Heritage & Culture

 

DRESDEN

a new beginning 

After enduring the ravages of World War II, isolation behind the iron curtain, the floods of 2002 and just two years short of it's 800th anniversary, Saxony's capital is on the threshold of achievements that will further enhance its already impressive arts and cultural credentials.   

Important events in 2004

Until a fateful day in February 1945, the Frauenkirsche dominated the Dresden skyline for over 200 years.  After being destroyed near the end of World War II, the remains of this monumental Baroque church, not unlike Coventry Cathedral, lingered as a moving monument to a community ravaged by war.

It was not until the 1990s that the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche would begin.  The project, sustained by generous donations from countries around the world, and possible through the reunification of Germany, will return this icon of faith and hope to its rightful role in 2005.

In 2004, restoration works on the exterior will be completed and on July 24, 2004, the Golden Cross will once again occupy its place atop the dome of the Frauenkirsche, 100 metres above the city.   A completely restored Frauenkirsche will be consecrated in a festive service on October 30, 2005.

Dresden's Royal Palace, the former residence of the electors from the House of Wettin and Saxon kings will undertake the transition to a new identity as one of the world's leading museums.

In Spring 2004, the Dresden Collection of Prints and Drawings will become a permanent exhibition at the Palace.  The Collection of Prints and Drawings which was founded in 1720 as an independent institute, is one of the oldest collections of graphic art in the world. 

The Collection includes nearly 450,000 exhibits embracing all forms of graphic art and drawings from early wood and copper engravings, artistic drawings, color wood engravings and book illustrations to contemporary works.  The collection will be displayed under a variety of alternating topics. 

The first exhibition, entitled "Views of the World - From Durer  to Picasso" will open on April 23, 2004.  The main exhibition is expected to be "Rembrandt - The Dresden Drawings."   The Dresden Rembrandt collection is one of the most important in the world and will be exhibited in 2004 for the first time in over 40 years.  The exhibition is scheduled to run from August 6, 2004 to October 3, 2004.

It will also be possible to compare many of these drawings to paintings in the permanent collection at the Old Master Picture Gallery.

Between 1723 and 1729, the Saxon-Polish Elector, King Augustus the Strong, had rooms in the western wing of Dresden Palace converted into a splendid public treasure museum.   Because the rooms were painted green, they soon became known as the "Green Vaults."  This is where Augustus kept the jewelry and goldsmith's art he acquired, as well as works of art made from ivory, stone carvings and bronze figurines.  

In September 2004, this exhibition will return to its original home in Dresden Palace.  The exhibition will include rare drinking vessels from medieval times as well as items from the Renaissance and early Baroque era along with items made by artisans in the court of King Augustus.  

Perhaps the finest example of artisan skills are the ivory and ebony figures made by Balthasar Permoser and the unique cabinet items of Johann Melchior Dinglinger, such as the Royal Household of Dehli." These items currently attract more than a half million visitors a year. 

It is important to note that Dresden's "new beginning" is based on one of the most important cultural heritages in European history.   To this end, in a perfect world, the media that so widely reported the flooding of 2002, would have given equal time to informing the world that Dresden was now fully restored and better than ever!

The Old Town, or historical center of  Dresden, is located on the south bank of the Elbe, at a place where the river makes a graceful bend.  Throughout  the ages, the area was heavily fortified and under this protection, commerce and culture flourished in the Saxon Capital.    

Today, the Dresden cityscape along the south bank of the Elbe is an attractive ensemble of  classic architectural styles.   In spite of the destruction during the Second World War, the Old City of Dresden has carefully preserved its original character .   Further, the location of the Saxon State Parliament and the Town Hall are strong indications that the Old City has retained its historic political viability.  

Many of the institutions that form the essence of  Dresden's art and cultural heritage are located within this historic quarter.  Some notable examples follow:

The Zwinger Palace
An outstanding example of Late Baroque architecture in Germany, it was built in 1710 - 1728  by the architect Pöppelmann, in cooperation with the sculptor Permoser.   It was originally designed as an orangery and a setting for court festivities and later, used for exhibitions.  Construction of the Semper Gallery took place in 1847 - 1855.   The Zwinger is home to the Old Masters Picture Gallery, the Armoury (Rüstkammer), Porcelain Collection, Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon and Zoological Museum.

The Semper Opera House

Built 1838-41 by Gottfried Semper. Gutted by fire in 1869. Rebuilt 1871-78 in High Renaissance style according to Semper´s plans by his son Manfred. The house was completely destroyed in 1945 and reopened in 1985 after extensive reconstruction.  It is the only theater in Germany that bears the name of its architect.

The history of court music in Dresden dates to the 15th century.   The "Hofcantorey" choir and orchestra founded in 1548 started a tradition which continues to this very day.  Dresden is the home of important orchestras, such as the Staatskapelle and the Dresden Philharmonic.  In the Dresden Semper Opera House, audiences can enjoy a unique blend of tradition and contemporary music culture.

The Staatskapelle Orchestra is one of the leading orchestras in the world and occupies a prominent place in the musical life of the city.   With its 145 musicians, it not only accompanies productions of the State Opera Company, but also maintains its own extensive concert calendar.    The Dresden Philharmonic, the second world-class orchestra at home in Dresden, devotes its activities not only to regular concerts and tours, both at home and abroad, but also to intensive cultivation of chamber music traditions and to musical education.   Special emphasis is given to the works of Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms, Bruckner and Tschaikovsky, as well as to contemporary compositions.

The Royal Palace

Heavily damaged in 1945, reconstruction commenced in 1989 and is nearing its ultimate completion in 2006, the City's 800th anniversary.  The Palace was first mentioned in local history over 700 years ago.    Originally constructed as a palace, with four wings built in the late 15th century. In the mid 16th century it was enlarged in Renaissance-style only to be destroyed by fire in 1701 and rebuilt under Augustus the Strong.   At the turn of the 20th century, extensive alterations in Neo-Renaissance style were carried out to mark the 800th anniversary of the Wettin dynasty.

The Cathedral
This, largest church in Saxony, was built 1738-54 in Baroque style by the Italian Gaetano Chiaveri.   Cathedral of the Dresden-Meissen Diocese since 1980.   The richly decorated interior includes a Rococo pulpit by Permoser, the altarpiece is the work of Anton Raffael Mengs (1751), the Rococo pulpit was made by Balthasar Permoser (1722), the organ by Gottfried Silbermann (1755) and the Pietà of Dresden china by Friedrich Press (1973).

In the crypt, you will find the sarcophagus of the Wettins and a case containing the heart of Augustus the Strong.

Altmarket Square
The large rectangular market-place has been the heart of the town since Dresden’s foundation, and was mentioned for the first time in a document in 1370. Markets, festivities, tournaments and games were staged here and important historical events also turned the Altmarkt square into one of the social centres in town.

During the bombing raids of February 1945, the historical Altmarkt square was completely destroyed. Reconstruction on a revised ground plan began in 1953.  The rebuilding of residential and business premises referred to historical elements – continuous bay-windows, sectionalized plaster-sandstone facades, dormer windows, saddleback roofs and adornment.   

These buildings – today classified as a historical monument - form the east and west boundaries of the Altmarkt square.   At the northern front of the square the Kulturpalast (Palace of Culture), a multifunctional site for culture was built in 1969.  The development of the southern side of Altmarkt square has begun in the recent years and remodeling of the complete area is planned. Today, Altmarkt square is once again used for seasonal markets and events. One highlight, among others, is the annual Dresden Christmas Market - which is one of the oldest in Germany.

The Albertinum
Built 1884-87 by Carl Adolf Canzler as a museum and archive on the foundations of the former arsenal.  Currently, it houses the Picture Gallery "New Masters,"  the Sculpture Collection, and special exhibitions.

The New Quarter

The quarter on the northern banks of the Elbe is called Neustadt.  After a disastrous fire in 1685, the quarter - which had formally been incorporated into the City of Dresden - was systematically rebuilt as the “New Town near Dresden,” the Neustadt quarter.

The baroque reconstruction produced attractive streets and sites which are still in daily use in the area around Königstrasse.   The entrance to “Inner Neustadt” is the Neustädter Markt with the equestrian statue of the Saxon elector and Polish king Frederick August I, the “Golden Horseman.”  Beyond the statue, is the beginning of the Hauptstrasse, the main street of the historical quarter.

The northernmost adjoining district is called the "Outer Neustadt," a residential district with preserved historical architecture from the turn of the century.  In the past decade, a manifold cultural scene has developed in the narrowly built streets. Today the Outer Neustadt between Königsbrücker Strasse and Lutherplatz square has numerous restaurants, extensive variety of shopping and cultural opportunities.

Shopping in Dresden

Shopping in Dresden offers the visitor designer fashions, luxury brands, arts and antiques in thoroughly enjoyable surroundings.   Looking for upscale department stores?  Try Prager Strasse in the Old Town (Altstadt).  This cosmopolitan boulevard is famous for it's architecture, fountains and colorful gardens behind its small hotels. On the Altmarkt, at the end of Prager Strasse, you can visit  the newly opened ‘Altmarkt-Galerie’ with 100 shops, cafés and restaurants on four levels, covering an area of more than 25,000 metres.

In Dresden’s fashionable Baroque district centered on Königstrasse, there are no fewer than fifteen galleries and  dozens of upscale retailers, including designer fashions at  Gabriele Hafner and  Mode - Villa.  Prisco Passage is a new and very chic Italian Piazza filled with shops offering fine fashion and offerings to those interested in the art of gourmet cooking.

For the epicure, a visit to the Neustader Markthalle ,Germany's finest market hall is a must.  This is a showcase for the best of the regions produce, international favorites, specialty foods, wines and spirits.   This Victorian Era gem was built in 1899 and remains resplendent in the intricacies of its wrought iron railings, decorated iron staircases and atmospheric lanterns.   Also on the Neustadt side of the Elbe, the Hauptstrasse pedestrian area is an attractive shopping area between the Old and New City districts.   

Dresden has more than 500 restaurants.  So there are restaurants featuring international cuisines from Italian, French, to Russian in addition to those with kitchens devoted to Saxon gastronomy.  

A great way to get acquainted with Dresden and its environs, is to take an excursion on one of the vintage paddle wheel steamers operated by Saxon Steamship Company.   A variety of cruises are available from short journeys to Pillnitz Palace to panorama tours through "Saxon Switzerland."   There are two local narrow gauge railways, one of which the Grossen Garten Park Railway, will take you on a tour through the largest of Dresden's many parks.

There's no question, that anniversary celebrations in 2006, will make for a very special year.  But there can be little doubt that a visit to Dresden today will be anything less than a thoroughly enjoyable and fulfilling experience. 

We are grateful to Dresden Tourism for providing the information and graphics used in this article.

Links related to this article:

Dresden Tourism   

The Frauenkirsche 

The Dresden Royal Palace 

Dresden International Congress Centre 

The German National Tourist Office 

Lufthansa German Airline