Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 24, 2017

© Frederik Schrader

Dresden almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, but has since been meticulously rebuilt.

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Turning back the clock

Once in ruins, Dresden has built a brand-new Old Town — and it’s made the city young again

In Dresden, what’s old is new again, but made to look old. The city centre, almost totally destroyed by Allied bombs at the end of the Second World War, has been painstakingly rebuilt. Baroque and rococo buildings that were reduced to charred rubble have re-emerged and Dresden, once called the Jewel Box, or Florence on the Elbe, is returning to what it used to be, with spires and globes jutting into one of the most famous skylines in Europe.

And while there is no denying that it is a magnificent achievement, there is a surreal quality to the restoration of Dresden. The reconstruction project has not been without criticism. American writer George Packer, in a 2010 story in the New Yorker, dubbed it a “baroque fantasia,” and accused Dresden of erasing part of its history, while the Berlin-based architecture critic Andreas Ruby labelled the restoration as inauthentic, comparing it to the Venetian Hotel Resort in Las Vegas.

However, being neither an eminent New Yorker scribe nor an architecture critic, I was thrilled to take a guided three-hour walking tour of the Altsadt (Old Town), guided by Katrin of M+E Events (events-me.de). It was made all the more interesting since I visited in early June, when much of Central Europe was experiencing heavy flooding. Some roads next to the Elbe were washed out, and the paddleboats, which usually ferry tourists up and down the river, were sitting still, their docks under water. Tourists (and locals) gawked at the sandbags piled up against hotels and restaurants, in case the water rose any higher (it didn’t).

Altsadt

Depending on your level of interest, you could spend a few hours, a few days or a few weeks walking around the Altsadt squares of Neumarkt and Altmarkt. Symbolic of the rebirth of Dresden is the Frauenkirche (Neumarkt; frauenkirche-dresden.de), the Church of Our Lady. Built in the mid-18th century, it was topped with a 96-metre-high dome, die Steineme Glocke, or Stone Bell, that was hard to miss. And indeed, in February 1945, the Allied bombs didn’t; the church and dome collapsed, leaving only a statue of Martin Luther standing out front. The decaying ruins were left there until 1994, when a painstaking reconstruction effort began, using some of the original plans and as much of the original stone as possible. After 11 years of construction, and contributions from around the world — including Dresden’s sister city Coventry, England, which also suffered heavy bombing in WWII — it reopened in 2005.

Rebuilt in the 1950s, the nearby Zwinger palace (1 Theaterplatz; skd.museum; adults €10, kids 17 and under free) was originally built in the early 18th century by the Saxon ruler Augustus the Strong, and is sumptuous with gardens, fountains and a much-photographed crown gate, and home to the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Master’s Picture Gallery). Right next to it is the Semperoper, where Wagner and Strauss premiered works. There is the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace), where you will find the Green Vault, the rich treasure chambers of Augustus the Strong (whose achievements and likeness pop up frequently throughout Dresden, and indeed all of Saxony).

After getting my bearings, I spent the afternoon in the Albertinum art museum (Georg-Treu-Platz 2, skd.museum/en/museums-institutions/albertinum/index.html, adults €10, kids 17 and under free), which was rebuilt in 1953 after getting (unsurprisingly) destroyed during the war, where I perused the romantic paintings in the Neue Meister Galerie (New Masters Gallery) and five millenia worth of sculptures in the Skulpturensammlug (Sculpture Collection). By then, I was ready to explore further afield — after all, the Altstadt only makes up a small part of Dresden.

From hygiene to beer

The next day, I boarded the Stadtrundfahrt (stadtrundfahrt.com, adults €20, kids under 14 free with adult), a double-decker hop-on hop-off bus that takes tourists on a 22-stop sightseeing tour of the city centre and beyond. Narration is provided by a recording; only occasionally was it out of sync, robotically telling us to look to the left to see an important statue or fountain when what would actually be there was a grey communist-era apartment block.

It had been recommended to me to visit the Gläserne Manufaktur VW, the Volkswagen Transparent Factory, made mainly of glass, so I got off at the designated stop, but instead found myself standing in front of the German Hygiene Museum (1 Lingnerplatz; dhmd.de; adults €7, 16 and under free), an imposing square white building set on green grounds. I felt I should investigate.

Created in 1911, used by the Nazis to promote eugenics, destroyed in 1945, it reopened in 1967 and is today one of the most popular museums in Dresden. Its most famous attraction, the aptly-named Transparent Man, was unveiled in 1930. He is still there, at the beginning of the permanent exhibit, which has displays on life, death, food, sex, the brain and movement, as well as beauty, skin and hair. The displays are colourful and interactive, educational but not dull — a gigantic dust mite was a crowd pleaser, as were models of fetuses as varies stages of growth.

After taking my fill of hygiene, I hopped on the next bus and jumped off again at Albrechtsberg/Eckberg, on a hill on the north side of the Elbe. Here there are three castles that are open to the public and a large beer garden where you can have a have a bratwurst, wash it down with a pilsner and look down on the city.

Ashes to artwork, dust to clubs

One open secret about Dresden is that many of the people who live there, especially the younger ones, do not like Aldsadt, and in fact call the entire area south of the Elbe “the evil side.” Neustadt (New Town), especially Außere Neustadt (Outer New Town) is, according to many people I talked to — as well as an excellent free tourist brochure called the Young City Map — “where it is at.”

That was where I made my last stop, spending a few hours wandering around the restaurants, bars, shops and galleries of Außere Neustadt. Two places of interest are the Kunsthofpassage (kunsthof-dresden.de), a passageway with art and graffiti adorning the walls of the buildings and courtyards, and Katy’s Garage (48 Alaunstraße; tel: 011-49-351-656-7701, katysgarage.de) a central beer garden with live music, and, on the day I was there, a clown show for kids. Nearby is the “Bermuda Triangle,” a somewhat notorious area on Gorlitzer Straße that has Blue Note, a jazz bar, Zille, a coffee-house style club named after the turn-of-the-century German cartoonist and illustrator Heinrich Zille, and Lebowski-Bar (Gölitzer Straße 5; dudes-bar.de), a bar that opens at 7 pm and screens the 1998 cult film The Big Lebowski until everyone leaves or dawn, whichever comes first.

Just north is the Alaunpark, a centre in the summer for festivals and street parties, and a bit further north still is the Heide (Heather), which is also called the Green Lung, and is the largest city forest in Germany, covering a third of Dresden.

However, as the sun began to set, I figured it was time I get back to my hotel in the Altstadt, a half-hour walk away, past original Baroque buildings (Neustadt was not as heavily bombed), a GDR-era pedestrian walkway/stripmall on Hauptstraße, and, just before crossing the river, the famous Golden Rider statue. It depicts, who else, Augustus the Strong, this time dressed as a Roman emperor riding a horse, still overseeing the city he helped create, as it goes forwards and backwards in time.

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