4-9 August 2015
When searching for a place to spend a few days this Summer, I thought of several places in Germany. From where I live the country is easy to reach by train, and there are so many beautiful places I haven’t seen yet. Thus after Hannover last year, this year I decided to go to Dresden. A bit further away than I had wanted, but high on my list. I was also inspired by a wonderful exhibition called “The Secret of Dresden” in the Gronings Museum early this year. It showed works of art from the Dresden State Art Collections and was presented splendidly. Not that I am a big lover of art, but Dresden is of course a very royal place too. Even more interesting than I at first had thought.
Talking about history … Dresden became a residence of the Margraves of Meissen early 13th century, and became their capital after 1270. Later it became the seat of the Dukes, Electors and even the Kings of Saxony. Big parts of the gorgeous historical center was destroyed by allied bombs in February 1945, killing many people, while others survived but never forgot what happened for the rest of their lives. But how beautiful the city looks now! If you wouldn’t know about the history, you’d actually hardly think that many of the important buildings in town and especially in the Altstadt (old town) were rebuild after World War II. The restoration of the Frauenkirche for example was only completed in 2005. Having been one of the most important cities in East Germany, it now has become a popular destination for tourists from all over the world.
Whether they all come for the royal connection like me … I don’t think so. But the city also houses great art collections, has quite a few museums, there is music everywhere and of course there is the River Elbe. There are restaurants everywhere, and there is always music. Also Czechia seems to be worth a day trip, although I didn’t have enough time for that. Unfortunately I had no time for a cruise on the Elbe either, which also wouldn’t have possible, as I arrived in a heath-wave – wonderful really (not) if you have a busy schedule – and there was hardly water left in the river. A pity for the tourist industry. I managed to do quite a lot in 4 1/2 days, but less than I had wanted, as it was simply impossible to hurry because of the warm weather, if you’re not used to it. It was certainly 35 C, if not more.
I arrived in Dresden in the early evening of 4 August 2015 after a long trainride taking almost the whole day. Just in time to get to my hotel, which to my surprise was located even closer to the most important attractions than I had thought, take my luggage to my room and get some food. I discovered it was just a short walk to the Elbe and enjoyed the waterside and my first look at the lovely buildings of Dresden a lot. Only the next morning I could really start exploring Dresden and surroundings. And there is really a lot to see. There was even much more to see than I had thought.
Because the forecasts said the weather would even be warmer in the next days (it was) I decided to visit the town of Meissen, just north of Dresden, first. Of course known for its porcelain, but I came for the Dom and the Albrechtsburg. The Dom is a very impressive cathedral and includes the Prince’s Chapel where several members of the family were buried. The Albrechtsburg was built between 1471 and 1524 as a royal residence, but never was in the end. In 1485 Saxony was divided by the brothers Ernst and Albert, and although Albert inherited the new castle, he and his successors rather took up residence in Dresden. The castle instead became the first European hard-paste porcelain manufacture from 1710 until 1863. The castle was only decorated with historical scenes at the end of the 19th century and in 1881 became a memorial to Saxon history. And I must say it is impressive. From the windows you also have a great view on Meissen itself.
After a visit to the Karl-May-Museum in Radebeul, dedicated to a famous German 19th-century writer, I headed to Wackerbarth Castle in Radebeul. Built for Count August Christoph von Wackerbarth between 1727 and 1730 it once was a place where even the Saxon rulers liked to party. Nowadays it is an experience wine-growing estate. I didn’t climb up the hills, but had a great ice cream on the terrace. The castle itself is unfortunately only open when you take a castle and gardens or an historic tour. And they don’t take place that often a week, and from what I could see the inside wasn’t that interesting either, at least not on the ground floor. Time to go back to Dresden …
Already at home I had noticed something online I liked. From the railway station of Radebeul-Ost there is the Lößnitzgrundbahn (Lössnitz Valley Railway), a narrow gauge steam-hauled railway, that takes you to Moritzburg. And that was exactly where I wanted to go. Radebeul is pretty close to the main railway station of Dresden, so early in the morning of 6 August I took the train there, and from there went by steam locomotive to Moritzburg. Full train as there was a group of tourists from Belgium too. The first part it mainly passes woods and houses pretty closely, but later on the view became better. From the railway station I had to walk through town to get to Moritzburg Castle. On the opposite of the road is the Moritzburg State Stud, so I had a look, as the museum hadn’t opened yet.
But at last I managed to get into the castle. Inside I thought it was actually pretty small, but it seems you see more when you do a tour. Although it already had started to become warm, I decided to walk to the “Fasanenschlöschen” (Little Pheasant Castle), said to be the smallest castle of I think Germany. Had something to eat and to drink, had a tour through the still not fully restored rooms, and walked all the way back. Of course at the Fasanenschlösschen I had found out I could have taken a horse-drawn carriage, but when I wanted to return myself, none of them were in sight. Exhausted I had another drink at the Moritzburg Castle before returning to Dresden by bus. Back in Dresden I visited the historical green vaults at the residence, and then thought it was enough for the day.
What next? When I noticed the Alte katholische Friedhof (old catholic cemetery) was only open in the morning on weekdays [not quite sure now whether that is true), I started my day there. A lovely old churchyard with many old graves, including many nobles and some Saxon royals. Notable that the last one to be buried there was Prince Albert of Saxony, in 2012, who is buried next to the famous German composer Carl Maria von Weber. The cemetery is not too big, and if you can’t find someone, just ask around as there were lots of people taking care of the cemetery when I was there, or have a look at the map in the tiny house at the front.
I hurried back into the city center to take the bus to Stolpen. Yes, another place outside Dresden, and a very special one. The medieval castle Burg Stolpen is probably most known for being the place where Anna Constantia von Brockdorff (1680-1765), later Countess von Cosel was imprissoned from 1716 to her death 49 years later. For a few years she was the mistress of King August the Strong of Saxony and Poland. The Johannis Tower gives a bit of history of its famous inhabitant. The village of Stolpen is situated on a hill, and you can see it alreaady from several kilometers distance. A bit of a climb to the castle, but it is worth it. I promise you it is much easier to get back.
Time to get back to Dresden by bus. On the way up I had noticed I was passing Albrechtsberg Castle. Sounded familiar somehow. And when I got there it turned out I was right. This was the place where Prince Albrecht of Prussia and his second wife Rosalie lived. He had previously married Princess Marianne of the Netherlands, a very unhappy marriage. The castle isn’t open, but there is a tiny exhibition about the Prince in the gatehouse and you can walk around in the gardens. Next door at the Lingner Castle is a nice terrace by the way with a great view on Dresden and the Elbe River. As the day hadn’t finished yet I visited the Grosser Garten (Grand Garden), the biggest park in Dresden. The palace is only open for concerts and exhibitions, and I was lucky there was an exhibition, so at least I was able to see part of it. Still hardly restored tough.
One whole day left, and I hadn’t even seen the Pillnitz Palace in the outskirts of Dresden yet. Usually I would have liked to take the boat, but they didn’t sail because the water was so low. It was easiest just to take a tram and then take a short ferry to the other side of the Elbe River. Although I had left early it already started to get warm. The park was open earlier than the palace, so I walked around and had breakfast on a bench on the waterside near the English Pavillion. The Palm House looked lovely and I discovered some tiny birds walking around between the plants and flowers. In a side room there was an interesting photo exhibition about the building. When the palace opened I had seen already most of the gardens. I was quite surprised by the palace, partly built in Chinese style. Lovely rooms, nice exhibitions, something new around each corner. At the end I had a look at the shops at the entrance (there is even a second hand bookshop there) and had something to eat and to drink. Then I slowly walked back to the ferry, enjoying the view on the Elbe River, and headed back into town.
Finally I had time to stroll around in the old city itself. I only got as far as Dresden Cathedral, better known as the “Hofkirche” (Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony), however I was too late for any tour through the vaults (only once a day, early in the afternoon). I also had a look inside the wonderfully rebuilt Frauenkirche. I ended the day on a terrace with some icecream and later had dinner.
Only hours to go and still so much to see in Dresden.I started early on 9 August walking around in a still silent Dresden. There are clearly only few tourists who get up early. Walked through the streets, took pictures of nice buildings and finally managed to visit the residence and the fortress of Dresden. Then I walked back to the hotel, picked up my luggage and walked into the direction of the Hofkirche. Had “dinner” (at lunchtime) on a terrace and got into the church to take the tour through the vaults of the Saxon margraves and kings. It was just manageable before I had to go to the railway station. The tour was interesting, as well as the vaults.
And that was a lovely end of my vacation. Unfortunately I discovered at home that I had totally forgotten to have a better look at the Zwinger. Shame on me missing one of the most important buildings, especially as that was the place it all started with in the first place (the exhibition in Groningen was based on details and paintings from the Zwinger). If only the weather had been a bit cooler, I probably had been able to see more than I did now. Maybe a good reason to return one day!