Viewed from the Elbe River, Dresden has a striking silhouette: delicate spirals, soaring towers and imposing palace domes. Some buildings are still covered by layers of dark dust, a reminder of the Allied bombings the city endured at the end of World War II.
Locked away behind the Iron Curtain since the end of WWII, the capital of Saxony is often called ‘the soul of Germany.’ It has always been an important artistic center; in the 18th century Dresden was the cradle of the German Enlightenment, inspiring intellectuals and writers such as Schiller and Goethe, as well as the leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther.
Music is the soul of Dresden. It’s everywhere, from young performers playing classical pieces on the streets, to the stunning Semperoper, the opera house. A neo-Renaissance jewel that saw the premieres of works by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, the Semperoper was destroyed with the rest of the city, but after being carefully restored, since 1985 music again fills its magnificent grand hall.
Dresden is about tragedy, too. Considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities, an artistic and cultural center, it was bombed by the British RAF on February 13, 1945, when the city center was turned into a landfill. The U.S. Air Force came next, and bombed it for two more days, turning the city into rubble. Some 35 thousand civilians died in the attacks, though some estimates are as high as 250 thousand, if undocumented refugees fleeing the East Front were to be counted. Given the high number of civilian casualties, and the relatively few strategic targets hit, some even today call the bombing of Dresden a war crime.
In the last decades, Dresden has been rebuilding, and is now restored to its old glory. After the unification of East and West Germany, in 1990, special attention was given to the city, which is again an important artistic and intellectual center. Its inhabitants are among the nicest people I’ve met on my travels; Dresden stayed with me long after I left it. I will never forget its tragic history, its passion for music, or the friendly ways of the people. Dresden is about beauty and resilience, and there’s no place quite like it.