Once called “The Florence on the Elbe”, Dresden prior to World War II was notable throughout Europe for its elegant architecture and extensive art collections. Dresden nearly ceased to exist after the Allies’ devastating bombardment in February, 1945. But rise again it did, with massive reconstruction of its old town center of 18th and 19thcentury palaces, grand churches and museums.
We planned a one-night stopover in Dresden en route to Prague from Berlin, and were glad we did. Arriving too late to take in any museums, we spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening wandering the narrow streets and along the banks of the Elbe, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. For us the best part was not just the beautifully reconstructed edifices, but also the many street performances we
happened upon. Whereas Berlin had its role-playing human statues, historical poseurs and occasional musical buskers, Dresden’s street performances were classical works by some incredibly talented young musicians. What made their performances unique was the locale – not just the setting of the old city – but by their positioning under old stone archways which amplified and enriched the music. During the course of the afternoon and evening, we were entertained by cellists, violinists and choral recitals, all, we think, by students from the local academy.
They were all outstanding.
Our favorite performance was that by a trio of two vocalists and a keyboard accompanist. We joined a crowd of about 90 people standing
in complete awe as this duo sang arias from operas and other well-known
classical pieces. Entranced, we finally took a table in a cafe on the fringe of the crowd and continued to listen as they continued their performance; in all they sang – and we listened — for about an hour.
There were, as in every city, a variety of other street performances. One young woman’s conception of “performing” I found particularly intriguing: spray painted in silver over every centimeter of her body and encased in a silvery metal gown, she stood utterly motionless on a silver stool in front of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). When I dropped some coins in her basket, she gave me a regal nod and a graceful blessing with her arms, then returned to her position in the picture below.
To say that Dresden has been reconstructed is an understatement of just how badly the city was destroyed by first a massive bombardment and the raging fires that followed. Probably the most remarkable reconstruction within Dresden was of the Frauenkirch cathedral
in the Neumarkt (New Market). Leveled nearly to the ground, the church was left in ruins by the East German government for decades following WWII as a testament to the horrors of war. Reconstruction of the church did not begin until sometime after the reunification of Germany, and reconsecration only took place in 2005. We learned that whenever possible, the city reused original stones and other materials that survived the devastation. Unfortunately for us, the church was closed for an evening concert and we were unable to see the interior.
At the time of the bombing of Dresden, on February 13-14, 1945 in the last stages of the war, many people believed that in addition to
eliminating a railway hub and factories, Winston Churchill ordered the
bombardment as punitive retaliation for Germany’s destruction of the old
English city of Coventry and the prolonged bombing of London earlier in the war. Whether or not this is true, what is fact is that the cross on top of the Frauenkirche was presented to the city of Dresden by Britain in 2002 as a symbol of reconciliation. Rebuilt and reconsecrated the church now
stands again as one of the most important Protestant churches in all of
Germany, as well as a symbol of rebirth and reconstruction of a nation.
Dresden after February, 1945 Allied bombing
One of the nicer walks we took was a stroll across the Elbe
to the north shore of the city. There we found in all his golden splendor the mounted statue of Frederick August II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. It’s a very impressive statue, but I couldn’t help but note that it wouldn’t last five minutes in a centrally located park in the States.
In all, we found Dresden pleasant, as well as a notably historic city. We were glad to have sampled the music and history of this beautifully reconstructed city.