Last weekend, Genevieve and I decided to go on a mission to find some castles (and possibly princesses). Having wracked my brain about local castles (Colditz did not seem like a suitable option for this adventure), I could think of no better place to go than the Altstadt of Dresden where one can see multiple castles and more than any city’s share of phenomenally beautiful buildings.
Arriving in Dresden at the main train station was quite a moving experience for me. I remember arriving there over twenty years ago with my backpack, a sleeping bag, and my horn feeling pretty shell-shocked and frightened as I walked down the main road leading from the train station – Prager Strasse. The change in this area was unbelievable, as was the awe-inspiring beauty of the city. Back then, things still looked pretty much like they had in the GDR. There were rows of apartment buildings built in the old cheap soviet style where buildings looked like concrete blocks with windows. Beautification largely took the form of reliefs done on portions of a building depicting some or other theme that was socialist in nature. Altogether, not the most visually appealing or welcoming sight. Combine this with a dodgy assortment of drunkards and vagrants at a dark train station and I am sure you can imagine the panic I felt when I arrived. How different this scene is today! The train station has been renovated and the area around it is bustling with people and shops. The fountains have been cleaned up and kids were splashing around in them. The walk towards the Altstadt was no longer like walking through a tunnel with your eye on the light at the end. Quite an amazing revitalization, but still not as mind-blowing as what was to come. The old part of the city of Dresden is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is built on the banks of the Elbe, where the city wall forms a terrace called the Bruhlische Terrace which holds multiple exquisite buildings built in the Baroque style, including the Art School (my personal favorite – I remember watching a firework and mime performance in front of it with mom and Simone von dem Busche many years ago). This all leads to the Dresden Castle, the rebuilt Frauenkirche, the Hofkirche, Semperoper, Zwinger, Taschenberg Palais, and Kreuzkirche, to name a few.
I had explained a little to Genevieve in the train about August the Strong. Actually, it was one of those moments where I didn’t really think things through properly before beginning my story-telling. I began by saying that there was a man a long time ago (around about the same time that Bach was alive – we had just been to his church in Leipzig) and he was called the Elector of Saxony and was basically like the king of the area. He was the one who built all of the beautiful palaces and castles that we will see today and his name was August der Starke or August the Strong.
“Mommy, why was he called August the Strong?”
“Well, he was in fact very strong and there is a story about how he once had an animal tossing competition where they threw 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers and 21 wildcats across the courtyard.”
“How can you catch all those animals?”
“Ummmm, they must have had a net…(none of the animals survived the toss). Anyway, August the Strong had many many children. They say he had as many children as there are days in a year.”
“Wow, did they all live with the Queen in the palace?”
“Er, no they didn’t all live with the queen (all but one of the children were illegitimate). But, the queen did have her own palace, just not right here. August the Strong made sure she had her own beautiful residence – I don’t think she liked lots of parties and August really liked to have people over. In fact, he gave such big and wonderful parties that he decided to make a building called the Zwinger into his party palace. August had gone to visit another King in France and really liked his castle (Versaille), so decided to make part of the city wall into his own one.”
We had arrived in the city and started our exploration in the Zwinger. What a magnificent building with so much attention to detail. A truly Baroque palace with statues and figurines everywhere.
“Mama, why are there naked boys everywhere?”
“They aren’t naked boys, they are little angels with cute bums.”
“That’s disgusting (her new favorite word).”
The Nymph Bath is still my favorite place and this really captured Genevieve’s imagination. From here one walks straight to the Semperoper and has a spectacular view of the Dresdener Castle and Hofkirche from the side. I have many memories of watching performances at the Semperoper from the very highest balcony where one could get cheap “standing room” tickets.
I was always fascinated by the passageway/ bridge that connected the Hofkirche to the Castle. It provides direct entrance to the church from an upper level. Apparently, there were times when Catholicism was not well-received in Saxony – the passage leads directly to the castle and although August the Strong did not use it, his son did.
One of the most amazing things about this city is that 90% of it was destroyed in the 2nd WW. Most of these incredible buildings have been rebuilt since then – when I lived there twenty years ago, there was still a lot to do. Back then, you could still see bombed out carcasses of buildings and many buildings were black with soot after not being cleaned since the war and the excessive use of coal for heat. Now the city is almost fully restored to its former beauty. I remember walking past the Frauenkirche and seeing scaffolds that had categorized some of the rubble in order to use it for the rebuilding of this church. These bricks have been incorporated into the new building and the Frauenkirche is once again the focal point of the Dresden skyline.
In an attempt to make up for how much I made G walk, I took her for ice-cream at the renovated Cosel Palais which is directly next to the Frauenkirche. I had the most divine piece of Dresdener Eierschecke and G’s single scoop of ice-cream was princess worthy. Nothing like having “tea” in a real castle!
Our final excursion was a trip up the Elbe on a Steam Boat. If you are still reading, I am sure you are getting tired of hearing how beautiful Dresden is. Well, seeing it from the river is even better and you get to see all the smaller castles along the way. G and I are going to visit another one of the castles in a few weeks, so we’ll have more then. Would so love to have all of you with us on this adventure!