Florence on the Elbe

Attention: open in a new window. PDF | Print | E-mail

Photo of the Frauenkirche taken from the "Canaletto perspective" – a reference to the oil painting "Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe, below the Augustusbrücke, 1751-53" by the painter Bernardo Bellotto, also known as Canaletto.

A walk through Dresden, Saxony’s Baroque jewel

By Michael Winckler

November 15, 2013

The clouds floating across the early evening sky above Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, are white, black, and gray. Those also happen to be the colors of the mighty stones that were used for part of the restoration of the Baroque Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden.

The circular interior of the Lutheran house of worship is brightly lit. People are streaming in at all of the entrances and the seats are quickly occupied. Today’s worshippers are people in the tourism industry who are celebrating the beginning of a tourism trade fair organized by a leading German tour company. The multicultural participants come from places like Kenya and Tanzania, Egypt, Tunisia, Cuba, Jamaica, Thailand and Indonesia, Portugal and Spain, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Deborah Woodson & Gospel Soulmates kick off the service. It is the first time that a gospel choir from the US has sung in the church. Then Pastor Holger Treutmann steps up to the pulpit. In his brief address, the pastor reminds the audience of the fateful history of Dresden’s most famous landmark.

In the night of Feb. 13, 1945, when the world war ignited by the Germans rebounded on Dresden, the church collapsed in the fire storm that destroyed most of the city. The bomb attack, which lasted for 32 hours, brought death to 35,000 people.

Until 1994, the ruins of the church remained in the historic center of Dresden as a memorial. “Then something happened that a lot of skeptics thought would never happen,” Treutmann said. “The first stone was put back in place, to begin restoring the historical church.” The work took until October 2005, when 250,000 people celebrated its reopening.

“Well over 100,000 donors contributed to the effort to make Frauenkirche Dresden open to visitors from all over the world,” the pastor said. “Most of them, including some of the British bomber pilots who dropped their deadly freight over the city, are foreigners.” This makes the church a symbol of reconciliation created by the entire world.

A stone’s throw away from the church is the old synagogue, which has also been rebuilt. Allied bombs didn’t destroy it – the Nov. 9, 1938 “Reichskristallnacht” pogrom left it gutted. If the synagogue had not also been rebuilt “the spirit of reconciliation symbolized by the Frauenkirche would only be halfhearted,” Treutmann said.

Dresden’s Frauenkirche is located on Neumarkt Square at the heart of the old Baroque-era city center on the bank of the River Elbe. Along with the Semperoper, the city’s internationally renowned opera house, the Residenzschloss royal palace, the Zwinger Palace with its distinctive Crown Pavilion, the Academy of Fine Arts, numerous museums and the Roman Catholic Hofkirche church, it is part of the cultural heart of Dresden.

A walk through the old city is not nearly enough to give visitors an idea of the art treasures the city has in store for them. But “if you’ve seen the Frauenkirche, you’ve understood Dresden,” as Christine von Brühl once wrote. She is a descendant of Heinrich, Count von Brühl, who served as a minister under King Frederic Augustus II (1836-1854) and was prime minister under Augustus III (1914-1918). The Brühl’s Terrace section of the riverbank is named after him.

Wide and several hundred meters long, it is a raised promenade along the River Elbe dotted with benches and trees, stairways and sculptures, as well as a small park, winding paths, and terraces. From here, you have a panoramic view of the river – when the skies are clear, you can see as far as the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.

Brühl’s Terrace defines the backdrop of the city, unifying the very different buildings of the old city to create a peaceful ensemble. But you will see the most impressive view of Old Dresden and the tall tower of the Frauenkirche from the other side of the river.

The view of Dresden illuminated by the evening sun is breathtaking. It bathes the windows, roofs, and dome of the Yenidze tobacco factory – a building based on the look of an Oriental mosque located close to Baroque Dresden – in a golden glow. This special quality of light is what has led city chroniclers and historians, visitors and residents to compare Dresden to Florence.

“Florence on the Elbe,” the Baroque jewel of Saxony, has a centuries-old art tradition that still resonates in the present and appears to be a pool of great potential for the future. Artists and professors such as Canaletto, Giovanni Casanova, Caspar David Friedrich, Gottfried Semper, and Ludwig Richter have taught at the art academy there, founded in 1764.

The Dresden Academy of Fine Arts features a classical, traditional education in painting and sculpture. It has shaped artists such as Eberhard Havekost, Thomas Scheibitz and Frank Nitsche.

Along with Neo Rauch from Leipzig, they are considered outstanding representatives of New German Painting and exhibit their works, which command five-figure prices, worldwide.

Artists are an integral part of city life in Dresden. Their sphere of influence reaches far beyond the walls of their studios – their presence informs the entire the city.

The people who initiated the popular movie nights on the banks of the Elbe were artists. You will encounter artists with easels or sketch pads on the meadows lining the river; they quickly convert dilapidated houses into bars and dance halls, and give concerts under bridges and performances in rear courtyards. And in the evening, you’ll meet them in the hot bars in the Neustadt district.