I remember back in sixth grade when I wrote a social studies report about Germany. In the course of writing that report, I learned that as a result of World War II, Germany had been divided into two countries. The capitalist western half, which was officially called the Federal Republic of Germany, consisted of eleven states formed in the three Allied Zones of occupation: France, Great Britain, and the United States. The socialist eastern half, known as the German Democratic Republic, was overtaken by the Soviet Union.
From May 1949 until October 1990, East Germany was mostly closed to westerners. It’s capital city, Berlin, was divided by a wall. West Berlin was open to visitors, while East Berlin, like the northeastern part of Germany, was closed. Several prominent cities in northeastern Germany, including the historic city of Dresden, were now behind the Iron Curtain.
As a teenager, I read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut had served in World War II and was a prisoner of war in February 1945, when Dresden was bombed by the United States Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force. Slaughterhouse Five was, in part, based on Vonnegut’s experiences as an eyewitness to the bombing of Dresden, an event that destroyed many historic buildings and killed women and children. I remember reading Vonnegut’s novel and picturing the destruction Vonnegut saw in Dresden, never dreaming that one day I would have the chance to go there myself.
My husband Bill and I decided to visit Dresden when we were living in Germany, courtesy of the United States Army. One of Bill’s co-workers had sent him a very moving PowerPoint presentation about the Bombing of Dresden, which gave a complete history of Dresden, along with beautiful photos and touching music. After watching that presentation about how the city recovered from the Bombing of Dresden, Bill and I decided that we had to go there and see it for ourselves. We were fortunate enough to be living within driving distance at the time of our visit in November 2008.
Bill and I booked a room at the five star Hotel Suitess in Dresden. I had found a very economical rate on Expedia.com and the hotel had gotten some good reviews. The Hotel Suitess turned out to be as wonderful as the reviews suggested. We were warmly greeted by a valet who parked our vehicle in an underground parking garage and a receptionist who invited us to enjoy a glass of sekt while she checked us into our room. Our room at the Hotel Suitess was probably among the finest we’ve ever stayed in, with a comfortable king sized bed, gold fixtures in the bathroom, a flatscreen television, and the most elaborate turndown service we’ve ever had! The hotel also features an outstanding restaurant and spa. We didn’t get a chance to try any spa services, but we did enjoy the whirlpool, sauna, and steam room. And on the morning of our departure, we ate a wonderful, but pricey, breakfast at Maurice, the hotel’s gourmet restaurant. Less expensive restaurants are located within easy walking distance of the hotel.
I was attracted to Hotel Suitess because it was just a few steps away from the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), which had been almost completely destroyed during the Bombing. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of many people, the Frauenkirche was reconstructed. It’s exterior was finished in 2004 and its interior was finished in 2005. The beautiful church, which was originally built during the 18th century, had spent many years in ruins. Today, it’s been restored to its former glory, and visitors can come in for services, concerts, or guided tours.
For a small fee, visitors may go to the viewing platform under the dome at the top of the church. Bill and I did this and were treated to a spectacular view of Dresden. One thing I will mention about visiting the viewing platform is that it is a bit of a strenuous climb. Visitors take an elevator part of the way up, then must climb spiraling staircase. I noticed several defibrillator stations on the way up. It’s important to be in somewhat good shape if you’re planning to go up. Children under age six are not permitted to make the climb.
The Zwinger Palace is yet another structure in Dresden that saw its fair share of destruction during the Bombing of Dresden. As of 1964, the impressive Baroque architecture has been lovingly repaired and restored and museums are gardens are open and inviting to visitors. While Bill and I opted not to tour any of the museums, we did stroll around the grounds and rested for awhile on a park bench next to a small duck pond near the palace. We happened to have really good weather during our visit, so we wanted to stay outside.
Semper Opera House
Semper Opera House is probably one of Dresden’s best known landmarks. It was restored in 1984. Like Zwinger Palace, its architecture is very beautiful. Situated right next to Zwinger Palace, the Semper Opera House is easily reached from Dresden’s old town area or the Elbe River.
The Elbe River
The old and new parts of Dresden are located on either side of the Elbe River. Those who enjoy river cruises can easily find one by walking along the river and looking for the very prominent boat docks. We enjoyed our river walk because it took us past Dresden’s impressive fortress.
Two days in Dresden…
I wish we could have spent more than two days in Dresden. We never did make it to the newer part of the city, where there are even more museums. We also missed an area known as Saxon Switzerland, a mountainous climbing area and state park near Dresden.
Our two days in Dresden gave us just a taste of this historic, complex city’s charms. Dresden has been around for hundreds of years and was hidden from the eyes of westerners for half a century. As we were walking through its picturesque streets, I couldn’t help but think that people from the western side of Germany must have been thrilled to get Dresden back.
Bill and I noticed a few signs of the old communist regime. There were some cookie cutter style apartment buildings near the old town reminiscent of the ones we saw in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. But the downtown area has been revitalized with shops, bars, and restaurants. Perhaps the most impressive view we got of Dresden was at night, when the amazing architecture was lit up with flood lights. It was like something off a postcard.
Why you should go to Dresden…
Besides the fact that Dresden is a city with so much history, you should visit Dresden because it’s close to several other worthwhile locales. Berlin and Leipzig are all quite close, as are Prague, Czech Republic and Wroclaw, Poland. Bill and I left Dresden for several days in Bolaslaweic, Poland, then finished our trip in Prague. As much as I liked Prague, I think I preferred Dresden. It was less touristy and much less crowded.
If you’re thinking about a trip to Europe, you might want to consider a stop in Dresden. It’s a city that has been reborn and revitalized.