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Discover Dresden

August 1, 2012

As a growing tourism destination for Germans and internationals alike, Dresden is full of excitement. Connected to the past and looking toward the future, the city offers something for everyone.

Image: Fotolia

Dresden is a city that attracts all kinds of visitors with its rich combination of history, art, and academia. Last year, it was the seventh most popular tourist destination in Germany, and the second most popular in eastern Germany.

Despite its modern appeal, Dresden has a history that is hard to ignore. On February 13, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II, allied bombers destroyed 13 square miles of Dresden's city center.

Dresden rose from the ashes to become, once again, a hub of economic and cultural significance. DW has selected five top spots to visit in Dresden.

1. Church of Our Lady

Among the buildings to fall during the 1945 bombing was the Frauenkirche, or the Church of Our Lady. "The Dresdeners wanted their church back from the very beginning, but if you've ever seen pictures of what Dresden looked like after the bombing you realize quickly that a church was not the first thing on the list," Grit Jandura, press and public relations officer for the Frauenkirche, told DW.

In 1990 after the Berlin Wall fell, an appeal was issued to rebuild the church. Finished in 2005, the Frauenkirche was fully paid for the day it was consecrated. The church cost 180 million euros (about $220 million) to rebuild, 100 million of which was donated by the public. "So many people contributed to this church being rebuilt that many feel it's their church. It's not the Frauenkirche, it's our Frauenkirche. This 'our' does not mean Dresden but all of Germany," said Jandura.

The Church of Our Lady before the restoration in 1986, and afterward in 2010
The Church of Our Lady before the restoration in 1986, and afterward in 2012Image: picture-alliance / dpa / DW-Montage

There are several entrances to the church, but while you're there make sure to check out the cross that stands near entrance B. This cross once stood at the top of the Frauenkirche tower before it collapsed in 1945. It lay under the rubble for more than 40 years before it was found, its edges melted and misshapen and metal charred from fire. It now stands tall in front of lighted peace candles as a memorial to the past.

The new tower cross was donated by a British artisan whose father was a bomber pilot in the British Royal Air Force during World War II. "He said it was his own form of reconciliation to craft a new cross," said Holger Treutmann, reverend of the Frauenkirche and member of the board of managing directors, "I think the Frauenkirche can show people that wounds can heal."

2. Great Garden

If you want to connect with nature while in Dresden, check out the baroque Grosser Garten, or Great Garden. Located in the Südstadt neighborhood, this expansive park is a great place to spend the afternoon. Dresden is one of the greenest cities in Europe, and 62 percent of its area is green space.

For a childhood throwback and tour of the park, jump on the miniature rail line that runs through the garden. Make sure to catch a glimpse of Volkswagens futuristic looking glass production site where tours are also available.

3. Military History Museum

If you only have time to visit one museum in Dresden, makes sure it's the Military History Museum. It's not hard to miss since it's the only 19th-century building in Dresden with a giant 30-meter-high (98-foot) steel and concrete wedge addition. The wedge, designed by architect Daniel Liebeskind, is home to the museum's newest exhibition.

The new exhibit considers thematic, societal, and human forces that create a culture of violence. "History is difficult. This exhibit is difficult too," commented Gorch Piekin, the museum's academic director.

The exhibition is meant to be experienced from the top down, each floor focusing on a different theme. On the third floor, rows of tall glass cases encourage visitors to literally stand between a collective memory and historical reality.

Colorful and idyllic German movie posters from the 1950s are positioned facing a model of the courtroom used during the Nuremberg trials - the same time period, yet two very different representations. At its core, the museum is really all about human beings, Piekin said.

Military History Museum in Dresden
Daniel Libeskind designed the addition to the Military History MuseumImage: DW

4. Old Town at sunset

Dresden's impressive baroque skyline is framed by the Elbe River earning it the nickname Florence of the North. After the sun goes down, walk across the Augustus Bridge towards the Neustadt district for a dramatic panorama of the majestically lit Altstadt (Old Town). Perhaps you'll even catch a romantic tune from a local street musician.

On the other side of the river an expansive terrace called Brühlterrase offers additional stunning views of the city and the river. From here you can see parts of the major sites: the Semperoper, Zwinger Palace, Frauenkirche, and the Hofkirche.

Stop by any of the abundant gelato or ice cream stands near the terrace to enjoy the view with a sweet treat. Since it is a more touristy area, there will also no doubt be a handful of street performers vying for your attention and spare change.

Dresden panorama at night
Be sure to catch Dresden at nightImage: Fotolia/S Hagebusch

5. Sleep in Dresden's micro nation

When choosing a hotel or hostel try to stay near the Outer New Town, or Äußere Neustadt. This vibrant neighborhood is an eclectic place to spend your days and nights.

Tobi Kabiersch, who works at the reception of Lollis Homestay Hostel in the heart of Äußere Neustadt, described Dresden as a "big village." Kabiersch compared his adoptive city of Dresden to Berlin. "When you go to Berlin there is a difference. It is more anonymous, and bigger," he said, "You feel homey here, you are welcome and everyone is friendly."

Most of the neighborhood survived the bombing of 1945, but during the next several decades the buildings became run down. Cheap apartments attracted students, artists, and musicians and it blossomed into a creative community.

Today the neighborhood is Dresden's most densely inhabited quarter with more than 11,000 people per square kilometer. This part of town also has one of the highest birth rates in all of Germany.

The facade of this building, part of the Kunsthofpassage, makes music from rainfall
The facade of this building, part of the Kunsthofpassage, makes music from rainfallImage: M. Nelioubin

Street art makes the Kunsthofpassage unique. This passageway of art features wall murals, sculptures, and even a building façade covered in contraptions that make music out of rain.

In 1990, after German reunification, locals proclaimed the Äußere Neustadt a micro nation. They dubbed it the Colorful Republic of Outer New Town and every year a festival celebrates its unrecognized statehood. The June festival attracts over 100,000 people who take part in playful and hedonistic revelry.  Trams are barred from the streets and the official micro nation flag is seen everywhere, the centerpiece of which is Mickey Mouse.

Author: Holly Cooper
Editor: Kate Bowen