Since 1989 rebirths have happened all over eastern Germany, but no city had more to overcome than Dresden. If there is an award for comeback city of the post World War II/Communist era, surely Dresden is a leading candidate.

The night following allied bombing raids that killed tens of thousands of civilians and totally destroyed six square miles of the center of Germany's most beautiful city, RAF General Arthur "Bomber" Harris arrived to dine with Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister. Churchill: "What is the news from Dresden?" Harris: "There is no such place as Dresden."

In mid-February 1945, General Harris may have had a point. But not today. The resurrection of Dresden, delayed by some 45 years of Soviet dominance, is now well underway, though the difference between it and western cities is still striking.

On a June train ride from Munich, physical differences were still evident. The western part of the country appears prosperous and full of life; but further east the dark, dirty buildings in the small cities seem neglected. Only the countryside was as green and apparently well-tended as in the west.

My first impressions of Dresden were disconcerting. I got off the train in the black, hulking Neustadt Station, across the river from Dresden's center. A short walk from my hotel near the station took me to Marienbrücke, which bridges the Elbe west of Augustusbrücke. From there the view to the east includes a large domed building which looks like a Mosque but is a cigarette factory, a survivor on the edge of the once flattened city center. Crossing the bridge and heading downtown, I confronted another bombing survivor, a huge warehouse, left blackened and peeling as it must have looked in 1945.

But even with these and the many other somber reminders of the fire storm and the dark days of communist rule, Dresden has vitality and charm.

As it flows peacefully between green banks, the River Elbe provides a gracious setting for the city it divides. Nearly a fourth of Dresden's urban area is made up of woods and parks. The river skyline was once world famous, depicted by Italian court painter Canaletto in the 18th Century. It was in this period that Architects Poppelman and Chiaveri built the beautiful Zwinger Palace and the huge Cathedral.

A most successful and beautiful completed rebuilding project is Zwinger Palace, with its colonnaded baroque buildings enclosing fountains and a grassy public area. A palace guide claims the communists wanted to tear it down but locals adamantly refused and eventually Zwinger became first major reconstruction.

The old Baroque district along the Elbe is also beginning to regain its prewar splendor with the completed restoration of the royal castle and other buildings, including the Old Masters Gallery, Theaterplace, New Masters Gallery, and Albertinum Hall. The Opera House reconstruction has also been recently completed and already 30 museums are open.

In addition to opera, performances at the Semper Opera, now one of the best and most beautiful theaters in Germany, include Dresden's orchestra, the Kreuzchor boys choir, various theater companies, puppet shows, and political cabaret.

The Semper Gallery, restored at the cost of 100 million DM, now has 650 paintings, about a third of its original collection. Like the Louvre, its display space has been expanded underground, although the visitors entrance is still in its original location at the top of a wide staircase.

Hotels, still scarce in Dresden, are also being built. The Hilton, inside a classical Baroque shell, is near the site of another new luxury hotel, a Kempinski, which is also being built to resemble the building originally occupying its site.

During communist rule, all schools taught Russian rather than English as a second language, so communication, except in luxury hotels can be a problem. Store clerks also speak no English. On Hauptstrasse I found only one book (a travel guide) in English. Clerks are generally helpful but not overly friendly.

One of the most astonishing sights is a non-building across from the Hilton. Occupying this prominent location is an awe inspiring ruins, reminiscent of the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral in England. It was Dresden's proudest building, the Frauenkirche Cathedral. What remains of the once huge building there is no roof, only a few walls and a portion of one tower has been left in its mutilated state, beside a boneyard of more that 20,000 blackened stone fragments, saved for reuse. A large sign describes the beginning of a reconstruction project, estimated to cost 320 million German marks, and requests donations to add to the total of 7 million raised to date. The decision to rebuild, however, created a controversy. It was first decided to leave the site in ruins as a memorial to the victims of the air raids, as had been done in Coventry and with Berlin's Memorial Church. But now the church will be rebuilt in time for Dresden's 600th anniversary in 2006. As a compromise, fresh, light-hued limestone is to be interspersed with fire-blackened fragments from the original church, creating a kind of checkerboard effect. Architects hope the final result will continue to proclaim the message of the ruined church.

Another controversy involves a huge shopping mall or "World Trade Center." When built it will be Europe's largest. Included is a 16-story building which some believe will disrupt the skyline, be out of character with the cathedral's 18th century Baroque dome, and disastrous to the goal of restoring the prewar skyline.

Despite the bickering, this is a strong and resourceful city, constantly making the best of what is available. As above-ground portions are being reconstructed, Dresdeners are making use of the underground city, extensive caves, originally built so tradespeople could move safely in and out during sieges. These caverns provide spacious areas for concerts, parties and celebrations. Above ground, the air is becoming cleaner as most of the polluting two-cycle Trabant autos are replaced by modern Fords and Opels.

Shopping opportunities, lacking during the communist period, are improving. The best stores are along Welsdruffer strasse, with Pragerstrasse a second choice. And leisure activities are increasing with the repair of the waterfront and its paddle and cruise ships. Perhaps the best way to enter modern Dresden would be from a paddle steamer, around the graceful river bends, past vast green meadows and docking opposite silhouettes of the city towers. Or take one of the available dinner cruises, enjoying the scenery in the slowly fading light of a long summer evening, passing beautiful villas along the Elbe, near the 100-year-old "Blue Wonder" suspension bridge. You will see that some districts suffered little damage in the bombing and thus give an impression of Dresden's past glory.

Dresden is a continuing event. A visitor's wish to enjoy the present is equaled by the desire to return to see how the new city will turn out.

Hotels

Hotelschiff Elbresidenz

(Editor's Choice)

This riverboat hotel and restaurant is moored beside old paddle boats on the Elbe, looking across to the skyline of old town. It's a marvelous location and the hotel has a very attractive restaurant.

Guestrooms are identical double ships cabins with single and Pullman beds, a sink in the room, a small shower and toilet adjoining. Theses are beautifully designed small spaces but not for the claustrophobic. Gemütlichkeit recommends this hotel because of its reasonable prices, spectacular views, and appealing restaurant.

  • Address: Hotelschiff Elbresidenz, Terrassenufer 12, D-01069 Dresden
  • Phone: 0351/459 50 53
  • Fax: 0351/459 51 37
  • Location: On Elbe River opposite city center
  • Rooms: 97 doubles
  • Proprietor: Yves Beelzacq, Regional Director
  • Prices: May-June and September-October singles 135 DM ($88), doubles 150 DM ($98), February-April and November-December singles 115 DM ($75), doubles 130 DM ($85), with American breakfast
  • Meals: All available
  • Facilities: Bar, restaurant, sun deck, outdoor swimming pool
  • Credit Cards: All
  • Disabled: Not suitable
  • Closed: Never
  • Parking: Free parking 60 meters away
  • Rating: Above Average 13/20

Hotel Martha

Built prior to unification, this four-story hotel offers modern guest rooms in a residential setting a short walk from Neustadt Railroad Station.

The Martha's friendly proprietors also operate a reasonably priced restaurant and during spargel season a generous serving of the renowned white asparagus with ham, hollandaise sauce and potatoes costs about 21 DM ($14). A large glass of 1991 dry and fruity Sylvaner-trocken goes for 7.20 DM ($4.70).

  • Address: Hotel Martha Hospiz, Nieritzstrasse 11, D-01060 Dresden
  • Phone: 0351/5 24 25
  • Fax: 0351/5 32 18
  • Location: Across Elbe from town center, near Neustadt Station, 10 minute walk to downtown
  • Rooms: 12 singles, 24 doubles
  • Proprietors: Tilp family
  • Prices: singles 140 DM ($92), doubles 200 ($131), breakfast included
  • Meals: All available in excellent restaurant with reasonable prices
  • Facilities: Bar and restaurant in basement
  • Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa
  • Disabled: Good access. One room especially equipped
  • Closed: Never
  • Parking: Two garage spaces 10 DM ($6.50) each
  • Rating: Above Average 13/20 $

Bayerischer Hof

A brand new hotel with an elegant marble lobby in a remodeled building in the residential area near Neustadt Station. Everyone was friendly and very anxious to please although English speakers are in short supply. No other commercial businesses are nearby. Shopping on the pedestrian-only Haupstrasse is about a 10-minute walk.

Dinner in the classically decorated formal dining room with gold chandelier and matching damask chairs was a modestly priced affair: tomato soup with sour cream, boiled white sausages in a terrine, and a large soft pretzel with sweet grainy mustard cost 15 DM ($10).

Breakfast was 15 DM ($10) extra, and included various meats and pats in addition to the usual orange juice, rolls, cereal, coffee and tea.

My corner room, a junior suite, was very large with high ceilings, TV, minibar, couch, easy chairs, a coffee table set with red wine and cookies and a huge bed with puff. In the large closet were slippers and a robe. The marble bathroom included a large bathtub, shower and hair dryer.

  • Address: Hotel Bayerischer Hof, Antonstrasse 35, D-01097 Dresden
  • Phone: 0351/5024 193 94
  • Fax: 0351/5780 589
  • Location: 10-minute walk from town center and shopping district
  • Rooms: 3 singles, 17 doubles, 3 suites
  • Proprietor: Herr Aasland
  • Prices: Singles 180 DM ($118), doubles 240 DM ($157), suites 320 DM ($209), not including breakfast
  • Meals: All available
  • Credit Cards: All
  • Disabled: Not suitable
  • Closed: Never
  • Parking: 15 free spaces
  • Rating: Above Average 15/20

Schöne Aussicht

A suburban inn set in a woodsy environment among palatial residences. On the hill across the Elbe from the center of town, the hotel is only a short walk from the funicular built in 1901 by the same engineer as the famous Wuppertal suspended monorail. Many of the lovely guestrooms, like Number two which has a French bed, offers views of the city and trees.

An enjoyable lunch in the hotels restaurant featured thick, tender slices of sauerbraten in a rich sauce, for 20 DM ($13).

  • Address: Hotel Restaurant Schöne Aussicht, Krugerstrasse 1, D-01326 Dresden
  • Phone/Fax: 0351/363 05
  • Location: 20-30 minutes drive or 30 minutes by public transit to city center
  • Rooms: 1 single, 8 doubles
  • Proprietor: Heller Engelmann
  • Prices: Singles 150-180 DM ($98-$118), doubles 180-210 DM ($118-$137) including breakfast
  • Meals: All available
  • Facilities: Common room, restaurant and bar
  • Credit Cards: Yes
  • Disabled: Not suitable
  • Closed: Never
  • Parking: Free spaces in rear of building
  • Rating: Above Average 13/20

Restaurants

Kügelgenhaus

The Dresden Museum of Early Romanticism has popular restaurants on three floors. I found the ground level crowded with a long wait and a somewhat arrogant waiter who asked twice if I was by myself. Since that seemed to be a problem, I decided to eat downstairs in the more hospitable Bierstube, a modern, cheerful place that was full of life. From a banquette by the well-stocked bar I watched glasses of pilsner beer so foamy from the tap it took 10 minutes to fill them. The main course was deep-fried fish filet with a salad of shredded cabbage, red peppers, carrots and zucchini (23 DM or $15). Kügelgenhaus, 12 Hauptstrasse, phone 0351/52791. Moderate.

Italian Village Café, Albertinum Museum

At this elegantly restored Baroque café I had peach pie and coffee (8 DM/$5.25). A wine and beer bar is downstairs in the same building and dinner is available in the beautifully appointed upstairs restaurant (25 DM or $18 for three courses). Italian Village Café, Albertinum, Brühlsche Terrasse. Moderate.

Canaletto

Haut cuisine and haut prices are what you'll find at Canaletto in the five-star Maritim Bellevue Hotel, reputed to be Dresden's finest. The games dishes are recommended but you'll pay a high price for the genteel ambiance. Fixed price menus from $50 to $80, a la carte from $43 to $58. Canaletto (Maritim Bellevue Hotel), Grosse Meissner Str. 15, D-01097, phone 0351/ 56620, fax 0351/ 55997. Major cards. Expensive.

Luisenhof

Take the funicular to this popular restaurant whose principal attraction is its view of city. The food is nothing special. Main courses cost from about $12 to $23. Luisenhof, Bergbahnstrasse 8, phone 0351/368-42. Major cards. Moderate.

Lunch at 125 MPH

This is the Mitropa Diner aboard "Heinrich Heine," where we are gliding along at 125 miles an hour between Dresden and Mannheim. This Eurocity run will continue on to Paris. I have just splurged 50 German marks ($33) on lunch. A DSG waiter, in freshly pressed red coat inquires, "Did you like it?" Indeed I did. Nothing is more enjoyable, in my opinion, than a good train meal, with wine and plenty of time to contemplate the scenery.

And this run is about perfect: good service, good wine, good food and a good time. Six hours of smooth passage through level farmland with occasional medieval towers, lots of trees and a few cities. Some rivers and, here and there, a hilltop fortress. For me, train time is time to write, to read, to contemplate, but above all, to eat!

I always try to have a train meal when between cities, but Switzerland is a small country and only a few runs offer the time to fully enjoy food and sights without feeling rushed. Austria is a bit larger, and has one line, Vienna/Linz/Salzburg/Innsbruck/Zürich which provides ample time and also a great view. (See next months description of dining aboard the "Transalpin").

Of the three countries, only unified Germany is large enough to offer multiple opportunities for lunching and dining aboard its trains. The now merged Mitropa and DSG catering services offer the largest restaurant car operation in Europe and, in my judgement, the best.

A secret: you can eat as well or better on German trains as in most restaurants. A six-page menu offers three choices of soup, two of fresh salads, five hot main courses, five "cold table specialties," and four dessert choices. Also offered are five hot beverages, four nonalcoholic drinks, three different beers, five choices of alcoholic beverages (brandy, whiskey, aperitifs), six kinds of white wine, two of red and three different champagnes.

Everything is available from the first city of departure until 45 minutes prior to arrival at the last destination. Credit cards are accepted as are all varieties of European and North American currency. Both smokers and nonsmokers are accommodated in different sections of the dining car (although not a smoker myself I think this will be good news to American smokers frustrated by Amtrak's sweeping nonsmoking policies).

On this occasion I opted to sip from a half bottle of 1991 Macon Superieur red wine, dry, light and fruity, as I contemplated the choices on the menu. I began with fresh tomato and cucumber salad with red lettuce in a dill dressing. Next came a tender, juicy rib-eye steak, with thinly sliced pan-fried potatoes, and garlic-herb butter. I finished with freshly baked chocolate cake topped with whipped cream. Hardly a diet meal, but a most enjoyable way of passing time between Dresden and Mannheim. BW

EC56, the Heinrich Heine, leaves Dresden at 8:45 a.m. daily, arrives Frankfurt at 2:43 p.m. and Paris at 9:05 p.m.

Dresden

Population: 491,000

Altitude: 115 feet

Approximate distances from:

  • Berlin 198 km 123 miles
  • Geneva 1090 km 676 miles
  • Munich 455 km 282 miles
  • Prague 152 km 94 miles
  • Vienna 590 km 366 miles

Tourist Information

  • Prager Strasse 10 Neustädter Markt
  • Dresden D-01069 Dresden D-01097
  • Phone: 0351/495 5025 Phone: 0351/535 39
  • Fax: 0351-495 1276

Important Buildings

  • Zwinger Palace. Possibly the best example of Late Baroque architecture in Germany. Built in 1710. The Semper Gallery in Italian Renaissance style was finished in 1847, destroyed in 1945, and rebuilt. Porcelain collection is world's largest.
  • Semper Opera House. Built 1838-41 by Gottfried Semper. Gutted by fire 1869, rebuilt 1871-78 in high Renaissance style by Manfred Semper according to his fathers plans. Destroyed in 1945. Guided tours arranged through the ticket office on Theaterplatz, phone: 0351/484 24 96.
  • Residential Palace (Residenzschloss). A castle occupied the site 700 years ago. A palace comprising four wings was built in the late 15th century, enlarged in 1548-56. Destroyed by fire in 1701 and rebuilt under Augustus the Strong. Destroyed in 1945. Reconstruction begun in 1989 and still in progress.
  • Catholic Court Church (Katholische Hofkirch). The largest church in Saxony, built in Baroque style 1738-54. Contains the sarcophagi of the Wettin princes and heart of Augustus the Strong. Guided tours of church and crypt: Mon-Thurs 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Fri, Sat 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., Sun 1 p.m. Organ recitals every Wednesday. Organ vespers May to October every Saturday at 4 p.m. Special tours on request. Phone: 0351/495 51 35.

Museums

  • Albertinum. Built 1884-87. Collection includes the New Masters Picture Gallery, the Green Vault treasure chamber (jewelry and other relics from the Wettin dynasty), including the Household of the Great Mogul, considered one of the greatest works of the Baroque period, comprising 165 items of massive enameled gold, studded with more than 5,000 diamonds and precious stones.
  • Semper Gallery. Houses the picture collections of the Old Masters Gallery, among them Raphael's Sistine Madonna.
  • Riverboat Trips

Dresden has the worlds biggest and oldest paddle steamer fleet. Trips from April to October between Dresden and Swiss Saxony (a three-star Michelin sight), calling at villages in the wine-growing district between Diesbar and Radebeul. One ship, built in 1882, has been completely restored to it original appearance. Also: a steam tugboat, with a heated salon, the last of its kind in operation, accommodating 115 passengers

Books on Dresden

  • The Last 100 Hundred Days, by John Toland, Random House, 1966
  • The Freedom Road, by Richard Collier, Atheneum, 1984
  • The Second World War, by Martin Guilbert, Henry Holt, 1991
  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.