College Tourist City Guide to Dresden, Germany
Dresden: Bombastic Baroque Beauty faces Grungy Colorful Scene Quarter Across the River Elbe
People have gone back to calling Dresden the “Florence on the Elbe” but the city has had a tumultuous 800 years of history. The city which is divided in two by the river Elbe was the residence of Saxon royalty since the 15th century and gained it’s trademark architectural beauty in the baroque era. August the Strong was the indulgent absolute ruler who turned Dresden into the gold dust and sandstone metropolis of his dreams.
Dresden is also known for a darker period of its history. It was arguably the most destroyed city during the Second World War. When it was bombed in February of 1945 the city burned and bled and became a symbol of losing Nazi Germany.
After the war ended Dresden fell under Russian occupation and later became one of the major cities in Communist East Germany. Many of the old baroque beauties stayed ruins and never “emerged out of the rubble” as East Germany’s national anthem promised. Pragmatic socialist concrete structures popped up all over the city instead and many of the historic buildings were only restored after reunification in 1990. Since then Dresden is the capital of the state of Saxony. Today, it’s once again a cultural metropolis that is admired by tourists and the pride of it’s locals.
What to See:
Theaterplatz is a central square in Dresden’s old town. Usually, this is where tourists start their sightseeing in the city. Surrounding it are the Semperoper which is the beautiful opera house, the catholic Hofkirche, and the Zwinger.
Remember August the strong who was mentioned in the introduction? The Zwinger was one of his show-off properties, a treasure chest of sorts. To this day it houses several exhibits which show off the Saxon ruler’s extravagant collections. One is the Gemädegalerie Alte Meister, an art collection of old masters with pieces like Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” and Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus.” The entrance fee for students is 9 €.
This protestant church has a unique look of fresh cut sandstone contrasted with old charcoal stones. A pile of rubble for over forty years after World War Two, the rebuilding of the church was completed in 2005 using some of the historic stones amongst the new ones. It is free for visitors.
After walking around the old town’s cobblestone streets the park “Großer Garten” is a nice place to sit down in the grass and get some rest. You can either enjoy the calming effect of the symmetrically arranged flower beds or take a ride on the Parkeisenbahn, the park’s tiny narrow-gauge railway.
There are a number of small baroque castles along the slopes of the Elbe. There are tours to visit all of them but Schloss Pillnitz is definitely the gem among them. The Chinese-style castle was commissioned by – who else – August the Strong. Entrance to the park and the historic grow houses costs 1 € for students. The museums inside the castle will set you back 6 €.
Dresden’s Neustadt (new quarter) is the neighborhood that seems like a magnet to the young, hip and artsy. It has the highest density of bars and restaurants in the city. The Kunsthofpassage is a maze of inner courtyards redeveloped by artists. It is home to several little boutiques, shops and a café.
The Schwebebahn is a small suspension railway built in 1901 that runs up and down the Elbe steeps. It’s located in Loschwitz which along with Weißer Hirsch and Bühlau are neighborhoods full of old mansions from the late 19th/early 20th century. These are absolutely gorgeous and in some cases still quite exclusive neighborhoods that are a joy to wander through. A return trip on the whimsical Schwebebahn costs 4 €.
Fun for Free:
A lot of the things already mentioned are free: wandering through the Altstadt (old town), hanging out in Großer Garten or exploring the Neustadt (new town) and Kunsthofpassage.
In the summer the Elbwiesen, the meadows on the river banks of the Elbe are a popular hang out spot. People lounge around on blankets and there is a bike path that runs along the river for the active crowd. During the summer months there is a huge open air movie theatre that also doubles as a concert venue. If you can’t afford tickets the concerts are often visible from the nearby bridge and the sound carries over if you’re just hanging out nearby.
What to Eat:
For a quick lunch on the go German bakeries offer a ton of delicious carbohydrates. Emil Reimann is a local chain with shops all over the city.
The Neustadt has an intense variety of foods from all over the world. Cheap but good eats can be found at Curry & Co on Louisenstraße which offers the best Currywurst outside of Berlin or at a Kebab shop like Babos Dönerpoint at the corner of Katharinenstraße and Alaunstraße. Tiki Bar is a chill café and bar that serves great ice cream. It’s in the Hechtviertel, the neighborhood adjacent to the Neustadt in the West.
For a fancier setting and some killer Italian try Il Campagnola near the Schwebebahn in Loschwitz.
Saxon potato soup (Kartoffelsuppe) is a great lunch option. A local type of cake worth a try is Eierschecke. During Christmas time everyone goes crazy over Dresdner Christstollen, a kind of fruit cake.
The Neustadt is the place to be after dark. There are so many great places and bars to chose from. Great ones are Wohnzimmer for the cozy vintage living room ambiance, Blah Blah Cafe for the cheapest cocktails or Bon Voyage for the live music.
Check out if there are any great bands playing Alter Schlachthof which is an old slaughterhouse turned concert venue. What would Kurt Vonnegut think?
There are also many options to dance the night away. Kraftwerk Mitte, Downtown and Club Mensa are just three of them. Katy’s Garage is well liked among the Alternative crowd.
The transit system in Dresden is the DVB. It is recognizable by its bright yellow signs. A lot of trams and busses are yellow as well. Additionally there are city trains and ferries. Students enrolled in one of Dresden’s universities generally own the semester ticket. Those who don’t have to pay full fare. A day pass is 6 €. The Dresden Card for two days costs 30 € and includes entry to 13 museums.
People in Dresden are “gemütlich” which means generally, they tend to hurry less than your average city folk. They also tend to be quite proud of their city. Grossly generalizing, German’s avoid overt display of emotion. Loud and overly enthusiastic (American) tourists may receive an eye roll or a good-natured chuckle but will certainly stick out.
Also important to note – most shops in Germany are closed on Sundays.