Dear fellow travellers
The energy and ingenuity which underpinned late nineteenth-century industrialisation in Saxony is beautifully preserved in the suburbs of Dresden in eastern Germany. Visitors flock to the city on the Elbe for its feast of baroque architecture: among the city's jewels are the Zwinger palace, the Hofkirche and the Frauenkirche. We are no great fans of the pastel kitsch style of the newly restored Frauenkirche, which is nowadays thronged with visitors. By contrast the restrained white interior of the Hofkirche, which is Dresden's largest church, is altogether more pleasing. Somehow most visitors to Dresden seem to walk round the outside of the Hofkirche, but few venture inside. A pity!
But Dresden is more than just baroque, and the city's eastern suburbs, lining the banks of the Elbe, are wonderful. The low vineyard clad hills along the north bank of the Elbe are home to a stunning collection of villas, developed in the nineteenth century on the back of the city's growing mercantile wealth. A series of pre-existing palaces were assimilated into the growing suburban landscape, and old riverside villages became part of Dresden. Yet the character of places like Loschwitz and Pillnitz has been preserved to this day. These are solid, comfortable communities, places in which beautiful gardens and vineyards tumble down hillsides, and handsome villas meld gently into the terrain.
This is a remarkable cultural landscape, one that developed over hundreds of years and preserves its history. The Elbe valley and its surrounding hills are like a delicate piece of arabesque braid that threads through Saxony - and at its most interesting in the area immediately upstream from Dresden. With industrialisation, shipyards developed along the river - and some fine paddle steamers were built here. Many are still in use on the Elbe today.
There is a graceful blue steel bridge over the Elbe at Loschwitz. From one end, travellers bound for the high villas that preside over the valley have a choice of transport modes: a cog railway or a monorail, which both climb steeply up into the hills. The bridge and these two unusual railways were all built within a few years at the very end of the nineteenth century.
hidden europe was in Dresden earlier this week. From the centre of Dresden up to Pillnitz palace took less than two hours on an elegant old paddle steamer - all gleaming brass and polished wood, as visitors tucked into lunch: pork, potatoes and dumplings, washed down by local Elbe valley wines. We just sat back and watched the landscape slip slowly by. The whole ensemble from Dresden upstream to Pillnitz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Little boats ferry passengers between Dresden suburbs on opposite sides of the river. The only bridge is that at Loschwitz. The local city council threatens to inflict a new road bridge onto this part of the Elbe valley. Unsurprisingly, UNESCO says that the valley was not accorded World Heritage Status in 2004 only to have it wrecked by modern road planners. The tussle continues, but for the moment the Elbe valley is as idyllic as ever. It is best seen by boat. The regular services upriver from Dresden are run by Sächsische-Dampfschiffahrt.
Dresden is of course not the only European city that is best seen from its river. In the current issue of hidden europe magazine, we have an article on the rebirth of London's river. You can take a look here.