Saxony’s capital, Dresden, overwhelmed me. With its Baroque beauty, spectacular museums, interesting cafes and bars, and seamless (but confusing) public transport, I knew I had too less time in the city even before I arrived.
Only one-and-half hours by train from Leipzig, Dresden has a beat of its own. After the fire of 1491, Dresden was rebuilt in the 17th and 18th century with Baroque architectural styles. However, World War II left the city obliterated and killed thousands of civilians. The damage was so massive that the Soviets and Germans thought it would be better to level the site. However, it was decided to rework on the Baroque construction, whatever possible, and keep modern reconstruction outside the main city.
What I did
Walked with Dresden Walks
As usual, my city exploration begun with a two-hour walk across the heart of the old town with Dresden Walks. My pre-booked walk started at Schlossplatz Square and then continued towards Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes), Katholische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral), Semperoper (opera house), the incredible Zwinger Palace and towards Residenzschloss (Royal Palace). We crossed small Christmas Markets on the way to our last stop, Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).
My walk costed €12 and I had booked it in advance here.
Went up the cupola
Frauenkirche is a landmark in the city. The church was built about 1000 years before it was destroyed towards the end of WWII. A part of the original construction has been kept as a memory of the war.
The dome of the church is possibly the largest stone dome north of the Alps and is made of sandstone. My ambition was climbing atop to the cupola during sunset.
Entrance to the cupola is through entrance G and after an initial lift of 24 metres in the elevator, visitors need to walk up narrow steps. The flight of stairs was easy for me (though it can be strenuous for most) and just when I thought I had reached the top, a spiral ramp began to unwrap. This last leg of the walk can be dizzying. There are benches for those who want to take a break.
Once I reached the cupola, every step was worth the effort. Not very far, I saw Striezelmarkt Christmas market nestled within Altmarkt Square. On the other side, River Elbe, Dresden Cathedral and Augustus Bridge filled my frame. And further beyond the shining golden pinnacle of Dresden Academy of Fine Arts glowed under the orange sun setting. For a few minutes, I forgot how cold the winds were.
Wandered around the Christmas markets
Striezelmarkt market in the heart of Altmarkt is possibly the oldest Christmas market in Germany. Since I had already seen the traditional, festive items sold in these kiosks and stalls (in Leipzig) I spent lesser time at Striezelmarkt. However, I did not move before sampling the famed Dresdner Stollen.
The fruit cake originates here and is baked in the month of October to be cut and consumed only during Christmas. Stollen trivia: always cut the stollen in the middle so that it retains the moisture and brings out its raisin flavour. There is a variety available in the market, though the original ones come with a shiny ‘chutzverband Dresdner Stollen e.V.’ seal on them. Stollen was an exciting trial at Striezelmarkt but the other christmas market I went to surprised me completely.
Stallhof, translating to ‘stable yard’, or medieval christmas market added a unique feel to the festival. This thematic market wore a dark look with men and women dressed in hoods and gowns. The stalls were small wooden huts. Glüwein (and other beverages) were served onto wooden mugs. And many shops sold German handicrafts, leather goods, wooden furniture, large knives and daggers and they also had fortune tellers. I was fascinated by this market.
Fell in love with Aurangzeb
What are the chances of finding an 18th century connect between India and Saxony? I would say 132 figures made of approximately three to five grams of gold. These figures are a part of the spectacular Throne of Grand Mogul Aureng-Zeb at Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault).
This masterpiece was designed by Johann Melchior Dinglinger between 1701-1708, which is made of gold enamel and comprises 4909 diamonds, 160 rubies, 164 emeralds, one sapphire and 16 pearls, among other rare stones. Nothing I say will justify how intricate and exquisite this piece of treasure ensemble is.
The New Green Vault has many other exhibits like the fascinating miniature Cherry stone with 185 carved faces; separate galleries of porcelain, crystal and ivory treasures—all from the treasury of King August.
I took quick rounds of the Türckische Cammer (Turkish Chamber) and Der Neue Riesensaal (The New Hall of the Giants) exhibiting 17th century armoury and weapons—both a part of the Royal Palace.
Meditated on my favourite artists’ creations
Zwinger houses Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery), a collection I have studied for years. I wasted no time and headed to see my favourite painters—Vermeer, Cranach, Rembrandt and Bellotto. The most popular artwork in the Old Masters is Raffaello’s The Sistine Madonna. I spent a good two hours in this shrine and left glowing with happiness.
Gawked at porcelain
Zwinger also houses the remarkable Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection). Augustus the Strong was passionate about porcelain (referred to as ‘white gold’). Not only did he collect the ceramics, but his craftsmen also developed Meissen porcelain—named after a small town near Dresden.
Walked around River Elbe
On an early morning I set out on a refreshing walk by River Elbe to Dresden Cathedral. I walked by River Elbe, crossing Marienbrücke towards Japanisches Palais (Japanese Palace) and a little further to meet Goldener Reiter (Golden Horseman) at Augustusbrücke. This statue of King August has been here since 1736.
A walk over Augustusbrücke took me to Dresden Cathedral once again, to explore the old town.
What I ate
A stone’s throw away from Frauenkirche is Coselpalais Restaurant and Grand Cafe. I was unsure if I should try this cafe, since it was an expensive choice. But at that moment, I was famished and frozen (by the cold). The food and service didn’t disappoint at all.
I tried the buckwheat risotto with mushroom and cranberries and more importantly, got myself a hot chocolate with expresso and egg liqueur. As I warmed my hands in the cafe, I met a very friendly man from Görlitz (a small village on the German-Polish border) with whom I spent an hour conversing.
Sophienkeller on Taschenberg has to be one of my favourite lunches in Dresden. My long lunch in this vault restaurant and atmospheric bar was a vegetarian quinoa with winter vegetables and avocado dip. And I started with a hot chocolate to drink and finished with a local German schnapps called Original Dresdner Trichtertrinken mit Hausmarke Coselträne. This green herb liqueur goes back to the times of King August, who drank the liquor from a funnel. It is believed that in order to reduce the number of wine glasses his helpers washed, a big funnel was designed for the king. His servers would directly pour the alcohol to his mouth, without wasting a drop!
A tram ride away is the busy locality of Loschwitz . And here, by the side of River Elbe I tried the delicious beer of SchillerGarten at Schillerplatz. With its origins in 1730, this beer tavern has changed many hands and fought calamities to become the existing characteristic bar and restaurant it is today. I sipped up two tall glasses of Paulaner Hefeweizen (cloudy and dark) with a typical German pretzel.
Across the street from SchillerGarten is Cafe Toscana, where I thawed myself after a walk around the neighbourhood. This legendary coffeehouse is popular among residents. I stopped here for their house-special Chocolate Toscana, which was strictly okay. Though the accompanying stollen was moist and fruity.
Where I stayed
Hotel Leonardo was only a few steps away from Dresden Mitte station (which has direct trains, trams and buses to Dresden Hauptbanhnof and Postplatz). It was this convenient location that made me pick Leonardo. The other factor was that they have rooms for solo travellers. I paid €145 for two nights and breakfast (which was an add-on). The room was impeccably clean and perfect for me.
Breakfast buffet was everything basic—eggs, breads, cold cuts, fruit and a couple of options in cereals. The highlight was Cocaya hot chocolate, two cups of which I would gulp down insatiably every morning.
What I bought
Dresden was my destination of limited shopping. I bought only two bottles of German schnapps—one was a coffee flavoured from Striezelmarkt and the other was Sophienkeller’s Coselträne.
How I travelled
Getting to Dresden from Leipzig was a convenient one-and-half hour train ride. I alighted at Dresden Mitte and walked a few steps to my hotel.
Within the city, I relied on the trams, which took me a couple of hours to understand. Once I did understand the connectivity and frequency, I took the train only for outbound travel. I had the 2-day Dresden City and Museums Card, which covered the costs of my travel on buses, trams and urban railway.
Good to know
-Dresden Welcome Cards offer huge discounts on many attractions and public transport. Visitors can choose between single or family; city or museums, or both; one or two days and a host of others. Go here to know more.
-Dresden Cards offer hugh concessions at most attractions, including to the cupola of Frauenkirche.
-My Dresden Cards would not have been possible with the support of Saxony Tourism.
-Check hours and days of Residence Palace before visiting.
-Most restaurants have English menu.
Which is your favourite Baroque city?