The delights of Dresden
My husband and I loved to travel. Each new place had memories to create. Paris had its vistas, Vienna its music and Fakarava Atoll had wonderful tiny pigs that ran in and out of the houses!
If you have accessed this site then you obviously have a love of beautiful things and are an admirer of intricate and exquisite craftsmanship. For you Dresden beckons. We were only there for four days and there was much else that we would have loved to have seen but time did not allow. We had lingered too long on our journey across Germany, fascinated by the history of the Wartburg, visiting Erfurt, lingering in the Thuringer Wald, stopping to see the small church at Arnstadt where Bach had his first appointment as a choirmaster, stopping off at Weimar on this Luther, Goethe, Schiller trail, to spend longer. No regrets, it was magical and I hope to go back to Dresden to visit the parts missed.
But in four days you can do so much. The city is so visitor friendly and the principle city sites close to one another but with an excellent tram service if you want to go more than a short walk.
Tempting though it is, don’t try to do everything. Instead take time to savour the sites you particularly want to see and enjoy them to the full.
Frauenkirche and Hofkirche
The Frauenkirche, with its dome bearing the cross, gifted by Coventry, and dominating the city skyline is wonderful. It is beautiful in the simplicity of its decoration. Try to attend a service. We were fortunate to be there on Easter Sunday, the first Easter after its reopening and the music was magnificent. But also take time to go to the Catholic Hofkirche. The interior, resplendent in white and gold, has an organ built by Silbermann, one of the last he built and truly magnificent. That of the Frauenkirche, also by Silbermann was destroyed. The statues, artwork and carving are wonderful.
A Milk Bar and a Cigarette Factory!
But then so much of Dresden amazes in its visual impact. Take a tram from near the Zwinger, one change necessary, to the Pfunds Molkerei on Bautzner Strasse. Why you may ask would anyone include a milk bar in their itinerary even if it is more truly a dairy selling cheeses and local specialities as well as milk. It is incredible! Almost every surface is covered in hand painted tiles, those on the floor simple geometric ones, but the ceiling is a tracery of blue and white and gold with depictions of mythical creatures. Cherubs and garlands abound on the friezes, there are dairy and other scenes depicted around the walls and the counter is sumptuously gilded and decorated.
As you make your way there look out of the left–hand side of the tram. There is a spectacular dome on what appears to be a mosque, taller than you would expect and bearing the name Yenidze around the base of the dome. At night the latter is illuminated and its rich colours show, whilst in the daytime it is its tall walls and spires which draw the focus. It is not a mosque. It was the Salem Aleikum cigarette factory. No factory was ever so visually impressive.
Where a cigarette factory and a milk bar astonish you may ask, “What must the palaces be like?”
Go to the Zwinger. Blackened reclaimed stones have been used in its rebuilding and where there were stones missing they have been replaced with no attempt to clean the old or blend in the new, so that there is a mix of black and white.
This beautiful baroque building houses treasures in abundance. Limited time meant I could not go to Meissen and its porcelain factory but in the Zwinger I could admire the products of that town. The Zwinger’s Glockenspiel Pavilion has forty bells of Meissen china and it houses in one of its museums, the Porcelain Collection. It was established by Augustus the Strong who renounced his protestant faith to become a Catholic and gain the throne of Poland and, thereafter, indulged in collecting all manner of porcelain, art works, jewels, automatons, curiosities et al, regardless of cost. Whilst his extravagance may merit a frown I felt a gratitude for his patronage of science, art, craftsmanship and architecture which has bestowed such a rich and wonderful legacy. The Porcelain Collection is diverse and lavish, not limited to Meissen but also offering oriental and French pieces, the opulence of some of them, breath-taking. The Meissen amazes not only in its beauty but in the sheer quantity on display.
I lingered rather a long time in there but still managed to visit the Old Masters Gallery, housed in the Semper Gallery. The collection, predictably begun by Augustus, really merited a longer visit than I made. It houses masterpieces of the Renaissance, including Rafael’s Madonna which drew the crowds, works by the Flemish and Dutch masters as well as many works by German painters but for me my strongest memories are of the exquisite painting by Liotard of “the Chocolate Girl” which I will always associate with Dresden.
For those of a scientific persuasion the Museum and Physics Salon beckons but again I had to move on in order to target those exhibits which I was determined not to miss.
Riches beyond compare
However long you spend in Dresden, set aside plenty of time to enjoy some of the other museums and in particular, all that the Green Vault has to offer. It should not be hurried. It houses riches beyond compare. The materials used in production of the exhibits are the richest possible, sheer opulence and craftsmanship on display which no superlatives can adequately describe. There are fascinating and wonderful automatons and time-pieces, spell-binding in their ingenuity and imagination. Ivory, gold, silver and jewels almost dull the senses as one exhibit outshines the next. It is almost too much; you are sated so that fine pieces and items are passed by as more elaborate confections catch the eye. Most elaborate and most incredible are the products of the court goldsmith, Dinglinger, who produced piece after piece, assisted by his brothers and many assistants, each one seeming more lavish than the last, to please his royal master. Such treasures! I stood before the case containing his commissioned golden coffee service, wonderfully enamelled, purely decorative, the goldsmith’s artfully displayed. Then I came to the table piece, “The Court of Delhi on the Birthday of the Grand Mogul Aureng-Zeb”. Told that it contained more than four thousand diamonds and scores of emeralds and rubies I did not attempt to count but stood, spell-bound. It was incredible, indulgent, but amazing.
There are so many museums and wonderful exhibits, far too many for one visit and demanding several returns, so that it can become exhausting, hard to take it all in, so relax and take a stroll around the city.
Take a stroll and go out and about
Stop at the mural of the Procession of the Dukes, led by Augustus, the protestant rose trampled underfoot by his horse, as he followed the example of Henry of Navarre in changing faiths to gain a throne.
Do stroll along the river. Enjoy the view from the Brühl Terrace and perhaps take a cruise along the Elbe. It is a wonderful river. It was in full spate after heavy rain when we were there so I could not view the city’s roof-scape from one of the cruise ships. We did, however, visit the Königstein Fortress from which you can enjoy views of the Elbe and also travelled to the Saxon Switzerland National Park and the Bastei, standing on the Bastei Bridge to enjoy panoramic views of the countryside.
In Dresden itself, seek the café in the main square where you can watch the world go by. I forget its name but it is generally crowded and identifiable by the numbers of people looking for a seat. If you wish to dine in an unusual environment go indoors and visit the restaurant, see the bread being made, the costumed staff kneading the dough and then ride a carousel whilst dining! Dresden is full of surprises not least the reasonable charges made in the cafes and restaurants.
Palaces abound in and around the city. There are so many to visit all would have been impossible in so brief a stay. I did go to Moritzburg, a baroque hunting lodge, originally built by the Duke of Moritz but turned into a palace, expanded and lavishly decorated, and you can predict by whom, Augustus again. It sits beautifully on its island, surrounded by woodland and ponds in the town of the same name.
It was a hectic four days.
Opera and Horology
A final recommendation; if you have the time, go to the Semperoper. We had booked but we saw people purchasing tickets on the night of the performance. For me the performance which lasted five and a half hours of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde seemed to pass in a trice. The theatre’s interior is wonderful. You enter a splendid round foyer and progress up one of the staircase vestibules before accessing the auditorium. The colours, the ornate columns, rich velvet curtains, marvellous painted ceilings, wonderful chandeliers are lavish. The auditorium is no less spectacular. Consider the detail. Admire the five minute clock, the time shown in five minute increments. So that the monarch was not distracted by the audience seeking to know the time during the performance, it was placed above the proscenium arch visible to all. It is as an early digital style but with the hours in roman numerals. Made by A. Lange & Söhne, master watchmakers whose home is Saxony, linked by design to their Saxonia model ….I say no more, because if you are watch lovers then it is worthy of your own investigation and you can see more of A. Lange & Söhne’s work in the Mathematics and Physics Salon.
Come and Linger
If you want to visit and stay in style then there is the Kempinski hotel but if you do not want to spend so much but still to be right in the centre of things, the Hilton faces the Procession of the Princes. Both place you in the centre of this wonderful city.
For those who love wonderful art, exquisite craftsmanship, lovely buildings, baroque style and magnificent music, Dresden awaits.