Dresden [ˈdreːsdn̩] (Sorbian/Lusatian Drježdźany), the capital city of the German federal state of Saxony, is situated in a valley on the river Elbe. The city’s population stood at 480, 347 in December 2004 and the total population in its metropolitan area was about a million. The city today functions as an important cultural, political, and economic center in Germany. Dresden is internationally known for the controversial firebombing of the city by British and American air forces during World War II.
About the city
Map of Germany showing Dresden
Dresden is located at , in the southeastern corner of eastern Germany; about two hours south of Germany's capital, Berlin, and about two hours north of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. About an hour northwest of Dresden is Leipzig, another big city in Saxony.
Unlike many large cities in Germany, which feature a clearly defined inner city, Dresden has several important centers of social and economic activity spread throughout the city's area. Often seen as an important culture center, it is called the "Florence of the Elbe" (Elbflorenz in German) because of that.
Dresden is also an important center of the sciences and is home to many researchers. The city is often called the "Silicon Valley of Germany" because numerous computer hardware and hi-tech development firms have opened offices and research facilities in the region. The Dresden University of Technology, is one of the world's oldest technical universities.
Because of its location in a relatively narrow river valley, Dresden's climate is much more characteristic of southern Germany and is considerably warmer than most other places in eastern Germany. In 2002 Dresden was listed as one of Europe’s greenest (large) cities: a third of its area is covered by the forested areas called Dresdner Heide. The Großer Garten (“big garden”) is the largest urban park in the city.
Before the bombing raids of World War II, Dresden with its unmatched collection of baroque architecture was famous as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The style of architecture that predominated under August I of Saxony is known as Dresdner Barock . The city area also reportedly had in some quarters the highest living costs in Europe before World War II. Many of the city's greatest monuments were rebuilt in the decades following the war; this process was given new impetus and funding after the reunification of Germany in 1990. The city now once again features a wealth of tourist attractions. The major sights of Dresden include:
Semper Opera House
Zwinger Baroque buildings enclosing a picturesque garden
Frauenkirche Baroque church
- Dresden castle
- the Grünes Gewölbe, the "Green Vault" where the Saxon Crown Jewels are displayed
- Gallery of Old and New Masters
- Broad River Meadows
- Brühl’s Terrace—”The Balcony of Europe” - a terrace overlooking the Elbe river.
- world´s biggest and oldest paddle steamer fleet
- The Fürstenzug (procession of princes) fresco showing the Wettin dynasty
- Large castles:
- villa quarters like Blasewitz, Klotzsche, Preußisches Viertel, Wachwitz, Kleinzschachwitz, Weißer Hirsch, Südvorstadt, Wiener Viertel, Strehlen, Waldschlößchenviertel, Großer Garten, Laubegast, Bühlaupark, Bürgerwiese, Striesen, Plauen, Bühlau, Hellerau, Johannstadt, Tolkewitz, Neugruna, Pillnitz and Radebeul.
- Europe´s largest Dixieland music festival
- The oldest German Christmas Fair, the Striezelmarkt (only around Christmas, Dresdner Christstollen, Christmas pyramid toys e.g.)
- Large number of technical and art museums. Many of these hold world records in collection sizes, just as an example the biggest porcelain collection of the world.
- The German military history museum (with exhibits dating back to the Stone Age)
Blue Wonder historic bridge considered a "wonder" of 19th century enigineering
Schwebebahn Dresden an aerial cable car similiar as the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal
Standseilbahn Dresden - the funicular cable railway in Dresden.
Fernsehturm Dresden-Wachwitz - TV Tower of Dresden. Unfortunately the observation deck is closed.
- The Transparent Factory, a large Volkswagen assembly plant with a glass exterior opened in 2002
Nearby, at a higher elevation, are the villages Bannewitz and Rundteil at the foot of the Bohemian Riesengebirge mountains. In the north is the Bühlau quarter; in the east Kleinzschachwitz, anothr villa quarter. Also nearby is Saxon Switzerland, a large prime climbing destination. To the west of Dresden Meissen is situated, most famous for the invention and production of European porcelain.
Early and pre-war history
An ancient Slavic settlement on the northern bank of the river was joined in 1206 by a German town on the southern bank, the heart of today’s Altstadt (“old town”). It was the seat from 1270 of the Wettin Landgrafs (Counts) of Meißen. From 1485 it was the seat of the dukes of Saxony, and from 1547 the electors as well. Between 1806 and 1918 it was the capital of the kingdom of Saxony (which was from 1871 a part of the German Empire). The city has suffered repeated destruction: by fire in 1491, from bombardment by the Prussians in 1760, and during the suppression of a constitutionalist uprising (The May Uprising) in 1849 and the destructive Allied bombing raid of February 1945. August the Strong (1694-1733), who planned to make Dresden the most important royal residence, set out to discover the Chinese secret of porcelain (‘white gold’). Under his rule, European porcelain was invented in Dresden and Meißen. He also gathered many of the best architects and painters from all over Europe to Dresden. His reign was the beginning of Dresden’s emergence as a leading European city for technology and art.
During the 19th century, the city became a major center of industry, including automobile production, food processing, and the production of medical equipment. The city also developed into an important center for the international sale of art works and antiques. The city’s population quadrupled from 95,000 in 1849 to 396,000 in 1900 as a result of industrialization.
79% of all dwellings in the city were either destroyed totally or were damaged, with the inner-city buildings faring the worst; the center became a sea of ruins.
Main article: Bombing of Dresden in World War II
Dresden was not the only German city devastated by World War II bombing, but the bombing of Dresden in 1945 has become one of the most controversial events of that war. It was bombed in February 1945, even though the end of World War II was foreseeable. The city was not particularly well defended, because it had been too far for the Allied bombers to reach early in the war and although it had been bombed before, as well as cities even in southern Germany, the anti-aircraft defences had been removed.
Dresden's reputation for culture is better known than its highly developed optics industry (Carl Zeiss later Praktica), which according to unverified intelligence reports produced precision aiming devices during the war. In addition many peacetime factories, such as the cigarette factories, had been converted to ammunition factories as part of the policy of "total war". However these targets were not the main reason for the city being bombed. The Red Army were approaching from the East and Dresden was one of two key rail routes with marshalling yards. Although key industrial facilities were destroyed by the bombing (much of their capacity was later restored), the main goal of the "area bombing" was to create a fire storm (an objective inspired by the Luftwaffe's raids on Coventry, Bath and London but refined by Britain's Royal Air Force).
Civilian death estimates vary wildly largely as a result of propaganda figures which received widespread publicity at the time, however the most recently available evidence points to 35,000 deaths, which is less than the number that died in Hamburg, but Dresden was a smaller city. Numbers between 25,000 - 140,000 have been used in official statistics; estimates in western Germany were often higher than the 35,000 used in the east. At that time, Dresden's population was 600,000, but hundreds of thousands of refugees were living in and passing through Dresden as the Russians were now only fifty miles away. The entire inner city (15 square kilometres) was utterly devastated, and other quarters were damaged to some degree, the many villa quarters, however, on average much less than others.
While some think that the bombing of Dresden was a tragic occurrence that Nazi Germany brought upon itself, others feel it should be treated as a war crime. Others see it as a military necessary action taken to support the Red Army. Fortunately, much of the city's beauty has been restored, thanks to the zeal of the populace in recreating the architecture of ‘old Dresden'. Today Dresden has a strong partnership with the English city Coventry, which was heavily damaged by German air attacks. The partnership is deeply supported by the populace in both cities.
The postwar period (communist rule)
After the Second World War, Dresden became a major industrial center in socialist East Germany with a great deal of research infrastructure. Many important historic buildings were rebuilt, although the communists leaders of the city chose to reconstruct large areas of the city in a bland socialist modern style for ideological reasons, namely to break away from the city's past as the royal capital of Saxony and a stronghold of the German bourgeoisie. Among East Germans, Dresden also earned the nickname "the valley of the clueless" because the city's location in a valley prevented its residents from watching West German TV, an illegal but popular pastime among East Germans. On 3 October 1989, (the so-called “battle of Dresden”), a convoy of trains carrying East German refugees from Prague passed through Dresden on its way to West Germany. Local activists and residents, joined in the growing civil disobedience movement spreading across East Germany by staging demonstrations and demanding the removal of the undemocratically-elected communist government.
Dresden has experienced dramatic changes since the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s. The city still has many of its wounds from the bombing raids of 1945 but Dresden has gotten an impressive "make-over" in recent years. The most important urban renewal/reconstruction project in progress is that of the Frauenkirche (“Church of Our Lady”) and the surrounding Neumarkt district. The church, once the city's symbol, was partly rebuilt from the stones of the original church. Despite the inner city’s almost total destruction in World War II, many areas in the central city have been restored to their former glory. The urban renewal (German: Stadtreparatur) process in Dresden will continue for many decades but public and government interest remains high and there are numerous large budget projects underway - both historic reconstructions and modern plans - that will continue the city's recent architectural renaissance.
Summer open-air cinema by the Elbe; in the background, Brühl’s Terrace, the Hofkirche and the Opera.
In 1990 Dresden--an important industrial centre of East Germany--had to struggle with the economic collapse of the Soviet Union and the other export markets in eastern Europe. East Germany had been the richest Communist country but was faced with competition from western Germany after reunification. After 1990 a completely new law and currency system was introduced in the wake of Communism’s downfall, and eastern Germany's infrastructure was largely rebuilt with funds from western Germany. Dresden as a major urban center has developed much faster and more consistently than most other regions in the former East Germany, but the city still faces many social and economic problems which stem from the collapse of the communist system, including high unemployment levels. Many of the industries that made Dresden rich before the Second World War and disappeared under communism have resettled in the city including the optical industry, the high quality foodstuffs industries, and the watchmaking industries (including the Glashuette brand). The city has also attracted many new firms to the region (including AMD, Motorola, Dupont, Infineon, and Airbus Industries). Volkswagen is currently manufacturing its Phaeton car model and the Bentley "flying spur" model at a modern factory located in central Dresden, delivered by city tramway.
The city and the River Elbe
In 2002, torrential rains caused the Elbe to flood 29 feet past its 1845 record height, damaging many landmarks. The destruction from this “millennium flood” is no longer visible, due to the rapidity of reconstruction. Disaster relief for the millennial flood came from around the world.
In 2004 the United Nation's cultural organization UNESCO declared Dresden and the surrounding section of Elbe river valley to be a "World Heritage" site.
Dresden remains a major cultural epicenter of historical memory, owing to the city's destruction in World War II. Every year on February 13, the anniversary of the major British fire-bombing raid that destroyed most of the city, tens of thousands of demonstrators gather to commemorate the event. Similar ceremonies held during the period of communism were specifically directed at demonizing the Western Allies, above all the United States. Since reunification, the tone of the ceremonies has taken on a more neutral and pacifist tone. In recent years, however, right-wing extremist skinheads have tried to instrumentalize the event for their own political ends. Affiliated with the radical right National Democratic Party, they cite the bombing of Dresden in order to portray Germans as the real victims of the Second World War, and try to take advantage of anti-American sentiment to do it. In 2005, Dresden was host to the largest Neo-Nazi demonstration in the post-war history of Germany. Between five and eight thousand Neo-Nazis took part, ostensibly in mourning for the victims of the Allied bomb-holocaust (German: Alliierter Bombenholocaust).
In an attempt to become one of Germany's cleanest cities, Dresden is even considering a DNA database storing profiles for all of the city's 12,000 registered dogs, to identify the creators of found excrements.