Dresden always sounded a dull and dreary place to me, though I’d never heard or read a thing about it. The name just conjured images of heavy industry and possibly sweaty basement clubs.
I can tell you now that Dresden is at once an exceptionally beautiful and young, lively city. It can be neatly split into two halves. On the South bank of the Elbe lies the Neustadt and surrounding old town. The 17th century Saxon king Augustus the Strong transformed this part into an explosion of baroque grandeur. He saw what Louis 14th was up to and thought the man had the right idea, apparently. But as those of you less ignorant than myself might already know, the old town isn’t old at all – the city was comprehensively reduced to rubble in a 1945 allied bombing raid of questionable military necessity. So everything has been painstakingly rebuilt to the original specification.
The Frauenkirche, for example, was only reopened ten years ago (kirche means church). The fresh sandstone facade is freckled with recovered original fire-blackened blocks and let me tell you, nothing looks as imposingly gothic as scorched sandstone (other buildings almost fully comprise of it). The new cross on the high altar was wrought by a Coventry silversmith whose father flew in the 1945 bombing. Poignant.
Elsewhere is Zwinger Palace, Augustus’ little Versaille and now packed with his enormous collection of artworks, porcelain (imported from the Far East before its recipe was cracked by one of his alchemists) and scientific instruments (celestial globes, huge concave burning mirrors and a terrifying stuffed bear cub whose eyes roll and hands twitch according to intricate clockwork).
There is also the Kreuzkirche, begrudgingly rebuilt by the communist administration but whose efforts seemed to end once the exterior was done and the interior was of more or less conventional shape. The result is rough stone walls I’ve never seen in a church before and is quite striking.
Over the river is the happening, young district surrounding Louisentrasse. The area is littered with independent fast food joints and every fifth door leads into a bar. As I walked to one of these people were hanging around on the street, sitting on abandoned furniture and drinking outside what looked like a derelict recording studio. The East Germans really know how to do cool.