imposing catholic Royal Cathedral on the other.
We will now reach the sprawling area or New Market Square that surrounds the Church of Our Lady that towers up into the sky, jutting out over the city of Dresden. You will learn about the painstaking rebuilding of this church and the stories of reconciliation that enabled its reconstruction. We walk around the Church and up to the ancient city fortifications called Brühl’s Terrace with a view of a part of the Elbe Valley that was once a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and learn why it was delisted).
Our tour now takes us to the New Synagogue, a building that evokes contradictory opinions in observers. We ponder upon the fate of Jews in Dresden and then the fate of others who disappeared forever into the bowels of the forbidding Police Headquarters just around the corner. Our walk ends at the Old Market Square, which was once the heart of the medieval city and then later the heart of the new socialist Dresden. This is the perfect place to end our tour- In a square filled with the memories of tragedy but also of new beginnings. A fitting metaphor to the paradox that is Dresden.