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It seems like an unlikely combination – operas, baroque, and destruction. Yet, the history of Dresden, Germany is complex, sad, and beautiful – a story of rising from the ashes. Before WWII, Dresden was the epicenter of German culture and art. As the seventh-largest city in Germany, Dresden was frequently host to Richard Wagner’s newest compositions and home to the Electors and Kings of Saxony. Hence the amazing baroque and rococo architecture of the Altstadt (old city). All of this came crashing down on the night of February 13, 1945.
In a controversial bombing, the British and American air forces conducted multiple raids on Dresden from February 13-15, 1945. These raids were highly contentious for multiple reasons:
- The war was considered by most to be already “over.” American and British troops were advancing quickly from the West and Soviet troops were less than 100 miles from Berlin on the Eastern Front.
- The only military significance associated with Dresden was located outside the city – and those areas were NOT targeted by the bombing.
- The citizens of Dresden were mainly women, children, senior citizens, and prisoners of war.
Modern-day estimates place the death toll somewhere between 25,000 – 37,000 individuals (in comparison, the bombing of Nagasaki killed 40,000 people). The hardest part about pinpointing an exact death toll is due to the nature of the firebombing. Many individuals were simply incinerated or vaporized, thus leaving no trace of their existence. The famous American author, Kurt Vonnegut, was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the bombing. He subsequently wrote the book Slaughterhouse-Five about his experiences and recollections.
But the real story of Dresden begins after WWII. Zoned into East Germany, the city was almost in complete disrepair until the late 1980s/early 1990s. The building above, the famous Semperoper (Semper Opera House), was rebuilt and opened exactly 40 years after it was destroyed in the Dresden bombing.
The Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) withstood the initially bombing but finally collapsed on February 15th. A symbol and landmark of the city, the ruins of the church would lie in a pile of rubble in the city center for the next 45 years. After the reunification of Germany in the 1990s, plans were put in place for the rebuilding of the church. Amazingly, the stones were meticulously numbered and catalogued based upon old paintings and photographs of the Frauenkirche. Additionally, the church was rebuilt according to the exact plans used to build it in the 1720s. The difference in sandstone color is due to the fires from the Dresden bombing as well as weathering over time. For a more detailed account about the rebuilding process, head over to the official website of the Frauenkirche here (the English website is fantastic!).
From the peak of German culture to the total destruction of the city, Dresden has managed to rise from the ashes. A vibrant city – both the Altstadt and Neustadt – Dresden is one of my favorite cities in all of Germany and should not be missed on your next trip to Germany!
HINTS & TIPS FOR DRESDEN, GERMANY
- Start out with breakfast at Elbsalon or Alex. Elbsalon serves the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted in Germany and Alex has a particularly good Sunday brunch in the heart of the old city
- Hands down, the best coffee is Oswaldz in the new city
- Ball- und Brauhaus Watzke is a great dinner location that serves homemade beer and traditional German food
- Trying to find a place to stay? Look no further than this guide on where to stay in Dresden!
- Need more tips? Check of this blog post by Megan Starr. Actually, read all of her blog posts because she goes to the coolest locations! Megan does a great job outlining things to do in the Neustadt (new city) of Dresden!