Dresden (German pronunciation: [ˈdʁeːsdᵊn]; Upper Sorbian: Drježdźany) is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area with 2.4 million inhabitants.
Dresden has a long history as the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendour. The city was known as the Jewel Box, because of its baroque and rococo city centre. A controversial Allied aerial bombing towards the end of World War II killed 25,000 civilians and destroyed the entire city centre. The impact of the bombing and 40 years of urban development during the East German communist era have considerably changed the face of the city. Some restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city, including the Katholische Hofkirche, the Semper Oper and the Dresdner Frauenkirche. Since the German reunification in 1990, Dresden has regained importance as one of the cultural, educational, political and economic centres of Germany and Europe.
Although Dresden is a relatively recent city of Slavic origin, the area had been settled in the Neolithic era by Linear Pottery culture tribes ca. 7500 BC. Dresden’s founding and early growth is associated with the eastward expansion of Germanic peoples, mining in the nearby Ore Mountains, and the establishment of the Margraviate of Meissen. Its name etymologically derives from Old Sorbian Drežďany, meaning people of the forest. Dresden later evolved into the capital of Saxony.
Revolutionary barricades during the May Uprising in Dresden (1848)
Around the late 12th century, a Slavic settlement called Drežďany had developed on the southern bank. Another settlement existed on the northern bank, but its Slavic name is unclear. It was known as Antiqua Dresdin verifiable since 1350 and later as Altendresden, both literally «old Dresden». Dietrich, Margrave of Meissen, chose Dresden as his interim residence in 1206, as documented in a record calling the place «Civitas Dresdene».
After 1270, Dresden became the capital of the margravate. It was restored to the Wettin dynasty in about 1319. From 1485, it was the seat of the dukes of Saxony, and from 1547 the electors as well.
The Elector and ruler of Saxony Frederick Augustus I became King August the Strong of Poland in personal union. He gathered many of the best musicians, architects and painters from all over Europe to Dresden. His reign marked the beginning of Dresden’s emergence as a leading European city for technology and art. Dresden suffered heavy destruction in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), following its capture by Prussian forces, its subsequent re-capture, and a failed Prussian siege in 1760. Friedrich Schiller wrote his Ode to Joy (the literary base of the European anthem) for the Dresden Masonic Lodge in 1785.
The city of Dresden had a distinctive silhouette, captured in famous paintings by Bernardo Bellotto and by Norwegian painter Johan Christian Dahl.
Between 1806 and 1918 the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony (which was a part of the German Empire from 1871). During the Napoleonic Wars the French emperor made it a base of operations, winning there the famous Battle of Dresden on 27 August 1813. Dresden was a centre of the German Revolutions in 1848 with the May Uprising, which cost human lives and damaged the historic town of Dresden.
During the 19th century the city became a major centre of economy, including motor car production, food processing, banking and the manufacture of medical equipment.
In the early 20th century Dresden was particularly well known for its camera works and its cigarette factories. Between 1918 and 1934 Dresden was capital of the first Free State of Saxony. Dresden was a centre of European modern art until 1933.
Image of Dresden during the 1890s, before extensive World War II destruction. Landmarks include Dresden Frauenkirche, Augustus Bridge, and Katholische Hofkirche.
During the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, a large military facility called Albertstadt was built. It had a capacity of up to 20,000 military personnel at the beginning of the First World War. The garrison saw only limited use between 1918 and 1934, but was then reactivated in preparation for the Second World War.
Its usefulness was limited by attacks on 17 April 1945 on the railway network (especially towards Bohemia). Soldiers had been deployed as late as March 1945 in the Albertstadt garrison.
The Albertstadt garrison became the headquarters of the Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army in the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany after the war. Apart from the German army officers’ school (Offizierschule des Heeres), there have been no more military units in Dresden since the army merger during German reunification, and the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1992. Nowadays, the Bundeswehr operates the Military History Museum of the Federal Republic of Germany in the former Albertstadt garrison.
German Federal Minister of Defence Thomas de Maizière has his place of residence and political basis in Dresden.
Dresden, 1945—over ninety percent of the city centre was destroyed.
Dresden in the 20th century was a major communications hub and manufacturing center, as well as a leading European centre of art, classical music, culture and science until its complete destruction on 13 February 1945. Being the capital of the German state of Saxony, Dresden had not only garrisons but a whole military borough, the Albertstadt. This military complex, named after Saxon King Albert, was not specifically targeted in the bombing of Dresden though was within the expected area of destruction.
During the final months of World War II, Dresden became a haven to some 600,000 refugees, with a total population of 1.2 million. Dresden was attacked seven times between 1944 and 1945, and was occupied by the Red Army after German capitulation.
The bombing of Dresden by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) between 13 and 15 February 1945 remains a controversial Allied action of the Western European theatre of war.
The inner city of Dresden was largely destroyed by 722 RAF and 527 USAAF bombers that dropped 2431 tons of high explosive bombs, and 1475.9 tons of incendiaries. The high explosive bombs damaged buildings and exposed their wooden structures, while the incendiaries ignited them, severely reducing the number of shelters available to the retreating German troops and refugees. The bombing raid on Dresden destroyed almost all of the ancient centre of the city in three waves of attacks. Widely quoted Nazi propaganda reports claimed 200,000 deaths. The German Dresden Historians’ Commission, in an official 2010 report published after five years of research concluded there were up to 25,000 casualties, while right-wing groups continue to claim that up to 500,000 people died. The inhabited city centre was almost wiped out, while larger residential, industrial and military sites on the outskirts were relatively unscathed. The Allies described the operation as the legitimate bombing of a military and industrial target. A report from the British Bomber Command stated the military target was the railway marshalling yard Dresden-Friedrichstadt. Prime Minister Winston Churchill later distanced himself from the attack, even though he was heavily involved with the planning of the raid. Several researchers have argued that the February attacks were disproportionate. Mostly women and children died.
American author Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five is based on his first hand experience of the raid as a POW. In remembrance of the victims, the anniversaries of the bombing of Dresden are marked with peace demonstrations, devotions and marches.
After the Second World War, Dresden became a major industrial centre in the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany) with a great deal of research infrastructure. Many important historic buildings were rebuilt, including the Semper Opera House, the Zwinger Palace and a great many other historic buildings, although the city leaders chose to reconstruct large areas of the city in a «socialist modern» style, partly for economic reasons, but also to break away from the city’s past as the royal capital of Saxony and a stronghold of the German bourgeoisie. However, some of the bombed-out ruins of churches, royal buildings and palaces, such as the Gothic Sophienkirche, the Alberttheater and the Wackerbarth-Palais were razed by the Soviet and East German authorities in the 1950s and 1960s instead of being repaired. Compared to West Germany, the majority of historic buildings were saved.
From 1985 to 1990, the KGB stationed Vladimir Putin, the future President of Russia, in Dresden. On 3 October 1989 (the so-called «battle of Dresden»), a convoy of trains carrying East German refugees from Prague passed through Dresden on its way to the Federal Republic of Germany. Local activists and residents joined in the growing civil disobedience movement spreading across the German Democratic Republic by staging demonstrations and demanding the removal of the nondemocratic government.
Dresden has experienced dramatic changes since the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s. The city still bears many wounds from the bombing raids of 1945, but it has undergone significant reconstruction in recent decades. Restoration of the Dresden Frauenkirche was completed in 2005, a year before Dresden’s 800th anniversary, notably by privately raised funds. The gold cross on the top of the church was paid for and donated by the City of Edinburgh as a mark of the bond between the two cities. The urban renewal process, which includes the reconstruction of the area around the Neumarkt square on which the Frauenkirche is situated, will continue for many decades, but public and government interest remains high, and there are numerous large projects underway—both historic reconstructions and modern plans—that will continue the city’s recent architectural renaissance.
Dresden remains a major cultural centre of historical memory, owing to the city’s destruction in World War II. Each year on 13 February, the anniversary of the British and American fire-bombing raid that destroyed most of the city, tens of thousands of demonstrators gather to commemorate the event. Since reunification, the ceremony has taken on a more neutral and pacifist tone (after being used more politically in Cold War times). In recent years, however, white power skinheads have tried to use the event for their own political ends. In the last ten year Dresden was host to some of the largest Neo-Nazi demonstrations in the post-war history of Germany. Each year around the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden in World War II Neo-Nazis demonstrated to «mourn» what they call the «Allied bomb-holocaust». From 2010 on these demonstration were prevented by antifascist counter-mobilizations who successfully blocked the annual Nazi-marches.
In 2002, torrential rains caused the Elbe to flood 9 metres (30 ft) above its normal height, i.e. even higher than the old record height from 1845, damaging many landmarks (See 2002 European flood). The destruction from this «millennium flood» is no longer visible, due to the speed of reconstruction.
The United Nations’ cultural organization UNESCO declared the Dresden Elbe Valley to be a World Heritage Site in 2004. After being placed on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites in 2006, the city lost the title in June 2009, due to the construction of the Waldschlößchenbrücke, making it only the second ever World Heritage Site to be removed from the register. UNESCO stated in 2006 that the bridge would destroy the cultural landscape. The city council’s legal moves meant to prevent the bridge from being built failed.
The Dresden Elbe Valley was an internationally recognised site of cultural significance by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for five years. After being placed on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites in 2006, the city had its status as world heritage site formally removed in June 2009, for the wilful breach of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, due to the construction of a highway bridge across the valley within 2 km of the historic centre. It thereby became the first location ever in Europe to lose this status, and the second ever in the world.