Dresden was once known as the ‘Venice of the North’ because of its fame as an artistic centre during the 18th century. The worldly Augustus the Strong and his son Augustus III were the driving force behind the creation of the most striking buildings lining this bend on the Elbe River. Despite the fact that the entire world admired the artistry of these fine buildings, the Allies unleashed a devastating series of bombing raids between February 13th and 15th that laid waste to much of the city. It’s a miracle that any of these treasures survived the resulting inferno.
It is believed that 25,000 residents of Dresden perished, though some will argue that there were at least 10 times that number killed by the resulting fire storm. With the city virtually emptied of men who were away fighting the war, the task of clearing the rubble was left to the women. Much of the debris was carried away to the western fringes of the city and stacked in a pile that came to be known as the ‘Mountain of Fragments’.
Dresden fell under the control of the Soviets after the end of WWII and eventually became a part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). There was little or no reconstruction during the Cold War period, but following Reunification, efforts were begun to raise funds to rebuild Dresden’s much loved historic building, the Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady). The GDR had left the rubble as a memorial to the war. The new Church was consecrated in November 2005.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Both Anil and I were aware of the near total destruction of Dresden during the war, and for that reason, it never occurred to us to visit the city. However, one evening we were listening to a travel podcast and the host was interviewing someone who mentioned that most tourists take the train directly from Berlin to Prague and never think to stop in Dresden.
He felt that this was a big mistake, for in his opinion; Dresden is an enchanting city that is not to be missed. The fact that most of its historic buildings have literally risen from the ashes makes it a special place indeed. We looked at each other, and instantly agreed, that we would just have to take the ‘road less travelled’.
We chose a hotel in an outlying residential neighbourhood, not too far from the city centre. We stayed, what we feel, is the minimum length of time needed to get a ‘feel’ for a city, three nights. We arrived early enough in the afternoon that we were able to explore the historic centre and walk over the old bridge across the Elbe River before having a terrific dinner in a restaurant whose description in theLonely Planet caught our imagination.
We spent the following two days exploring the fine sights of the city and returned for a second meal at the same restaurant. We smiled when we read the following poem on the menu, meant to reflect on the fact that the foods they serve come from the four corners of the world:
in the good oil of the South, as the fathers already did,
We will drink from the good wine of the West to forget,
sip by sip, the dear misery of the East.
By Robert Gemhardt
On our last afternoon, we headed to see a series of courtyards, which had been decorated by different artists, each with their own creative style. It was a refreshing change after seeing so many historic buildings, blackened by the soot from the firestorm in 1945. We particularly loved the blue courtyard with the unique water sculpture that deals with heavy rain and delights at the same time. We enjoyed Dresden, and left with smiles on our faces, something we didn’t expect considering the not-so-long ago past.