|Saxony's capital Dresden is located in what
once was called valley of the clueless - as the city is encircled by
mountains and hills, the signals of the West German TV stations never
seemed to reach people's antennas, forcing them to watch the propaganda
programmes the Socialist party had hatched up for them. Once an important
cultural and commercial metropolis featuring Germany's then most
impressive architecture, Dresden was practically wiped out within two
nights of air raids in February, 1945. The city never really got over that
shock, but was eventually able to be resurrected. Nowadays, it is marked
by hard contrasts: most of the famous buildings have been restored or
rebuilt from scratch; the Neustadt, formerly a beggars' quarter, is
flourishing to a surprising extent; various parks and recreational areas
contribute to its beauty. Then again, it is notoriously full of monotonous
districts and appalling areas. While these contrasts have clearly been
typical of German cities since World War II, and are probably concomitant
symptoms of large cities themselves, one is inclined to claim that majesty
and deformity are scarcely as close to each other as in Dresden. It almost
seems as if each side was the prerequisite to its counterpart.
Located in the city's very north, Hellerau is a quarter you might be predisposed to miss, but it's definitely worth a visit, being the first German "Garden Town". Its founding originates in Karl Schmitz's commitment to the city's plans, begun in 1907. Luckily enough, the remote district had not been a target for allied bombers in 1945; although, regrettably, it has been subject to progressive decline for some time now.
Dresden's most impressive bridge, the "Blue Wonder" (Blaues Wunder), connects Blasewitz and Loschwitz. The latter is an excellent place to live in - provided that you can afford to rent or buy a residence here. Among the sights one should not possibly miss are the castles Schloß Albrechtsberg and Schloß Eckberg. Especially when seen from the other side of river Elbe, Loschwitz's villas and châteaus constitute an adorable view. Fairly close to the north of Loschwitz, the quarter named Weißer Hirsch is situated along the edge of Dresden's very own forest, the Dresdner Heide.
Driving from Bühlau towards Dresden's inner districts, one should look out for the automatic speed cameras. On a lighter note, the tiny yet appealing district Weißer Hirsch (White Stag), namesake of a traditional restaurant, is located here. This area is home to Dresden's upper class; they reside in charming dwellings, play tennis on tepid afternoons, enjoy the silent riverside atmosphere at the Elbhänge (Elbe slopes) or uses the cable railway towards Loschwitz. We, on the contrary, head for the city's inner parts and pass the Radeberger Vorstadt - host to the combined brewery and beer garden and the Waldschlösschen (Forest Castle) - to reach the Outer Neustadt.
Heading west from Albertplatz, the splendid Königstraße (King's Street) leads us directly into the Inner Neustadt. This district burnt down in the fire of 1685, and World War II also left its mark. In the last years however, the quarter has been elegantly redeveloped, and currently it might be considered Dresden's most beautiful area. Indeed, the Inner Neustadt bears a resemblance to Munich and its well-looked-after baroque houses, its designer boutiques and extravagant restaurants, but somehow it lacks spirit and vivacity. The quarter evokes the impression of not being fully integrated into the city as there is but a small target group for haute couture and haute cuisine in Dresden. Of course, the occasional tourist group takes a stroll here, but altogether the Inner Neustadt is still an abstemious place.
Crossing Augustusbrücke (Augustus's Bridge) from here, the wonderful sight of Dresden's lovely silhouette - the famous Canaletto View - meets the eye. Particularly at night, when most buildings are beautifully illuminated until 1am, the Brühlsche Terrassen (Brühl's Terraces), the Semper Opera and their surroundings constitute a majestic view. The bridge leads us into the Altstadt, originally the town's older part. It had been almost entirely annihilated in February 1945, and for years thereafter, only the pitiable remains of the Frauenkirche (Women's Church) had been left as a depressing legacy of the Second World War. Eventually, however, Dresden's public overcame their apathy and began to reconstruct, redevelop and renovate the quarter that had once legitimated the city's international glory. Nowadays, the Theaterplatz is again one of Germany's most admirable places, even though it is permanently flooded with tourists from all over the world. Around this square, you'll find more architectural attractions than most other German cities have on the whole: irrespective of the aforementioned sights, there is the great Zwinger, the Castle (Schloß), the Cathedral (Kathedrale), the Fürstenzug and the Taschenberg Palais, to name but a few. The sophisticated reconstruction of the Frauenkirche is being performed using practically all of the original parts that could be preserved; its completion will take at least until the year 2005. Art lovers and history connoisseurs have to visit the Albertinum and the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe) that can be reached through Brühl's Terraces.
At the Terraces' other end, one should walk a few steps up Carola Bridge and turn around. Here, Dresden's divergence is most impressive: To the right, there is the city's picturesque silhouette that could not possibly have been painted more romantically; to the left, however, nothing but greyish high-rises up until the very horizon. Following the St. Petersburger Straße, the road that Carola Bridge runs into, one is led into the city centre. That said, Dresden has no real centre, not in the sense of a huge shopping district, but at least there is the Prager Straße, a drab pedestrian zone featuring severe architectural violations such as the three almost identical Ibis Hotel campaniles, the grotesque Hertie building, or the two postmodern wells. Its nearly comical ugliness notwithstanding, the Prager Straße is a passable shopping street with all popular Western department stores like Karstadt or aforementioned Hertie, international chains such as H&M or Foot Locker, fast food restaurants, and a futuristic cinema called UFA Palace, incidentally Dresden's only film theatre showing the latest movies (in English too, if only from Sunday to Tuesday). To the street's southern end, you'll find the central station at the Wiener Platz, one of Dresden's many permanent construction sites, seemingly unlikely to be ever completed.
A stones' throw south of the main station, the university quarter commences. As Dresden University of Technology has no single campus, its faculties and institutes are widely spread over several districts, but the administrative centre and the majority of academic buildings are situated around the Nürnberger Platz. Opposite the newly constructed Auditorium Centre (Hörsaalzentrum) where most Business, Economics and Law students attend their classes, you'll find the university cafetería in an obscure shack. Meals for students are affordable at DM 2,80 (EUR 1,43), but the taste unfortunately resembles English cooking mastery. There are some student bars in the vicinity, but they are to be avoided if possible, but although they are cheap, most students prefer the remote Neustadt for nightlife activities. The occasional fraternity party has to be mentioned though.
Located in Dresden's very south, Prohlis is just one - and coincidentally the largest - of Dresden's many dun quarters marked by the Socialist art of city planning. It's not overly far from the university, so it might be worth an excursion if you're already there. What makes Prohlis so impressive (sometimes also depressing) is the ubiquity of grey in every imaginable shade and scale: get off streetcar 13 at Jacob-Winter-Platz, perform a full circumrotation, and you will have seen nothing but monotonous high-rises. By the way, avoid spending the evening hours here, as some youth gangs might not be all that friendly. Foreigners aren't the most popular group in Prohlis either, to be perfectly frank.