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German A-Z travel guide 2019: Dresden

Dresden is the city that rose from the ashes – twice. The first time was late in the 17th century when, after a town fire north of the Elbe, Dresden’s elector-prince August the Strong directed a replanning and rebuilding in Baroque.

The second time was after February 1945, one of the terrible firestorms of World War II bombing. In sustained Allied air raids over two days, tens of thousands of people – citizens and refugees – were killed, giving the world Kurt Vonnegut’s story Slaughterhouse-Five. Much of the city was obliterated and most of its signature buildings suffered grievous damage or were blasted to rubble. The task that faced rebuilders this time took more than 50 years.

The human cost was incalculable. Today about 30,000 is considered a realistic estimate of the death toll, but contemporary estimates were four or five times that. The estimate of bombs dropped is more than 3000 tonnes, the estimate of rubble about 50 million tonnes. Much of this had to be hand-removed by the city’s surviving women, an effort remembered by Walter Reinhold’s Trümmerfrau statue at Rathausplatz.

Before 1945, Dresden was a byword for splendour, largely a legacy of August the Strong and his son, who were patrons of one of the splendid courts of Europe. Their tastes, and those of August II’s first minister Heinrich von Brühl, meant that Saxony’s wealth was lavished on buildings, paintings, artefacts from jewellery to scientific instruments, porcelain and women. Porcelain also financed much of Dresden’s pomp, after the mysterious discovery of a ceramic recipe that delivered the court a manufacturing monopoly at a time when oriental tastes were being cultivated in Europe.

Today’s buildings and rich collections of objects reflect the interests and attention of the Dresden magnates, from painting to science. Along the southern Elbe promenade, an ensemble of art and culture stands restored for posterity. It is hard to do other than marvel and visitors will be inclined to ignore the corruption and politicking that underwrote the accumulation of much of it.

Saxony’s ruling house of Wettin went back centuries to the early medieval margraviate of Meissen. In the 15th century the Wettins became dukes of Saxony with their court at Wittenberg and the line developed two branches with diverse territories.

From the start of the Reformation the Wettins straddled the political and religious divide in the German lands. The Wettin prince Friedrich III, a Catholic, had been an early supporter of Martin Luther and the duke Moritz in the 16th century backed the Holy Roman emperor despite being a declared Lutheran. Moritz’s shrewd course won him distinction as the first Saxon elector prince. One branch of the family unsuccessfully backed an alliance of Lutheran princes against the imperial crown. Late in the 17th century, under August the Strong, the dynasty reached its peak of power. August took the Polish monarchy (with it the Catholic faith) and aspired to imperial power. But the Polish crown was soon lost and – although a Saxon monarchy was declared long afterwards – in the 19th century – it is August’s magnificence that is looked back on as the peak of the Wettin supremacy.

Today, the centuries of power are depicted by the Fürstenzug, a cavalcade mural of princes beginning in the 12th century. It was created in 1870 and recast in 1907, during the reign of the last Saxon king Friedrich August III, and stretches more than 100m along Augustusstraße outside the palace stable yards.

August the Strong, as well as receiving pride of place in the Fürstenzug, is the subject of the equestrian statue Goldener Reiter (1736), depicted as a Roman emperor, overlooking his redesign of the precincts on the northern bank of the Elbe. Originally gilt, the statue was disassembled during World War II for protection and later restored with gold leaf. But the Roman reference – and August’s epithet – are hollow. August’s fascination with the trappings of wealth left him militarily and politically weak despite his personal stature and legendary physical strength.

For visitors, the old ducal palace the Residenzschloß, the pavilion known as the Zwinger and two exquisite Baroque churches, the Frauenkirche (Protestant) and Hokirche (Catholic), have been returned to their opulence. The Residenzschloß central building, the Georgenbau, holds the pride of the state art collections. The Georgenbau’s Renaissance gable faces Schloßplatz, flanked to the west by the main tower Hausmannsturm.

Restoration work on the palace has taken decades, but the main courtyard is largely refinished and the showpiece staircase Englische Treppe has been returned to its old glory. The Fürstengalerie on the first floor displays portraits and busts of Wettin dukes and electors. The treasures of the Saxon court have been reassembled in the two spectacular collections today going by the name Grünes Gewölbe (‘Green Vault‘). The Historisches Grünes Gewölbe is a spectacular array of 3000 precious objects treasured by August the Strong and displayed in restored or reconstructed 18th century rooms. The artistry of the court jewellers staggers the senses. The Neues Grünes Gewölbe holds 1000 other masterpieces of the electors’ treasury, notably Johann Melchior Dinglinger’s bejewelled scene of the court of the mogul Aurangzeb – with almost 5000 diamonds – much to the oriental taste of the elector.

In the Hausmannsturm, the history of German power is charted by the Münzkabinett, assembling hundreds of thousands of coins, medals and notes minted and printed over centuries by myriad German states and principalities. It is an interesting way to reflect on the complicated story of the hundreds of German states and their countless rulers.

In the palace’s Riesensaal is the armoury or Rüstkammer, featuring ornamented pieces in keeping with the splendour of the court. The adjacent Türckische Cammer on the second floor gathers for their artistry priceless Ottoman pieces from the armoury.

The Zwinger (1728), built by Matthäus Daniel Pöppelman for August the Strong, is a rare example of a Rococo pleasure palace, enclosing a courtyard with walls topped by walkways and crowned by the glittering Kronentor. The complex was the scene of the masquerades and costumed revelries of the court, set off by fountains. The restored pavilion near the carillon today houses porcelain treasures. The more recent (19th century) Semperbau now houses artworks. The science and astronomy collection of Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon is also in the precinct.

The reconstruction of the exquisite Frauenkirche at Neumarkt is one of the miracles of Dresden’s reemergence. It was built early in the 18th century as the Protestant church of the Dresden townspeople and a counterpoint to the Catholic Hofkirche, becoming one of Germany’s architectural treasures. Its significance is underlined by the presence of a statue of Martin Luther and his Bible in front. With continuing fundraising and foreign financial help since German reunification, the circular domed church has been resurrected from rubble. The sparse dark stones in its restructured form are reminders that less than half the sandstone remained of George Bähr’s design. The dazzling interiors have been painstakingly restored from photographs. Part of the Baroque townscape has been resurrected around the church.

The Neorenaissance Semperoper has the presence to balance the architecture around Theaterplatz and became a standard for opera house design. Burned in the 19th century, it was redesigned and rebuilt to stage the premieres of Richard Strauss as its predecessor had witnessed the early works of Wagner. When smashed by the bombs of 1945, it was rebuilt for further generations to admire its elegance and matchless acoustics.

The only obvious sign of Dresden’s former defences is below the showpiece Brühlsche Terrasse above the Elbe. The walls hold up the old town and conceal the casemates beneath, a warren of dark tunnels, chambers and caverns that are a contrast to the magnificence above and fascinating to explore.

August the Strong’s plan to replace Dresden’s northern quarter became a personal project and today parts of Hauptstraße and Königstraße give perhaps the best impression of the Baroque city. Stylish residential blocks spared by the 1945 bombing can be seen in a stroll north along the avenue of Hauptstraße. Beyond Palaisplatz in verdant surroundings is August’s Japanische Palais.

Untouched by fires and bombing are the palaces on the fringes of the city. The outsized hunting lodge Schloß Moritzburg is an impressive edifice in ist own right, with the sort of trophied main banquet hall a hunting prince would treasure. But it also boasts a bedroom decorated entirely with more than a million bird feathers. Moritzburg’s location alone is beautiful but the Baroque fittings and interiors demand a visit.

Barockgarten Großsedlitz south-east of the city was August II’s finest Baroque garden when its buildings were taken over for the encampment of Frederick the Great during his invasion of Saxony in 1756 and brief occupation of Dresden. Frederick found the arrangement comfortable enough, knowing a thing or two about architecture. Like many of the Augusts’ projects, the site went unfinished but the garden, fountains and sculptures are worth seeing, although only the so-called Friedrichsschlößchen and the orangeries remain of the buildings.

Starker, but just as intriguing, are the castles Festung Königstein, and Burg Stolpen, where countess Cosel was eventually locked up forlornly for life. Both are day or half-day visits from the city.

Königstein above the Elbe, long the site of a castle, attained notoriety as the place where the enemies of the Dresden court were imprisoned. But, during the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great’s attack forced August II to retreat here for safety, to become a virtual prisoner in his own castle. Today the visitor, apart from a spectacular view of the river, the Erzgebirge mountains and the Czech frontier, can visit the armoury, artillery and prison museums, arsenal, cellars, garrison church and commandant’s house and stables. After an S-Bahn train ride, a bus is the minimum assistance travellers will need to avoid a demanding climb of half an hour or more to the castle.

Dresden’s oriental influences were most completely realised at Schloß und Park Pillnitz on the Elbe bank south-east of the city centre. In the 1720s August the Strong transformed a Renaissance manor, ordering new pleasure palaces and the laying out of superb gardens. He liked to arrive on the river in the cabin of a gondola, which is on display in the park. The complex was further extended with English, Dutch and Chinese gardens and a palm house.

Not all the wonders of Dresden could be rebuilt or restored, even after 1945. But we have two priceless images of the past, documents of the city’s cultural and architectural peak at the end of the Augustian age. The mid-18th century canvas of the court painter Bernardo Bellotto (who as ‘Canaletto’ assumed his uncle’s name) shows the Elbe’s south bank with a skyline not unlike today’s.

The other image – and oddly it is contemporary – is the extraordinary “panometer” vision by the Berlin artist Yadegar Asisi, showing Dresden as it must have looked from the Hofkirche tower in 1756. This imagined moment was just before the height of the Seven Years War, when Frederick the Great’s Prussian army entered Dresden and, again, much was burned as the result of the fighting.

This point marked the start of Dresden’s decline and Prussia’s eclipse of Saxony. It also constituted the stern Frederick’s comment on the lasciviousness of the court on the Elbe. Perhaps the cultured Frederick was jealous, but his state philosophy always was that wealth was meant for building and equipping armies, not frittering away on endless jewellery, fine clothes and masquerades – and certainly not on women. It is Frederick’s sister who recorded a claim about August the Strong’s supposed tally of 365 illegitimate children.

Another pleasant day trip is Meissen, seat of Saxon rulers before Dresden, which was overshadowed by its successor in all respects except porcelain manufacture. But its legacy is a medieval townscape of beauty. Its late Gothic Frauenkirche with its porcelain carillon is just off the main town square Markt. On the citadel Burgberg, best reached via the castle bridge, is the late Gothic castle Albrechtsburg and the late medieval cathedral.

The Raven Guide to Dresden will be updated early in 2020, with new sections and attractions.

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Great Cities of Germany

Füssen

Füssen travel guide PDF in 3 pages

The tiny town at the foot of the Alps has its own medieval castle and Baroque monastery as well as being the jumping-off point for visits to the famous Romantic castles nearby.

● How to visit Schloß Neuschwanstein and Schloß Hohenschwangau

● The Wieskirche, a UNESCO-listed Rococo pilgrimage church, is a short ride away

● The town’s own castle, churches and museums

Hyperlink access to essential tourist and accommodation information

Aachen

Aachen travel guide PDF in 5 pages

The Romans developed the hot springs at Aachen, then 1200 years ago the Frankish king Charlemagne set up his court there and the town became the centre of his empire. The 2018 Raven Guide to Aachen is available for free download now.

● A guide to Charlemagne's church, which grew to become the present Aachen cathedral, one of the first world heritage sites

● The Roman and medieval survivals of the city and details of the city tour

● Essential services with hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Eisenach

Eisenach travel guide PDF in 4 pages

The new Raven guide to the Thuringian town, birthplace of Bach and hiding place of Martin Luther early in his revolt against the established church. It is also the site of one of Germany’s great medieval castles, with links to another great German composer, Wagner, and a centre of automobile making.

● Guide to the Wartburg castle

● Guides to the Bach museum of his life and work and museum of car manufacture

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Lutherstadt Wittenberg

Wittenberg travel guide PDF in 4 pages

More than 500 years after Martin Luther's Reformation, this free guide covers the place where it all began. The town was the cradle of the religious movement that threw off the structures of the Catholic church and shaped new ideas and ways of worship, but also more than a century of bitter conflict that shaped Germany forever.

● Key sites, now world heritage monuments, include Luther's house and the castle

● The church where Luther's revolt began and churches Luther and his associates preached

● Hyperlinks to further tourist information and to websites for city accommodation

Bamberg

Bamberg travel guide PDF in 5 pages

The layout of the UNESCO heritage-listed city centre and a range of Baroque and medieval architecture makes Bamberg one of Germany’s most beautiful cities.

● The Romanesque cathedral, the opulent bishops’ Residenz palace, and its Renaissance predecessor dominate the old town

● The old town hall in the middle of the river Regnitz and the mysterious statue Bamberger Reiter attract millions of travellers

● Summaries of 35 historic sites and museums

● Information on tours, parks, food and the arts

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Trier

Trier travel guide PDF in 7 pages

The Roman Trier was at one time second only to Rome itself. It was home to one of the most powerful Roman emperors, Constantine the Great, and later to Karl Marx. Signs of its past greatness remain for travellers to marvel at. Germany’s oldest city – and one of its oldest cathedrals – remain and are world-heritage listed.

● Read about the ancient Roman city gate Porta Nigra, the Roman bath complexes, a well-preserved amphitheatre and Constantine’s former imperial palace, plus the buildings of the medieval city

● The guide includes more than 30 sites, churches and museums, with essential services, *transport links, transit and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg travel guide PDF in 4 pages

Completely walled with more than 40 towers, the cobbled pedestrian streets of the Romantic Road town perched above the Tauber valley are little changed since the 17th century, with medieval and Renaissance half-timbered houses and stone churches.

● The guide includes 17 sites and museums and an excursion to the Franconian open-air museum at nearby Bad Windsheim

● Essential services, transport links, food tips and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and websites for many of the town’s small accommodation houses

Potsdam

Potsdam travel guide updated for 2019

Potsdam is a curious but beautiful mixture of Prussian palaces and military buildings established by its martial rulers. The Stadtschloß palace was the first royal residence and others gradually multiplied in the city's extensive parklands over 250 years. The city’s minorities grew with waves of immigration, leaving the Dutch quarter Holländisches Viertel, a Bohemian district and the Russian colony Siedlung Alexandrowka and its tiny Orthodox church. This guide offers:

● An introduction to the delicate Rococo palace Schloß Sanssouci and the palaces and pavilions of Park Sanssouci with brief histories

● The story of Potsdam’s ornate city gates, its Baroque streetscapes and 15 museums

● Details of essential services, transport links and fares, accommodation, food and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Regensburg

Regensburg travel guide PDF in 6 pages

The streets, archways and buildings of this medieval city, which grew from remains of a Roman legionary camp, remain. The range of ancient monuments and its streetscapes justify Regensburg’s world heritage listing.

● One of Germany’s classic Gothic cathedrals, several medieval churches, rare Gothic tower houses and one of Germany’s oldest stone bridges

Almost 30 sites and museums, including the nearby Walhalla gallery of great Germanic figures of history

● Information on essential services, transport links and urban transit and fares plus listings of travel essentials

● Hyperlink access to accommodation websites and further tourist information

Würzburg

Würzburg travel guide PDF of 7 pages

The prince-bishops who controlled Würzburg for centuries built wealth, power and influence expressed in Baroque by their huge palace, the UNESCO world-heritage Residenz. Their medieval castle still commands the city, reached by a stone bridge.

● Summaries of Würzburg’s grand residences, the medieval cathedral, churches and other sites

Museums and galleries including one of Europe’s prominent Jewish museums

Tours, essential services, transport links, transit services and fares and food tips

● Hyperlink access to accommodation and further tourist information websites

Passau

Passau travel guide PDF in 4 pages

The border city of three rivers includes the Baroque cathedral of St Stephan, with one of the world’s largest organs, the fortress Veste Oberhaus and the well preserved old town.

● Descriptions of 13 sites and museums, including the exhibits of Passau’s Roman past and history of glass manufacture

● Details of essential services, transport links and urban buses including fares, accommodation, food, tours and spectacular views

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Dinkelsbühl

Dinkelsbühl travel guide PDF in 2 pages

This short guide covers a tiny medieval walled town, left unchanged by a royal decree and now a favourite of artists and a small number of travellers.

● Dinkelsbühl’s town walls and many Gothic and Renaissance buildings keep its atmosphere alive

● Small hotels, pensions and restaurants complement the historical scene

● Essential services, tourist and transport information are included with hyperlinks to accommodation

Augsburg

Augsburg travel guide PDF in 6 pages

The wealth and influence of Augsburg’s powerful families brought the Renaissance to Germany at a time when the city was also the site of key events of the Reformation.

● The home of Germany’s onion-domed towers, museums with magnificent works of art, and one of the beautiful Renaissance streets of Germany, the Maximilianstraße

Guides to more than 30 sites, including monuments to Roman settlement

Transport links and fares, food and tours

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Heidelberg

Heidelberg travel guide PDF in 7 pages

The most common description for Heidelberg is Romantic. This comes from its valley location, half-ruined castle and the towered stone bridge crossing the river Neckar.

● Explore Heidelberg’s cobbled streets in search of the essence of the city – Germany’s oldest university, the churches, monuments to its religious struggles, and its restaurants and cafes

● Discover the castle, its history, and thefunicular railway that makes the climb – and vantage points above the city – much easier

● Several budget hotel and private hostels that help make Heidelberg accommodation affordable, plus hyperlink access to other accommodation and tourist information sites

● Guides to 27 sites and museums

Goslar

Goslar travel guide PDF in 5 pages

The medieval town has hundreds of colourful half-timbered houses, Romanesque churches and the Kaiserpfalz, one of Germany’s oldest palaces. Its ancient Rammelsberg mines were the source of its wealth and are partly responsible for the town’s world heritage status.

19 sites and museums including the finest town houses

● A town walk and Rammelsberg tour

● Information on transport links plus listings of travel essentials and hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

● An excursion to the nearby half-timbered Harz town Wernigerode

Lübeck

Lübeck travel guide PDF in 7 pages

Trade made Lübeck the centre of the Baltic and the red-brick Gothic old town its merchant wealth built is now UNESCO world heritage-listed. Its churches, town houses and civic institutions are preserved and restored.

● The commercial and civic culture of the city through guides to 30 sites, museums and galleries

Tours, the best views and food options with other travel essentials

● Information on transport links and transit services including fares

● Hyperlinks to further tourist information and to websites for city accommodation

Berlin

Berlin travel guide PDF updated for 2019

Get 34 pages of things to do in Berlin free. Berlin is used to crisis, novelty and immigrants – so to visit Berlin is to visit many Berlins. The city that the Enlightenment and industrial progress created survived years of destruction and division.

● Descriptions of places to visit in Berlin including more than 60 historic sites, with guides to walking sections of the Berlin Wall, its museums and its memorials

● A complete guide to what to do in Berlin, including tours, cruises, parks and the best views

● Separate sections for the districts Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Schöneberg-Tempelhof, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Spandau, with local food and accommodation lists and quick guides to essential services

● Summary of major transport links with Berlin

● How to use urban transit services including Berlin U-Bahn and S-Bahn, with their differences and the fares

● Summaries of more than 50 Berlin museums of history, art and culture, and information on all major performance groups including orchestras, opera and theatre

● Short history of the city and its precincts

● Hyperlinks to websites for Berlin hotels and hostels and further tourist information

Bremen

Bremen travel guide PDF in 6 pages

One of Germany’s oldest cities includes UNESCO world heritage monuments, ornate Renaissance architecture with a regional stamp, the story of world travellers including emigrants to the US and arts precincts with works by some of the most innovative German artists.

● The ancient St Petri cathedral and 11 other sites including the giant Roland figure

17 Bremen museums including art and the remarkable Übersee-Museum, with exhibits of the wonders of the continents touched by Bremen’s worldwide trade interests

Transport links and the city’s complicated transit system explained

● Hyperlink access to websites for accommodation houses and further tourist information

Dresden

Dresden travel guide PDF in 11 pages

Twice over the centuries, Dresden has been an amazing place. The first period was the Baroque magnificence of the 17th and 18th centuries. The second is now, with much of the city’s splendour restored.

Dresden's city palaces with their museums and galleries, highlighted by the two Green Vault museums, are among the most remarkable in Germany

● The exquisite, rebuilt Frauenkirche

● The Saxon ducal and royal summer palaces of Pillnitz and Moritzburg

● In all, 30 museums and galleries of art and culture

● Information on tours, essential services, parks and views, food and performing arts

● Details of excursions to the medieval city of Meissen, centre of European porcelain, and the fortress of Königstein

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Hamburg

Hamburg travel guide PDF in 8 pages

Germany’s mighty port city attracts travellers from all over the world and was the departure point for generations of migrants. ● 25 sites, ships, museums, monuments and churches that reflect Hamburg’s maritime and trading traditions

● The UNESCO world heritage Speicherstadt, centre of Hamburg’s former free port

● Essential services are listed with a choice of tours, including port tours

● Information on transport links and extensive urban transit services including fares

● Listings of essential traveller services

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

● The city’s arts and music scene, including opera

Nuremberg (Nürnberg)

Nuremberg travel guide PDF in 8 pages

Modern Nuremberg has preserved or restored many walled and historic areas. The city’s leading late medieval citizens were some of the best known German personalities. Then came the Nazis.

● Guides to 20 buildings, historic streets and monuments, among them the Kaiserburg, the castle of early imperial German assemblies

● 13 museums, including Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Germany’s leading cultural history museum

● The courts of the post-World War II war crimes trials, now also a museum

Transport links, urban transit, tours and essential services

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Cologne (Köln)

Cologne travel guide PDF in 11 pages

Cologne is Roman, medieval and modern all at once, a city known for piety, carnival and perfume. Travellers can walk the historic centre and the remains of the Roman wall.

Germany’s mightiest cathedral, which took more than 600 years to complete

● Cologne’s Roman and medieval walls and gates picked out for travellers

● 12 precious Romanesque churches with historical background

● In all, 25 sites and 17 museums of art, history and culture including the Römisch-Germanisches Museum and associated archaeological sites

Transport links and urban transit services including fares

Tours, parks, views, food and performing arts

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Stuttgart

Stuttgart travel guide PDF in 6 pages

The Baden-Württemberg capital is one of Germany’s beautiful lifestyle cities, surrounded by hills and some of the country’s most beautiful palaces and pleasure pavilions.

● 10 sites including Stuttgart’s castle complexes, Schloß Solitude and the magnificent palaces of Ludwigsburg nearby

● 10 museums and galleries of art

Tours, walks through the city’s extensive parks and views

● Guide to essential services and hyperlinks to tourist information and accommodation house websites and a guide to performance art

Munich (München)

Munich travel guide PDF in 13 pages

Munich was founded by monks and built up by dukes and kings, but became a centre of revolution as well as a home for arts, industry and travellers enjoying the good life.

● Germany’s largest museum, Deutsches Museum, and some of its richest art museums

● The city’s extensive palaces and palace gardens are featured

● Almost 30 museums of history, art and culture

● 30 historic sites in and around the city

● Information on major performance groups including orchestras and opera

Accommodation, food and a guide to essential services including transport links and urban transit services and fares

● A choice of city tours and some of its finest views

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites