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Dresden, a treasure house restored

IN ITS WAY, A MODERN MIRACLE

Most of the old town, which was 80 per cent destroyed by World War II fire bombing, has been meticulously reconstructed.The high point of the restoration came in 2005 with the reconsecration of the Frauenkirche, the Lutheran church at the city’s heart.

 

The church’s dome collapsed on the morning of 15 February 1945 as temperatures in the decimated city rose to 1,000 degrees Celsius.The ruins of the Frauenkirche remained neglected by the East German government because it symbolised an anti-war monument.

After German reunification, however, the church’s restoration became a monument to international reconciliation. It took 10 years of intense labour, but the elegant baroque edifice looks again as it did when Bach gave an organ recital here in 1736. So does most of Dresden’s old town.This elegant city on a bend of the Elbe River reflects the refined taste of the Saxon princes who made Dresden their royal residence.

You can wander for hours window shopping and browsing for Dresden porcelain, glass, or antiques. Alternatively, you can watch the crowds go by from the vantage point of a café table. From the Canaletto terrace at the Westin Bellevue hotel, you would have a view of the city’s skyline just as was painted by Canaletto’s nephew, Canaletto II. If the weather is fine, take a boat ride on the Elbe River.The valley, with its hillside vineyards, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A cruise on an historic paddleboat is a particularly fine way to visit Pillnitz and the palace, renowned for its Chinese style lacquered furniture in the royal apartments as well as August the Strong’s throne and his silver furniture.

It takes three days to do Dresden justice, but no matter how long or short the stay, don’t miss the Green Vault, one of Europe’s most sumptuous treasure chambers.The famous collection of the Dukes of Saxony has been reinstalled in its historic home in the Dresden Royal Palace. It occupies two exhibition areas: the New Green Vault and the Historic Green Vault,  an overwhelming abundance of baroque splendour in gold, silver, precious gems, enamel, ivory, bronze, and amber.The New Green Vault presents more than 1,000 individual works of art, including the golden coffee set, the fabulous “Royal Household of the Grand Mogul,” and the largest green diamond in the world.

The extensively restored Historic Green Vault was where, between 1723 and 1730, August the Strong expressed his wealth and power in a display of riches. Set off by the baroque architecture, 3,000 artworks stand against a background of intricately embellished walls and on ornamental tables.The circular tour ends in the Jewel Room with its unique historical collection of 18th century ceremonial jewellery. Wonderful, too, is the collection of porcelain in the Zwinger Gallery. Some 20,000 Chinese, Japanese, and Meissen pieces are displayed on the walls essentially as August the Strong intended them to be. Most evocative of the lengths to which the Saxon ruler’s passion for porcelain led him, are the so-called “Dragoon Vases.” Augustus exchanged 600 of his dragoons for 151 blue and- white Chinese porcelain vessels owned by Frederick William I, King of Prussia.

The Zwinger in itself ranks as one of the most grandiose examples of German baroque architecture. This enormous edifice, a kind of Saxon Versailles, houses a number of museums, including the Alte Meister, home to Rafael’s Sistine Madonna.The originals of the two cheeky cherubs that have become Dresden’s “signature” are at the base of this serenely beautiful painting.

While you’re there:

The Frauenkirche is open to visitors. Consult www.frauenkirche-dresden.de for details about concerts and services.
The Zwinger opening hours are 10am to 6pm, closed Mondays.
Telephone: +49 (0)351-491 42000.
Website: www.skd-dresden.de.

Pillnitz Palace is, in fact, three palaces.The Waterside Palace in the Chinese style is closed Tuesdays; the Hillside Palace is closed Mondays; the New Palace is open daily. In the magnificent park, under a protective housing, stands a 250-year-old camellia, nine metres high. It produces some 35,000 crimson blooms from mid-February to mid-April. Pillnitz is open daily from 1 May to 31 October from 10:00 to 18:00.
For details, visit: www.schloesser-dresden.de.

The Historic Green Vault in the Residence Castle is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 10am to 7pm.The last admittance is 18:00.Ticket reservations, which are necessary, are available online from www.skd-dresden.de.

Ticket reservations are not necessary for the New Green Vault.Those tickets are available at the reception desk. Opening hours are the same as those for the Historic Green Vault.

Getting there:
In about 2 1/2 hours by train from Berlin, you arrive in Norman Foster’s light-filled reincarnation of Dresden’s Central Station. Don’t despair of Dresden as you make your way to the Old Town from here; the area around the train station is post-war Soviet town planning at its worst.

 

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