For you Americans out there, Dresden is the Madison of Germany. In Neustadt (New Town), there are organic bakeries, bicycle shops, record stores, bars, and second hand clothing shops galore. The town is small enough to feel cozy, but big enough to not get bored. Outside of the Alstadt (Old Town), the atmosphere is bustling. Locals go about their daily business and you are part of the neighborhood. Be sure to venture outside the Alstadt to escape from the big-bus crowds.
Dresden’s heyday was the end of the 17th century when August the Strong went to town. He built most of the buildings that make up the skyline you see today.
The city was nearly flattened during the 1945 bombing on Feb. 13th and much of the Alstadt has been rebuilt. I guess the Allies weren’t feeling the Valentine love. Dresden became part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR)— a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Needless to say, funds were scarce and much of the city remained in ruins for a few decades.
The city was rejuvenated after the fall of the USSR in 1989. The landmarks were restored and rebuilt, erasing the dark history with bright paint. The construction is ongoing, but does not detract from the great work that has been done already.
Landmarks and Sights
The Alstadt is fairly small and can be seen in one day. Entry fees are very affordable, so you can tour many places on a tight budget. Highlights include the Opera House, Baroque Fairground, Royal Castle, Furstenzug, Baroque Promenade, and Frauenkirche. All of these sights are within walking distance of each other (no more than 5-10 minutes).
The Royal Castle houses exhibitions and the Green Vaults. It is still under construction and will not be complete until 2013. The cost is 3€ or 2€ with a student I.D. You’ll need a separate ticket for the Green Vaults, and you should make reservations in advance (12€, no student discount). Only 250 tickets are available each day and the lines can be long. The new green vault is only 6€/3.50€ with student card.
The Baroque Promenade is a great place to stroll and enjoy the baroque architecture. You will undoubtedly encounter some street musicians and artists along the way, as well as large groups of guided tours clogging the main path. Weekdays are better to avoid the hoards.
Be sure to see the Furstenzug, which features the world’s largest porcelain mural. As usual, we have August the Strong to thank. He imprisoned a local alchemist who accidentally invented Meissner porcelain. At the time, all porcelain was imported from Asia, and this invention was as good as gold. The piece is 101 meters long and depicts all of the Saxon leaders from 1127 to 1904.
Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady has become a memorial and symbol of reconciliation in Dresden. It was completely destroyed in the Valentine’s bombing and was only rebuilt recently with aid from the United Kingdom. It is free to enter the church but costs 8€/5€ with a student I.D. to climb the dome.
The Hygiene Museum
Probably one of our most interesting museum experiences was here at the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum. No, it isn’t all about brushing your teeth and scrubbing behind your ears. The museum began in the 1930s to educate society about the human body, diseases, cleanliness, and preventative health care. Some of the plaques in the museum are translated in English but certainly not all. Tickets are 7€ or 3€ for students.
The first few rooms are especially interesting with antique medical tools, visual aids, and a brief history on the museum’s involvement with the Nazi party. The museum is very kid-friendly, with interactive computers and exhibits. Most of the exhibits focus on different parts of the human body, how they work, and what they look like when they are healthy and unhealthy. Basically, it is a lower-tech version of BodyWorlds (Again, for my fellow Americans).
The room that I found to be the most interesting (but most uncomfortable) focused on sex education. It held ancient sexual artifacts, diagrams of organs, and games describing the changes in the body during sex. Plenty of photos of naked people. While all very interesting for adults, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable for the 14 year-old girl with her grandfather standing next to me.
It’s worth a visit, but more English labels would have been nice. It is off the beaten path and a great destination if you have the time.
The trams and trains are useful but not necessary if you are pinching pennies. The walk from the main train station to Alstadt is only about 20 minutes. The Neustadt (New City) is only 15 minutes by foot.
If you ride the metro with a friend, you can get a 1-day family ticket for only 7€. It covers both of you and is good until 4 a.m. the next day. So, buy it early and ride a tram, train, or bus just two times and it pays for itself!
Dresden is a very progressive city. Its bike-riding, recycling-happy, and granola-eating citizens would be right at home in Madison, Wisconsin or Austin, Texas. Most of the bars in Neustadt have live jazz musicians or world folk music in the evenings. Locals mingle in the streets, chat, and drink until the wee hours.
As in much of Europe, the afternoon coffee/tea and snack is obligatory. I love it. Dresden is the capitol of the afternoon coffee and cake. They enjoy the ritual so much that they are known as the Kaffee-Sachsen, or Coffee Saxons, throughout Germany.
Day 1: Alstadt & Neustadt
- A full 24 hours allow enough time for the main sights.
- Begin by walking or taking tram 7, 8, or 11 from the Dresden Hauptbanhoff (train station).
- Here you can see all of the “Old Town” sights in one day. Choose a few buildings you’d like to go inside and tour, or save money and just see them all from the outside.
- In the evening, head to “New Town” and see the more modern side of Dresden. Eat dinner at one of the organic cafes, bars, or ethnic restaurants.
- If you aren’t too tired, take in some live music and have a drink.
Day 2: Museums & Gardens
- Use this day to hit up anything you may have missed the first day, or take in the Hygiene Museum or Grosser Garten.
- Board a train in the late afternoon/early evening and relax. Don’t forget to get a snack and drink for the train ride!
If you spend more than one night in Dresden, it can be quite relaxing. Remember that you don’t have to see it all. There are day trips that can be taken from Dresden, but I didn’t make the trip so can’t review them personally. Here are some suggestions for sights outside of the city: