70 Years on from the World War II Bombing of Dresden, the City Prepares to Commemorate the Fallen
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden by Allied forces, the fiery infernos and hurricane-force winds decimating the city with an estimated 25,000 people losing their lives. The city’s iconic Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) and Martin Luther Memorial were among the many architectural casualties of the brutal bombing campaign, with Dresden itself becoming the unfortunate symbol of war and destruction.
Once declared the ‘Florence on the Elbe’ by the Italian master, Canaletto, Dresden has long been a city captured on canvas by many of the artistic greats, its stunning skyline, punctuated with spires, domes and towers, best appreciated from the northern banks of the River Elbe. Emerging from the ashes of its wartime bombing, Dresden has been painstakingly regenerated, the distinctive landmarks and baroque architectural gems of the Altstadt, the Frauenkirche in particular, today beautifully restored to their former glory.
Indeed it’s the Altstadt where you’ll probably start your explorations, as this is where you’ll find Dresden’s abundance of architectural treasures. Once you’ve taken the pre-requisite photo at the Frauenkirche (look out for the golden cross sitting atop the dome, it was donated by the city of Coventry), be sure to seek out Dresden’s other photogenic landmarks. These include the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace), home to the Historic Green Vault (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe), displaying some 3,000 precious historic items including the largest green diamond, as well as the New Green Vault (Neues Grünes Gewölbe).
You’ll also want to see the Semperoper, arguably one of Europe’s finest opera houses, once the venue for the great composers Wagner and Strauss, as well as the splendid Zwinger Palace. A stunning baroque building, the Zwinger Palace is today home to several important city cultural institutions including the Porcelain Collection (Porzellansammlung), Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments (Mathematisch-Physikalischer) and the Old Masters Gallery (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), featuring masterpieces by the collective artistic might of Titian, Botticelli, Rubens, Vermeer, Raphael and Dürer. Whilst on the subject of masterpieces, check out the Procession of Princes (Fürstenzug), the world’s largest porcelain mural stretching over 100 metres along the outer side of the Langer Gang and featuring the historical greats of the Saxon royal line.
In complete contrast meanwhile, the Neustadt is where it’s at when it comes to nightlife and Dresden’s social scene, particularly in the Outer Neustadt. Crossing the Augustusbridge from the Altstadt, you’ll arrive directly at the Goldener Reiter, a gilded equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong, ruler of Saxony from 1694 to 1733. This distinctive statue marks the start of the Hauptstrasse, Inner Neustadt’s pedestrianised central avenue, ending at Albertplatz with its famous fountains.
Leading from the Albertplatz to Palaisplatz and the River Elbe is the tree-lined Königsstrasse, renowned as the Neustadt’s most prestigious street and home to additional architectural gems including the Dreikönigskirche (Church of the Three Magi), the Japanese Palace (on Palaisplatz) and, to the east of the Goldener Reiter, the Jägerhof, Neustadt’s oldest building and home to the Museum of Saxon Folk Art.
Whilst you’re in this part of town, venture over to the fabulously unique Kunsthofpassage, a series of artistic spaces, home to art galleries, cafes, shops and bars, each one distinctively decorated in a one-off style. Look out for the turquoise pipe-fronted ‘Court of the Elements’, where music is created when it rains, an as well as the ‘Court of the Animals, with its giant giraffe head and monkeys leaping from window to window.
And finally, no city break in Dresden would be complete without a spot of respite in one of the riverside beer gardens lining the Elbe. A thoroughly relaxing way to complement the architectural and cultural majesty of this historic and remarkable city.