Last year during a trip to Germany I had the opportunity to visit Dresden. At the time all I knew about the city was that it had been considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe until it was devastated by Allied bombings during World War II. The bombings, which took place between February 13th and February 15th 1945 killed thousands of people and left many of the historic buildings in ruin.
After the war Dresden became part of East Germany. Some of the less damaged buildings were patched up and some were replaced by bland modern buildings, but the rest were left as ruins and it was only after the reunification of Germany that reconstruction began in earnest.
All in all, the city's history didn’t make it sound the most appealing place to visit and I might well have skipped it if it hadn’t been for the almost universal praise that I heard from both acquaintances who had been there recently and various guide books. I’m so pleased I didn’t.
The center of Dresden today is stunning – it is almost impossible to believe that the buildings have been reconstructed. They look as if they have always been there. As I walked around the streets, I was in awe. I can’t imagine how those responsible for the restoration began to piece them back together again.
|Semper Opera House|
The Semper Opera House had already been rebuilt once after a fire destroyed it in 1869, but after the war reconstruction was not complete until 1985.
The Frauenkirche was originally thought to have survived the bombing raids but on 15th February, 1945 the building collapsed. Although a campaign to raise funds for reconstruction was started immediately, it was not successful and it was only in 1993 that reconstruction started.
Reconstruction on the Hofkirche started in 1979. At the time it was a Catholic church, but with the switch of a bishop's seat to Dresden in 1980, the church became a cathedral.
The Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) is a vast complex of buildings in the center of Dresden. Originally it was the seat of the Saxon government but is now a museum complex. The Georgenbau was rebuilt by 1969 but the rest of the palace lay in ruins until 1985 and it was not until 2006 that most of the work was completed.
The Haussman Tower was originally built as part of the Royal Palace in 15th century. It was rebuilt in 1991.
Not all was lost in the bombing however. The Procession of Princes, a long mural on one of the outer walls of the Royal Palace depicting the Saxon rulers from 1127 to 1918 survived despite being made with ceramic tiles.
I can only wonder what Dresden looked like in all those post-war years when so many of the buildings were nothing but rubble. For the survivors of the bombings it must surely have been a constant reminder of the terror and grief they suffered. While that is true for residents of any city which suffers such heavy bombardment, it was unfortunately a reminder that these residents had to live with for so many years.
Verdict: a fascinating city to visit, especially if you like history and magnificent architecture.