Dresden: Where Beauty Has Risen From Carnage

9 May 2015

I am midway down the thin alley of Kleine Brudergasse when the Busmannkapelle puts in an appearance. A phantom amid the feast of Baroque architecture that makes up most of Dresden’s central Altstadt (Old Town), this modern chapel is under construction, its pale simplicity mildly out of sync with the grandiosity around it.

It also tells a sorrowful story, designed as a memorial to the Sophienkirche – a pretty, 13th-Century church that was destroyed in the Second World War firebombing of Dresden and, unlike several surrounding structures, never rebuilt.

It is 70 years since the infamous Allied air attacks that turned one of Europe’s cultural landmarks – the capital of Saxony, often referred to as the Florence of the Elbe – into a blackened ruin, and killed about 25,000 of its inhabitants. And yet, seven decades on, eastern Germany’s most beautiful dot on the map is not a city that dwells on the past. At least, not the wartime version of it.

 Dresden's ornate Semperoper. Picture: Getty Images

Wander its heart and you’ll find many of the most elaborate buildings dreamed up during its halcyon 18th and 19th Centuries have been recreated to reflect their former glory. The Semperoper, on Theaterplatz, entirely resembles the opera house that opened on the square in 1841, though this fresh incarnation was completed in 1985. Alongside, the Zwinger – one of the palaces crafted for Friedrich Augustus I, Saxony’s flamboyant, 18th Century ruler – could be the 1728 original, not a 1963 copy.

Of course, visitors can listen to the echoes of 1945 that resound in other parts of Dresden – not least its churches. But this is also a city of scope and style whose charms play out in three distinct areas – the Altstadt, on the south bank of the Elbe, plus the Neustadt (New Town) on the north side, and its cool neighbour, the Aussere Neustadt (Outer New Town).

Dresden suffered badly in the 20th Century, but is a bright image of resurgence in the 21st.

Think Local

Dresden’s story is perhaps best told by those who call it home. Dresden Walks proffers tours on foot led by local residents. Its Old Town jaunt (about $17) departs from Schlossplatz every day at noon and dissects the city of Friedrich Augustus I, along with the grim events of 1945 and their aftermath.

 Looking across the Elbe towards Dresden's Old Town. Picture: Getty Images

A separate walk that explores the rather lighter-hearted Aussere Neustadt can be arranged as a private tour for the same price, but for a minimum of five people.

Drink

Aussere Neustadt is Dresden’s nightlife heartland – especially on the buzzy strip of Alaunstrasse. Bar 84, at No 66, revels in potent cocktails like the Monza (vodka, cassis, grapefruit; about $6.50). Nearby, at 43 Louisenstrasse, the Louisen Garten is a traditional German beer garden that serves up beers from $3.50 and chunky bratwurst for much the same.


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Eat

Alaunstrasse also stretches to culinary flair – partly in the shape of Lila Sosse, a local favourite, where braised beef cheeks come with mashed potato for $19.50.

Elsewhere in the Aussere Neustadt, Planwirtschaft, at 20 Louisenstrasse, peers back fondly at the Iron Curtain era, with old radios and antique typewriters littering a room where you suspect the walls are listening. The menu includes breaded pork cutlets for $14.

Spend

The Neustadt is an intriguing shopping enclave – thanks, not least, to the vast Neustadter Markthalle. Open daily except Sunday, this covered market on Metzer Strasse dates back to 1899. Seriously damaged in 1945, it has returned to life as a pocket of stalls selling everything from flowers to toys.

As enticing is the Aussere Neustadt’s Kunsthofpassage, an arcade with entrances at Gorlitzer Strasse 21-25 and Alaunstrasse 70, full of boutiques. These include Ultramaringelb, with its quirky jewellery.

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This article was written by Chris Leadbeater from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Chris Leadbeater

Chris Leadbeater has travelled to six of the seven continents in the past 10 years (Antarctica still eludes him). He won Travel Writer of the Year in 2012 and writes for the Daily Mail and The Independent. You can find him tweeting at twitter.com/leadbeaterchris.