Directed by Dresden

During my visit to Dresden for the #youngDresden project, I decided to let random locals in the street guide me. Welcome to directed by Dresden, and see where I ended up!

Directed by Dresden Inspiration – Slaughterhouse-Five

I was first directed to Dresden by Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse-Five. The author was present during the Dresden’s bombing, one of the darkest chapters of WW2. He was a prisoner of war, housed in a compound termed Slaughterhouse-Five.

This is how he describes his arrival in the city, one month before it was bombed.

furstenzug dresden
The Fürstenzug mural, one of the few places to survive the bombs

‘Every other city in Germany had been bombed and burned ferociously. Dresden had not suffered so much as a cracked windowpane… Steam radiators still whistled cheerily in Dresden. Streetcars clanged. Telephones rang and were answered. Lights went on and off when switches were clicked. There were theatres and restaurants. There was a zoo.’ 

Between 13 and 15th February, 1945, ninety per cent of the city was destroyed. Gone. Gone were the ‘merry amoretti and garlands above windows’, gone was the skyline across the river Elbe, gone were the Zwinger and the Semperoper. The once-majestic Baroque town had been reduced to rubble.

pink house white vintage car dresden
Baroque Dresden reconstructed

Exactly seventy years later, I travelled to Dresden. The town had been rebuilt – the Altstadt in all its Baroque splendour reflected onto the Elbe once again, the Zwinger and the Semperoper had risen from the ashes.

It was indeed magnificent. But, somehow, it all felt fake, like an open-air museum. East German bricks and mortar were able to rebuild the city as it once was, but its soul was erased by the bombs, on those fateful nights in 1945.

Entrance to the Fürstenzug
Entrance to the Fürstenzug

So, I had an idea. If I couldn’t find the soul of the city in its streets and buildings, I would ask locals to help me. I decided to discover the city through the eyes of locals, following their advice. I would ask a random person to tell me where to go – it could be a tourist sight, a shop, a bar, a restaurant, whatever. Then, I would find another person, and get them to direct me. And again. I ended up spending a whole day being directed by Dresden.

1) Grosser Garden – directed by Karl of the Dresden Marketing Board

Karl was the first person to direct me somewhere. He chose Grosser Garden, ‘far enough from the centre of town to feel like you’re in the country, yet close enough to get to by tram’. Grosser Garden is a Baroque-style garden, a city park since 1814, first established two centuries earlier as a hunting ground.

grosser park dresden pond
Grosser Park and the Sommerpalais reflected in the pond

Early on a midweek morning, the place was deserted. Not a soul around – no one strolling, no one walking their dog or taking in the beautiful view of the Sommerpalais reflecting in the pond. The original Sommerpalais was another casualty of the firebombing. The one I saw was the post-war reconstructed version; the exterior was rebuilt in the Fifties, the interior is not yet completed.

grosser garden palace back
A lonely cyclist in Grosser Garden

I spent some time wandering around the quiet lanes of Grosser Garden, and indeed it did feel like being in the countryside. But after a while, it got a little TOO lonely. So, as soon as I spotted two humans in the distance, I ran straight towards them, to get my second direction.

2) Kathrinstrasse – directed by Lisa and Tim

Lisa and Tim were the young couple I spotted in Großer Garden. He was on a skateboard, she was on a bicycle. Lisa recommended I visited Kathrinstrasse, because she ‘likes the architecture’.

bautznerstrasse dresden
On the way to Kathrinstrasse

I headed out of the garden and caught the tram towards Neustadt. Stangely enough, the Dresden Neustadt (new city) is actually older then the Altstadt (old city), as most of it was spared by the bombs. Nowadays, Neustadt is the centre of Dresden’s nightlife and alternative culture.

street art Dresden Germany
Street art near Kathrinstrasse

Walking around Kathrinstrasse, I understoon what Lisa meant. The area felt vibrant, real, alive. It wasn’t just the architecture. It was the feeling that memories weren’t lost. The old and new coexisted, side by side – a grandiose past and an alternative present.

bar kathrinstrasse dresden
This bar supplied hot water to Dresden families in wartime

I walked past a bar that during the war used to supply local families and refugees with hot water every Sunday, past a bicycle-repair shop with bicycle-themed street art outside and a beautiful Art Nouveau mansion.

directed by dresden kathrinstrasse
Bicycle street art…
...and Art Nouveau mansions.
…and Art Nouveau mansion

3) Alaun Park Dresden – directed by Andrea

I walked up and down Kathrinstrasse for a while, taking in the wonderful street art, and looking for an English-speaking local to direct me to the next stop. After a bit of looking around I met Andrea, a friendly middle-aged woman who sent me to Alaun Park, a couple of streets away. She said it’s a ‘little oasis of peace’ in the heart of the city.

Quirky Heide Park tree
Quirky Alaun Park tree

I found it odd that two out of three directions thus far had been to parks. I thought Dresdeners must love their parks! If it were summer, I might have understood. But it was a chilly winter day, not really a park kind of day. And to be honest, Alaun Park was just a park – nothing to write home about.

tree with shoes heide park dresden
A close-up of the hanging shoes

I walked around a couple of times, trying to find something worth noticing… and I did. Right in the middle of the park was a large tree, with a painted trunk and shoes dangling from its branches. I thought it was cool, another example of alternative Dresden – a spirit that was becoming more and more evident as I walked around the city.

4) Kunsthofpassage – directed by Robot and her human, Susanne

Robot the pug dog was walking around the funky graffiti tree, sniffing at the ground. I spent some time with him and his human Susanne, talking about alternative Dresden, and she said that if I was interested in alternative sights, I HAD to see Kunsthofpassage.

kunsthofpassage dresden sign
This way for Kunsthofpassage

Once upon a time, this was nothing more than a maze of Neustadt backstreets, until a bunch of street artists got together and used the streets, squares and façades as their canvas. The Court of Elements nowadays is one of Dresden’s symbols, as iconic as the skyline on the Elbe. On a sky-blue house, the rain sings a melody running down a series of interlinked pipes.

court of elements kunsthofpassage dresden
The water building in the Court of Elements…
fire building court of elements dresden
…and the fire building

In the Court of Animals, monkeys leap over a giant giraffe that looks like it’s eating the building. The artist wanted to set up a laser trigger in the entrance of the courtyard that made one of the monkeys ‘piss’ over whoever walked through – but alas, Dresdener authorities said nein.

court of animals dresden
Monkeys and giraffes

5) Ayers Rock Restaurant – directed by Mark

I met Mark, a twenty-something student of mechanical engineering, in the Court of Metamorphosis of Kunsthofpassage. By then it was lunchtime, so after having learnt that I was Australian, Mark suggested I go to Ayers Rock Restaurant for lunch.

ayers rock dresden germany
Ayers Rock – Australia in Dresden

Ayers Rock was in the Altstadt, so I crossed the Elbe into the fancy faux-Baroque district. The feeling was that of walking from a friendly, welcoming community into a collection of stately, show-off administrative buildings. It felt cold and artificial – a place to look at and say ‘wow’, but that’s it.

Dresden Germany sunset skyline
Looks like reconstruction is still ongoing, 70 years later

I mean, don’t get me wrong here. It’s amazing what Dresdeners did – literally picking up the rubble and restoring the city to its old splendour. But the feeling was that of a museum, a ‘don’t touch’ kind of feel. On the other hand, Neustadt looked real. Perhaps not so pretty, but real. Or maybe just pretty in a different way.

semperoper dresden night
Semperoper, another (stunning) reconstructed building

When I found Ayers Rock, it was closed. So I went to a place two doors down and asked Jenny, the waitress, for my next direction.

6) Zwinger – directed by Jenny

I was amazed I only got directed there after 5 other recommendations. The Zwinger is a rococo palace,  faithfully rebuilt after being destroyed in the 1945 bombing. It was once Dresden’t prime sight, a wonder of stone and landscaped gardens that amazed poets and travellers from all over the globe.

zwinger dresden germany
The Zwinger from its courtyard

And now? It houses an art gallery and a porcelain museum – not exactly my cup of tea. So I wandered around its courtyards for an hour or so, until dusk fell, and I took the river back across the Elbe.

zwinger dresden evening
Walking away from the Zwinger at sunset

That’s where another wonder happened. A wonder that Kurt Vonnegut hadn’t seen, but imagined. I was there. And it was beautiful.

‘Billy didn’t get to see Dresden do one of the most cheerful things a city is capable of doing when the sun goes down, which is to wink its light on one by one. There was a broad river to reflect those lights, which would have made their nighttime winkings very pretty indeed. It was the Elbe’.

Dresden Germany skyline sunset
The city at sunset

I was a guest of the German Tourism Board and Dresden Marketing as part of the #youngDresden blog trip. As always, all opinions are my own. But I did indeed love the place, and I have no doubts I will return soon! 


20 thoughts on “Directed by Dresden”

  1. I love Dresden! I was amazed how the rebuilt it so well. When visiting the Zwinger I couldn’t tell what was old and what was new. I visited over 10yrs ago so I didn’t get to see the Frauenkirche complete! The unexpected discovery though, was VW Glaeserne Manufaktur…I got to drive the Phaethon in an almost virtual reality environment (now my fellow passenger wasn’t thrilled though)!

    • Hey Anna! I didn’t actually get to visit Dresden, my husband Nick was there and wrote the post, but now I really want to go too! And the VW factory looks amazing! Thanks for your comment!

    • I was having the same thoughts! It’s a great way to experience a destination, I’ll surely try it again soon 🙂

  2. It’s always a great idea to get recommendations from local. My husband and I always do, especially for places to eat. In case of Dresden, it was a good idea to find its soul through the eyes of the locals. Hopefully the city will become more soulful as time goes by. Beautiful photos, I especially adore the colorful water and fire buildings.

  3. What a cool way to figure out what to see in a city. It looks like the locals let you to some real gems. My favorite are the water house, fire house, and the one with the monkey and giraffe. I’d love to see those in person some day. I know that the loss of human life is the greatest tragedy of war, but the loss of historical buildings is sad, too.

    • So true Michele. It’s amazing what folks did in Dresden – picking up the rubble to rebuild their once-grand city. And Neustadt is great, with its quirky feel and street art!

  4. What a beautiful collection of photos! You really gave us a great taste of Dresden through these pictures. I love the idea of having the local direct your itinerary. I didn’t know much about Dresden but what a lovely city. I especially like the Grosser Garden and those funky buildings.

  5. such a great way to discover the city! I love this idea and I’ll have to try it somewhen during my travels! 🙂 And you have found so many cool places in Dresden! I haven’t been there for almost 10 years and I remember it just you described: beautiful but without a soul. Guess I need to plan a trip back there soon, it sounds like a city I’d enjoy now 🙂

  6. What a great idea to be led by the locals! I would love to try this on my next trip. Beautiful photos, Dresden looks awesome and its history makes it so interesting.

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