Find out about Dresden's artistic treasures and gastronomic treats. After that discover Saxony's picturesque castles and towns
How can you restore ancient buildings without diminishing their beauty? Dresden, the capital of Saxony, provides the answer. It has been sensitively reconstructed after the bombing of World War II and the flood damage of 2002. Museums and arts buildings have been revamped, transforming the city into one of the prime cultural centres of the country.
Dresden, in eastern Germany, on the banks of the River Elbe, has efficient and fast rail connections with all the major cities. We flew to Berlin and took the train for the two and half hour journey to the heart of the city. A friendly advisor in the Tourist Office, (Kulturpalast, Schlosstrasse) as well as handing out informative leaflets, suggested that we purchased Dresden Cards which were valid for 48 hours and cost €39 each. These proved to be great value as they included use of the trams, free admission for thirteen museums and discounts at various restaurants.
If you are feeling more adventurous, all the attractions along the river can be reached by bicycle, rentable from outlets including www.antrieb.com. The Elbe Cycle Track (www.elberadweg.de) runs the length of the river, staying away from traffic, almost all of the way, and there is special cycle-friendly accommodation available.
A much more sedate form of travel was available at the jetties where a fleet of magnificent paddle steamers set sail (www.saechsische-dampfschiffahrt.de).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Versailles style was the name given to the Zwinger museum by a leading scholar. This unified work of baroque art contained fabulous treasures in its world famous displays. Foremost was the porcelain collection, featuring priceless Meissen pieces, which must rival any on the planet, whilst the Old Masters on view had highlights such as Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. The saucy angels in this picture have been cheekily selected as the symbols for the city’s artistic treasures.
However, if you only visit one museum in Dresden, make it the New Green Vault in the Royal Palace. This was an astonishing treasure trove of Saxon royalty. Two memorable objects were a detailed enamel table display of an Indian Mogul’s court and a finely wrought ivory frigate with paper thin sails.
The Albertinum houses an excellent sculpture collection and the work of artists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Manet. Armoury displays, a Graphic museum and an exhibition of oriental art also captivated our attention.
Dresden also has a distinguished musical heritage and although tours were available of the Semper Opera house, we instead decided to see a ballet (www.semperoper.de). Tickets were reasonably priced (€29 each) and we managed as well to explore the sumptuous interior.
Augustus the Strong’s influence on Dresden’s history and culture was evident everywhere and is commemorated in a striking statue, the Golden Horseman, which has become the city’s landmark. Throughout Saxony, palaces and castles, like Pillnitz and Moritzburg, testify to his artistic qualities and we enjoyed day excursions to both of them.
The Frauenkirche, the Church of our Lady, Dresden’s mother church, had an instructive film celebrating its civic significance, screened several times a day in English.
As well as ancient treasures, Saxony has some of the most cutting-edge industrial architecture in the world. Close to our hotel was the VW Transparent Factory. We felt that this would appeal not only to car enthusiasts. On a tour it was possible to view the assembly of the luxury Phaeton and even place an order for one (www.glaesernemanufaktur.de).
Meissen, fifteen miles north-west of Dresden, became famous as the birthplace of European porcelain. As well as visiting the factory complex, we enjoyed exploring the delightful town. To get the best view of the town square and the Gothic town hall we climbed the tower of Our Lady's Church
On the hill was the impressive ensemble of the Albrechtburg Castle and Meissen Cathedral. Tours were available and if you are fortunate as we were you might catch one of the regular free lunchtime organ concerts in the cathedral.
At the porcelain factory it was also possible to visit the special exhibition area and the workshop for €8.50 (www.meissen.com). Purchases could also be made from the factory shop.
Where to sleep and eat
We stayed at the Dorint Hotel (Grunaer Strasse 14) which was situated a short distance from the historic old town. We received a very friendly welcome and there were complimentary cakes in the spacious bedroom. There was an elaborate spa, courtesy juice and a sophisticated bar.
There was a huge range of restaurants to choose from and it proved to be a gourmet’s paradise. Altmarktkeller (Altmarkt 4; 01067; +49 351 481 81 30) was an atmospheric cellar restaurant that sold hearty food and Radeberger draught Pilsner. We had chicken wrapped in bacon with a cream sauce and roast pork loin with dumplings and broccoli. The total bill was fantastic value at €29 for two.
Foreign restaurants also offered tempting dishes. In Barcelona Tapas Bar (Weisse Gasse 6 01067; +49 351 485 2583) we had seven tapas and half a litre of red wine for €40. Agra Indian restaurant (Ringstrasse 3, 01067; +49 351 836 52 22) had spicy chicken tandoori and chicken dupiaza with beer for €32. Towering over the city, the Dome Restaurant of the Yenidze 1001 Nights offered a panoramic view of the city (Weisseritzstrasse 3, 01067; +49 351 495 1001). The menu looked tantalizing but time pressures meant we only had a chance to enjoy drinks on the roof-top terrace.
Traditional bakeries and coffee houses feature throughout the city. Kaffe Wippler (Pillnitzer Landstrasse 315, 01326; +49 351 261 1238) had delicious lemon cheesecake and even produced their own newspaper extolling their delicacies.
In Meissen we discovered a wonderful terrace at Istanbul (Neugasse 3, 01662: +49 352 1 400 900) which served delicious pizza and doner kebabs and juices for €8.
Since the 2006 World Cup in Germany many people have become aware of the country's attractions. The Iron Curtain has crumbled and eastern Germany’s city of the arts now deserves to be discovered by everyone.