I don’t know what inspired me to go to Dresden; I know what inspired me to travel last weekend, it was 3-weeks non-travel itchy feet. I’m a self-admitted travel addict as of this year. But what actually drew me to the place I can’t even remember. And maybe it was too many weeks gathering dust and not moving that lead me to fall so hard in love with it as a city. Or maybe there is magic dust lying on the streets.
There’s certainly a lot of historical dust in Dresden, it’s breathing with history. The most obviously glowing age of history on display is formed by the intricate stone-carved (and tenderly rebuilt) masterpieces from the time of princes and the Holy Roman Empire. The Semper Oper is world famous- I certainly wish I could have gone in- and is rather impressive from the outside. But it is somewhat swamped by the sheer amount of beauty packed in around it. To one side is the enormous Zwinger, housing the Old Masters Portrait Gallery, the Porcelain Collection and the Mathematics and Physics Museum, all set in the wide stone and marble corridors of the former Princes’ folly and all hugely popular. The courtyard and building are stunning from the outside, probably even more so in summer rather than cold that threatened to remove my fingers every time I went for the camera; I can never get over the intricacy of stone and even plaster carvings, the fantastic detail from materials so apparently unyielding. I also adore the soft, shell-green of the roofs on old buildings like this, their dipping curves blending with the gentile patterns of the sweeping windows. This was an age where detail was worshipped. The view from the balustrade of the Zwinger is also very impressive- Dresden has such a rich and mixed skyline. Spilling over into the breathing space of these two great buildings are also the City Art Collection, the GrünesGewölbe (highly recommended although I haven’t been), Dresden Castle and the Catholic Hofkirche- if you love beauty, history or architecture it’s like an all-you-can eat buffet, and sometimes overwhelming to the point of over-eating (who hasn’t done that before?), sometimes it’s a case of training your eyes to slow down because you can’t possibly take in, not in the short time we were there, everything you want to look at. I would advise I slower wander through and a stop for some tours if you have the time.
We moved onto the Frauen Kirche (Church of Our Lady, I believe), drifting along very Parisian style streets, very light and wide and boutique-esque, nothing like the heavy, dark stone that a lot of eastern Europe is associated with, and you can tell that a regeneration program has really done its work here. On the way we pass the Fürsten Zug, the ‘row of princes’, a yellow tiled wall- transformed from former wall drawings into something more permanent- depicting a historical train of princes and wannabe Kaisers who have lived in and presided over Dresden. I was fascinated by this for how it caught the light and the odd parade of characters who told the story in such a seemingly unassuming street. Then we found our way into the church. Apart from being a blissful release from the freezing temperatures it was like candy inside. I have been in one or two really outstandingly, different and beautiful churches in my life, and this is right up there- it was a delicate blend of soft blue and pink with yellow and white, like the ginger bread house of the religious world; the secret-garden-like balconies train the eye skyward towards the beautiful dome with its glowing star hanging in the center. The view from the top is supposed to be wonderful but you do have to pay.
The next part of history on display is the war history- the whole lot of it. The War History museum, right over the water past Neustadt, is really an impressive place. The setting is grand; a sprawling, white, ex-military establishment with an intimidating entrance and sweeping halls on the inside. There are military vehicles on display (very atmospheric in the grey freeze of January), and various permanent and changing exhibitions on the inside- you could easily spend a whole day there but it’s very good value for money especially with a student card. War museums needn’t be totally depressing, I found this one thoroughly interesting, giving a nice even, unbiased and pretty comprehensive account of war throughout the ages. I especially enjoyed the war and language exhibition. It also makes a difference how things are laid out, and although this was sometimes complicated to follow logically, the space was light and large and the displays were well kept. I especially liked the modern intersection built through the building, enabling you to walk out in a sort of metal cage and view the city skyline from another angle. It ties together Dresden’s history really nicely.
On this side of town you can feel the Eastern-Bloc vibe with the ex-soviet style architecture still very much in evidence. If you look you can see some really interesting old buildings and find some great, young streets. Alaun Street is great for eating, from all cultures and various price ranges, fantastic colours pop out from every building and there are lots of independent bars and vintage clothing shops, and a few bizarre venues for the evenings- it radiated a real Berlin vibe I would love to visit again and peruse at a more leisurely pace. Just off Alaun Street is a cosy, snuggle of little side streets called Kunsthof Passage, which I’d have really liked to visit on a Saturday too (everything is closed on a Sunday). Stepping through the archway at either end is like a warp out of the city into a bohemian community. All the building fronts are decorated with art, right down to the fire escapes, tiny cafes and craft beers shops have tucked themselves here next to art dealers and stationary sellers, tea shops and one-off design clothing boutiques; it’s a window shopper’s or an art lover’s heaven.
I don’t think I even had a fraction of enough time in Dresden, I didn’t even make it out of the city to the porcelain collections, or down the river, or into the beautiful surrounding countryside, but I made it far enough to taste the sugar on my tongue. And I like it. Dresden fuelled the same feeling that Berlin did and I really can’t wait to go back.
*note Dresden is one of the European cities implementing a visitors tax as of Feb 2014- it’s only, I think, €1,60 per night per person, so it’s not huge. But if you’re budgeting it needs accounting for.