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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What travellers from around the world are saying
The Christmas Stollen (fruit cake) of Dresden is famous all over the world. It was already baked in the 15th century, and in the 18th century the Stollenfest was born. In 1730 August II the Strong ordered the Bakers’ Guild of Dresden to make a giant 1.7-ton Stollen. In 2013 the giant Stollen was 4 tons heavy and was paraded in the traditional way on the back of a horse-drawn carriage through the city. At Striezelmarkt, one of the most beautiful Christmas markets of Germany, the giant Stollen gets sold for a good cause. This year it took 2,5h hours and the whole Stollen was gone. For sure you can also buy smaller Stollen at Striezelmarkt and everywhere else in Dresden during Christmas time. The Stollenfest always takes place on the Saturday before the second Sunday in Advent. A fun event to get into Christmas mood!read more »
Eierschecke is the Saxon interpretation of cheesecake. It often comes with an apple topping. In the 14th century “Schecke” was a piece of clothing that men would wear, much like a long robe with a tight waist. The waist would divide the robe into three pieces (top, waist, lower skirt) much like the dessert, which consist of three different layers. You can get them at all the bakeries so make sure you plan for a coffee & cake break while visiting!read more »
Erich Kästner Museum
Remember Lindsay Lohan in the role of a young girl finding out about her twin sister in the 1996 movie “The Parent Trap”? One of the many movies that's based on one of Erich Kästner's great writing. The author was born in Königsbrücker Straße, not far from the place that now houses the Erich Kästner mirco museum – not your everyday museum. Much like in a traversable treasure chest you can walk through the museum and open draws that will reveal bits and pieces of Kästner's life and work. The deeper you dig through photos, letters, old theater programs and books, the more you'll want to read!read more »
Dresden Hygiene Museum
If you're into biology and like watching documentaries on the human body this is a must see when you're in town! The Hygiene Museum Dresden is one big adventure to explore the human body. The permanent exhibition displays a large part of the museum's extensive collection, which is made accessible to all ages with the help of media units and interactive elements throughout the museum. The museum itself dates back to the early 20th century. It was first opened by a local businessman and manufacturer of hygiene products. The museum was also the first museum to host the International Hygiene Exhibition in 1911. Since 1930, the best known object is probably the “Transparent Man” - a life-size human skeleton with artificial internal organs as well as arteries and venes. The “Gläserne Mensch” (literally: glass human) has also become a symbol for the museum itself.read more »
Frauenkirche - Church of Our Lady
The Frauenkirche is actually a relatively new sight – at least for for Dresden locals. The Lutheran church vanished from Dresden's skyline in the devastating bombings of the city during World War II in 1945. The ruins where then kept as an anti-war memorial and restoration didn't starting until after the reunification of Germany in 1989. 60 years later in 2005 it was finally reopened. The costly reconstruction of the dome was financed with donations. One very large donation came from Günter Blobel, an American with German roots. He had seen the Church of Our Lady just before the city was bombed and took an interested in restoring the city. In 1999 Blobel won the Nobel Prize for medicine and donated the entire amount of his winning money towards the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche and other restoration works in Dresden. If look at the church from the outside you'll spot some dark stones in the walls – those are the original stones.read more »
The Dresden Opera House, more commonly known as the Semperoper, is only a short walk from the famous Zwinger complex in Dresden. It's another prime example of baroque architecture and amazes millions of visitors even just from the outside. If you want to see it from the inside you can either go on a tour or if you have the time and an interest in Opera get some tickets for one of the shows at night. If you look at the main entrance from the front side you'll find two huge statues. One is of the famous writer Friedrich Schiller (right hand side) and the other one depicts Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Both of them where part of the Weimar Classicism, a cultural and literary movement in Germany in the 18th century. If you walk around the building you can spot some more statues of famous thinkers and artists such as Shakespeare, Moliere as well as Roman and Greek gods.read more »
The Dresden Zwinger is one of Germany's best known and most magnificent baroque buildings. It was commissioned to Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann by Augustus the Strong in 1710. He demanded the architect to include an Orangery for growing oranges, which in those days where called golden apples. As the name already suggests, golden apples where a symbol of power and influence and thought to bring good fortune. Most likely the reason why August the Strong had his people plant over a thousand plants. Today the Zwinger accommodates several museums and stages for music and theater shows. Even if you don't go inside the museum make sure you check it out from the outside and you'll see what Goethe meant when he described it: “I entered this sanctum, and my sense of amazement transcended every conception that I had ever previously had."read more »