There are many ways to interpret or define culture. But it can be easily summarised with just one word: Dresden. The sheer abundance and splendour of the city's cultural treasures are enough to take your breath away. And since Dresden also just happens to be set amidst a stunning river landscape, your amazement is soon accompanied by pure delight.
Though the attribute 'world famous' is dished out all too readily, it is a befitting term in the case of Dresden. The city is famed not only for its three major landmarks – Zwinger Palace, Semper Opera House and the Church of Our Lady – but also for Brühl Terrace and the Royal Palace, for the Elbe palaces on the Loschwitz hillside, for the exclusive villas of Blasewitz, the garden city of Hellerau and, of course, for the twelve Dresden State Art Collections. And not forgetting the city centre's prime position on the western bank of the Elbe, at the apex of one of the river's gently sweeping meanders.
Dresden's no. 1 world-famous building has to be Zwinger Palace, widely considered a masterpiece of baroque architecture. The glorious Church of Our Lady, resurrected from the rubble, is arguably the preeminent church of the Protestant faith, and the imposing Saxony State Opera House, designed in the Italianate High Renaissance style by its eponymous architect Semper, is undoubtedly one of the world's most beautiful music theatres. The gardens of Brühl Terrace, or the 'Balcony of Europe' as it is known, provide magnificent views of the Elbe and across to Neustadt on the bank opposite; lined with prestigious buildings including the Academy of Fine Arts and the Albertinum Museum with its New Masters Gallery and sculpture collection, the terrace is another of the city's cultural must-sees. Dresden boasts superb museums that add to its cultural prowess, including the Green Vault – the world's largest treasure chamber – at the Royal Palace as well as the Turkish Chamber and the Old Masters Gallery where Raphael's Sistine Madonna is displayed.
For almost 700 years, Dresden has also been famed for its music. It is not only the Opera House that enraptures audiences but also the State Orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic and the Kreuzchor boys' choir. The cultural calendar is packed all year round, with the city hosting international festivals, captivating theatre and dance productions and other popular events such as the Semper Opera Ball. And what would Dresden's music scene be without its jazz? The city's International Dixieland Festival is Europe's biggest old time jazz festival. Traditional highlights include the Riverboat Shuffle, the Jazz Mile along Prager Strasse and the Dixieland Parade through the old quarter. The festival season is rounded off with open-air events, including the riverbank film nights, the Elbhangfest and concerts in the romantic parkland of the Elbe palaces.
But Dresden is more than just a city of history and heritage, as evidenced by its modern architectural masterpieces. Notable examples include the New Synagogue and the deconstructivist UFA Kristallpalast cinema designed by celebrated Austrian architects Coop Himmelb(l)au. At the main train station, Norman Foster has covered the historical iron framework with a translucent Teflon membrane. There's also the Military History Museum, which has recently undergone a radical extension and redesign by Daniel Libeskind. A bold design move in its day was the 'Blue Wonder', Europe's first bridge without river piers. The construction is both a feat of engineering and a spectacular vantage point.
If you happen to be in Dresden in December, be sure to visit the Striezelmarkt. Germany's oldest Christmas market, first documented in 1434, remains to this day a celebration of lights, colours and inviting aromas. Enjoy the peaceful, festive atmosphere while indulging in glühwein, spiced gingerbread and hot chestnuts, and discover another Dresden speciality in the shape of striezel, as the locals call their traditional Christmas cake. There are only two words that do this delicacy justice: world famous.
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