Dauntless Dresden

Dauntless Dresden

Dresden manages to retain its traditional charm with a dash of modern vibrancy, writes Khursheed Dinshaw

Church of Our Lady

Dresden, which is the capital of Saxony in Germany, is a city that awes with its culture, warm hospitality and uncomplicated spirit. I started to get the feel of its distinctive ethos as I admired the Church of Our Lady or Frauenkirche. I found it hard to believe that this imposing sandstone church was completely destroyed during the Second World War.

It is a beautiful example of rising from the ashes when in 2005 it opened its glorious doors not only to devotees but also to music lovers. Almost 130 concerts are conducted yearly inside the church and range from concerts to organ music and choir performances. After experiencing tranquillity and peace inside the Frauenkirche, it was time to head to Semperoper which is the opera house of Dresden.

“This building was also burned down, albeit because of a work-related accident, and rebuilt only to be destroyed again during the Second World War. Richard Wagner who was a German composer had conducted operas at the former opera building from 1842 to 1849,” explained Dr Ingrid Prause, my guide who has been conducting guided tours of her hometown Dresden for the past 15 years.

As I walked through the halls, I relived the fascinating opera stories that Ingrid told so evocatively — they came to life for me. Gottfried Semper was the architect of the Semperoper. The lower level room, which you enter before proceeding to the auditorium, has a wooden panelling which gives the impression that it is made of oak. However, it is a clever imitation that is actually made of painted plaster.

Attention to detail

After the war, an artist came here daily with his brushes, cans of paint, sponges and beer to paint the panels. The beer was not for drinking, he used it as an adhesive. On the ceiling are paintings of Dionysus, who is the Greek God of Wine and Hercules who was the Roman hero and demigod. The balustrades are made of local stone sourced from Saxony. The seating capacity of the auditorium is 1,300 and it has almost 2,000 spotlights. The VIP box was formerly used by the king and his guests. Today, the tickets for the seats in this box continue to be the most expensive. Almost 300 performances are held yearly. The acoustics are so excellent that the performers do not use microphones or amplifiers. The clock on top of the stage has Roman numerals which indicate the hour while the Arabic numerals denote the minutes. The display changes every five minutes. Across the opera house, is what is called the procession of the princes. Known as Furstenzug, it is a mural which is a single artwork in porcelain. The largest in the world, this mural is 102 metres in length. It displays a mounted procession of those who ruled Saxony across a period of 750 years. I stood in front of the mural for a few minutes to take in its sheer size and attention to detail.

The public transport service, in the form of trams and buses, is efficient for commuting within the city. One can also walk to soak in the views of the city. Dresden is well connected by air to major German cities. All major airlines fly from India to Frankfurt/Munich and onward to Dresden. High speed trains also operate within Germany connecting Dresden to cities and towns.

Glancing at the time, I realised that I had to get on a paddle steamer which is the best way to ride on the River Elbe. The place where the steamers dock is close to the Semperoper.

These old paddle steamers are an intrinsic part of the landscape of Dresden. An evening ride was
exactly what I needed to experience the sights and life of the city. Dresden has the largest fleet of paddle steamers in the world.

Cruising on these iconic vessels dates back to 1837. In those days they were an indication of expansion of trade and evolving technology.

 

Paddle steamer
Paddle steamer

Paddle along

The blowing of the loud horn when the cruise started, the cool breeze caressing my face, the waving of passengers from other paddle steamers and the synchronised kayaking of locals were just a prelude. We crossed the landmark buildings of Dresden including the three Elbe castles of Schloss Eckberg, Schloss Albrechtsberg and Lingnerschloss.
Schloss Eckberg was built in 1861. It has an English neo-Gothic style and is now a hotel. Schloss Albrechtsberg was built for Prince Albrecht of Prussia and has the architecture of Roman Renaissance villas. Lingnerschloss was constructed for Prince Albrecht’s chamberlain and then bought over by Karl Lingner who is credited with inventing the most popular toothpaste of Germany.

Even from a distance, I could see the TV tower which is used to transmit TV and radio broadcasts. We passed homes, locals walking their dogs or sitting by the edge of the River Elbe and horses who were drinking water from troughs. As the paddle steamer made a U-turn to turn back, I caught the multi-hued sunset and by the time we reached, I got to see the Semperoper by night.

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