Every American Should Visit Dresden

German Word of the Day:


Geschichte

n., fem; history, story


Dresden.  As I write this today, Dresden is the place I would most recommend seeing in Germany.  It’s an 800 year-old city in far eastern Germany and is the capitol of the state of Saxony.  I’m travelling this year through an international exchange program called Youth for Understanding, and I got to spend a week in Dresden at a seminar with 30 other American exchange students.  We did all the normal sightseeing things, and also learned loads about the history and politics of Dresden and the area that used to be East Germany.  One week later, Dresden is my favorite city in Germany and I would jump at the chance to visit it again.  Here are my top 2 reasons why everyone, and especially every American, should visit this city.

 1. Dresden is spectacularly beautiful.

Dresden sits only a few miles from Germany’s border with the Czech Republic, and both the surrounding landscape and the unique architecture of the area is stunning.  It’s a city I could happily spend hours simply meandering through without a plan, and that’s not the way I usually like to travel.  To me, Dresden feels like a fairy tale city.  See for yourself:

Dresden
Here am I and a few other exchange students using the Designated Tourist Photo Op, along the banks of the river Elbe.
Dresden
The gothic spires and cobblestone streets of Dresden.  You can see here how some of the stones are blacker than the rest.  They are pieces of the original buildings that were used for reconstruction after the WWII air raids.
Frauenkirche
Dresden’s most famous church, the Frauenkirche. Completely destroyed during WWII, the citizens of Dresden started a grass-roots movement to raise the money for it to be puzzle-pieced back together using the wreckage from the original building.
Zwinger
The entrance to the awe-inspiring Zwinger, Dresden’s palace.
Zwinger
And here is the Zwinger from the inside.  I couldn’t help wishing we were there during the summer when the courtyard is filled with flowers and fountains.

 

 2. Dresden is living history.

Dresden is more than just a beautiful city – it also has a fascinating history.  I had a handful of exciting experiences there that left a big impression on me.

The first interesting thing I saw in Dresden was this prison that was used first by the Russian army and then by the Stasi, the often-brutal police force of former East Germany. The visit was so interesting because our tour guide had been imprisoned there himself for trying to escape to democratic West Germany.
Second, we got to visit the building where the Sachsen government meets to create and debate laws. This modern building is quite a contrast to the gothic style of the rest of Dresden! I and the other exchange students got to sit in the seats of the representatives and have a mock law-making session.
This is the Dresden Pan-O-Meter, and it was the most powerful part of my trip. The Pan-O-Meter is a 360-degree display of how Dresden looked directly after it was bombed by American and British forces in 1945. Visitors stand on top of a small tower and look out over an incredibly detailed depiction of the ruin of this great city. With some heavy violin-music for atmosphere, it’s hard not to cry.

That last picture shows why Dresden is a city that every American tourist should visit.  From my first pictures, you can see what a beautiful place it was before WWII.  But in 1945, it was subjected to one of the worst bombings in the war.  The entire city was destroyed and 25,000 inhabitants were killed within 3 days.  The most disturbing thing about the bombing is that Dresden probably wasn’t attacked for strategic reasons.  It was filled with refugees fleeing from the east, and didn’t have a large hand in the war – the Allies obliterated Dresden in order to destroy the morale of the German people.  The details of the bombing are pretty horrific, and you can read the Wiki article here.

After the war, the citizens of Dresden rebuilt the city one brick at a time – literally.  As you stroll through Dresden’s streets, you’ll notice that the buildings are a mix of black and white stones.  The black stones are the remnants of the original buildings that were set back in place.  Knowing that fact makes it seem like the very architecture in Dresden is alive – a mix of old and new, retaining the designs of the orignal Saxon kings, while showing the marks of time and tragedy that have come upon the city.

My visit to Dresden made me realize that though the Third Reich was a horror not to be lightly passed over, the history we tell about World War II is still simplistic.  At least in America, we seem very comfortable labeling the good guys and bad guys in that particular war.  Dresden reminds us that there really are two sides to every fight.  Even in a conflict such as WWII, can anyone really be innocent?

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3 thoughts on “Every American Should Visit Dresden

  1. Mia,

    Grandma and I visited Dresden in 1973 when it was a part of the GDR. We went to the Zwinger and we sw an opera there. We are both glad that we had the opportunity to visit so many years ago.

    Grandpa Werger

    Paul Werger pwerger@aol.com

    Like

  2. When my father in law was a 6 year old boy, he was seeking refuge in Dresden with his Mom and his 2 month old brother, after escaping from Breslau just in the very last minute before Russians took the City over. They spent the nights of the attacks in the basement of a house and the house collapsed over them. They had been saved – and he had to run through the ruins, the burning dead corps as a 6 year old to look for water for his mother and his brother. These memories went with him all through his life and dictated many things, that were hard to understand from the outside, if you did not know the story….
    I am very glad, Maria, that you had such a moving stay in Dresden – it´´s not just Christmas market…
    Iris

    Liked by 1 person

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