Dresden and Leipzig Offer Remarkable Architecture, History and Food
By Max Hartshorne
Saxony and Eastern Germany don’t get the visitors, the respect or the attention that Munich and Frankfurt get.
East Germany was dominated by the Soviets for decades, and much of the place was destroyed by Allied bombs.
Today Saxony and the entire eastern half of Germany offer those interested in history and architecture a panoply of fascinating places to see and remarkable buildings to gawk at.
Dresden is a famous city–but famous for the wrong reasons. Ask any American about the city and the first thing many of them will say is “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
They know that the city was the setting for one of Kurt Vonnegut’s most popular science fiction novels, written about the terrible events of February 13-15, 1945, when Churchill ordered the city firebombed into near oblivion.
Today you can actually visit the same building that was called Slaughterhouse-five, in a drab industrial park outside of the city. Not really much to see.
Fast forward 74 years to the present and you have today’s Dresden. It’s a resplendent city full of palaces, remarkable recreations of their original 1700s glory, fully restored to look as if they were never bombed by the anyone.
Royal Palace Heist
The exciting news about the Parade Apartments‘ recent restoration in Dresden was marred in November 2019, when the Royal Palace was hit by burglars who stole nearly priceless jewelry from the Green Vault, which is near the recently restored Royal Apartments in the city center.
The city had only recently finished the complicated and meticulous restoration, it opened for visitors.
The $350 million project was unveiled to visitors in September 2019, and the original opulence built by August the Strong was done as a nod to Versailles in France.
The King wanted to outdo even King Louis himself. Today, a tour of these splendid gilded apartments takes you through many chambers but no actual bedrooms.
It’s designed to get grander and grander, first the Tower Room, displaying the King’s porcelain collection, then rooms full of armored knights, the audience chamber and the bedchamber. And finally, room with a throne where people could have an audience with the King himself.
More Restorations Planned
Dresden’s restoration crew has more work planned, in 2021 the complete renovation of the palace will be completed. According to the Smithsonian, it’s not the only piece of pre-World War II Dresden that’s been brought back. The Frauenkirche, the baroque masterpiece in the city center, was also destroyed during the war.
For decades, a pile of stones and rubble stood as a reminder of the destruction and a kind of a memorial against war. Between 1994 and 2005, the beautiful church was rebuilt using many of the original stones that had been preserved in that pile!
The Remarkable Baroque Zwinger
One of the largest building complexes in Dresden is the Zwinger Palace which is a circular building with a central courtyard where many events take place.
Built in 1710 by court architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, it was destroyed and rebuilt and today it’s a museum complex where the impressive collection of royal porcelain is displayed, along with old masters paintings.
Like so much of the city, this was another building consigned by August the Strong, who wanted to project his power and domination with buildings.
With the decorative orange trees, (which like in Versailles must be removed every winter), and ornate baroque style, the Zwinger is most impressive when it’s lit up at night.
Libeskind’s Stunning Wedge
While much of Dresden’s charm lies in the remarkable old restored buildings, one of them has been altered dramatically by a modern architect and legend, American Daniel Libeskind. The Wedge is what it’s called, and as you can see by the photo at the top, this is a striking building, that is must-visit for the city.
The Wedge is part of Dresden’s Museum of Military History, a giant limestone building that was once a military barracks. There is so much to unpack here, and we started right up at the top, inside the aluminum and steel wedge that sticks out of the top floor.
Here the war is presented in stark terms–dead people, grieving sons and daughters, and despondent German air force pilots who regretted bombing Poland and other atrocities committed during World War II.
The displays depict war for what it is…murder, forced homelessness, and despair. In other parts of the museum, you can see some of the ways that Hitler kept control over the population, like puzzles for children that spelled out his name, and tiny toys with Nazi swastikas on them.
The museum also presents other aspects of war in general, such as a large life-size display of the many animals that have been used for warfare by mankind. Chilling, and definitely worth an afternoon’s visit.
Move an hour’s drive to the northeast, you’ll find the equally beautiful city of Leipzig, where Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelsohn brought the music world’s attention in their day, and today remains one of the world’s most important places in classical music.
Leipzig was once a major center for Asian and European trade, as it is located on two important medieval trade routes.
In the 1920s before the war, Leipzig was a publishing powerhouse, with dozens of different book publishers having their headquarters here.
Today trade and publishing are not as much a part of the economy as the university and music.
Europe’s City of the Year 2019
Since 2000, and after razing many of the highly polluting old industries, the transformed city was proud to be named the European City of the Year 2019.
The music here dates back to Johann Sebastian Bach, whose house can be visited in the city, and composer Ludwig von Beethoven, whose nine symphonies were performed in a cycle for the first time, by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1825.
Today Leipzig is known for black metal music, and it’s also a city full of radicals, a local man told us.
Tasty Food with a View
You can still enjoy lots of classical concerts here in the acoustically stunning Gewandhaus, which was built in 1981. We enjoyed a tasty meal and some Saxony beers at the Panorama Tower just next door, with great views of the city.
We discovered a few of the gems of this city full of interesting buildings. The Church of the Reconciliation is a sacred Classical Modernist building, built in the style of the New Objectivity with the Bauhaus look inside and a giant clock tower of white cement.
Then we drove for a while to the gigantic former wool spinning factory, the place that employed many thousands in Leipzig before it shut down in the 1970s.
Today the Spinnerei is full of artists, sculptors, and other creatives who have a community of their own in the vast buildings of the former industrial complex.
We visited with American ex-pat Sarah Busskamp, who is married to a local minister in Leipzig and has her own painting studio in the complex.
“Up on the roof, there are chives planted, these huge roofs must have looked like fields, that’s why they weren’t bombed by the Allies during World War II.”
The Spinnerei was the biggest cotton spinning mill in all of Europe, until 1992 when it closed and was later revitalized by artists.
Today there are 14 art galleries and exhibitions. Guests can visit the many galleries with an 11 euro donation, the art is quite imaginative and interesting.
Giant Battle Monument
On our drive into Leipzig, we visited one of the largest battle monuments in Europe, memorializing a battle that few of us even had heard about. This is the impressive Monument to the Battle of Nations.
The stone and concrete memorial house a rotunda on the inside, and when our guide turned on his iPhone, the sounds of choral singing echoed off the thick walls making a lovely sound on a rainy day.
The battle in 1813 involved 600,000 soldiers, it was the largest conflict up to World War I. Napoleon’s invading army was defeated by a consortium of Saxon, Russian and Swedish allies. The memorial was built in 1913, one hundred years after the battle.
Dinner at Auerbach Keller
Leipzig is lit up at night and very beautiful, like Dresden. We drove back into the city center to the most famous and oldest restaurant in Germany, Auerbach Keller.
In a subterranean room with many different passageways, this edifice to ancient dining was once owned by a friend of Martin Luther‘s in the 16th century.
The menu includes famous dishes like Hausgemacht Rindsroulade or rolled beef, and Geeiste Leipziger Lerche, ice cream shaped like a bird.
Upon the wall is the logo of Goethe’s Dr. Faustus, which pays homage to the fact that the famous German author studied in Leipzig and knew the place well.
Auerbach Keller is a cozy and bustling place for a hearty East German feast. Come to Dresden in 2021, and see the completed multi-year restoration of the Royal Palace!
My trip to Germany was sponsored by Saxony Tourism, but the opinions are the author’s own. Find out more about visiting Dresden, Leipzig, and Saxony at their tourism website.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and does exactly what he wants to do every day.