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Dresden's silver age

In the 19th century Dresden was one of the richest cities in Germany - many of these riches can still be discovered today

Glittering festivities, magnificent architecture, exquisite music and rich treasure chambers - the Saxon elector Augustus the Strong and his son made Dresden the German pearl of the Baroque period and led the city into a golden age. This all ended abruptly in 1763 with Saxony's defeat by Prussia in the Seven Years War. Tentative attempts to revive the former glory foundered with the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig in 1813. Only then were there signs of an upswing. Dresden experienced its silver age - the 19th century.

There are numerous magnificent testimonies to this period, by the end of which the capital of the new Kingdom of Saxony was again one of the richest cities in Germany. Indeed, there are today even more numerous than the buildings of the Baroque period. Whereas the Baroque old city was reduced to ruins in the firestorm of the 13 and 14 February 1945, extensive areas of the city districts built up during the 19th century survived. Important buildings in the city centre were reconstructed.

The pace of the upswing was set by the artists: Carl Maria von Weber, Court Music Director in Dresden up to his death in 1826, founded the German national opera here. Caspar David Friedrich and Adrian Ludwig Richter developed the style of "Dresden Early Romanticism". Carl Gustav Carus was not only a painter, but through his psychosomatic research also a precursor of Freud, and the writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann set up an opera company here.

Visitors to Dresden can experience the importance of this epoch in the Museum of Dresden Early Romanticism, in the former home of the poet and painter Wilhelm von Kügelgen in the Hauptstrasse. The Weber Museum in Hosterwitz and not least the rich art treasures in the New Masters Picture Gallery bring the Biedermeier period back to life.

Significant architecture also dates from this time. Christian Friedrich Schuricht built the New Palais in Pillnitz from 1818 to 1830 - a harmonious continuation of Pöppelmann's Baroque exoticism. In 1831 Karl Friedrich Schinkel designed the city guardhouse which bears his name. In 1838 Gottfried Semper built the synagogue which was to be destroyed by the Nazis 100 years later. In the same year he built the first court theatre, and from 1847 to 1849 the museum which houses the Old Masters Picture Gallery. A fine impression of a purely Biedermeier-Classicist street is presented by the Nieritzgasse, which branches off from the Baroque Königstrasse in the Neustadt quarter.

As Court Music Director Richard Wagner at the same time opened up a new heyday for opera in the city - until 1849 when he, Semper and other important figures in Dresden joined the Revolution and fled into exile.

A revolution of a different kind had even greater significance for Dresden: the Industrial Revolution. The Saxon-Bohemian Steamship Company was founded in 1836. In 1839 the first long-distance railway in Germany was started up between Dresden and Leipzig. New factories sprang up. The oldest, the former Waldschlösschen brewery, is today the centrepiece of a residential, office and leisure centre. The middle of the century, however, was also the time of the splendid Elbe palaces: Prince Albrecht of Prussia had a palace built in Tuscan style above the Elbe, alongside it a villa for his property advisor and the Eckberg Palace, a manor in English Tudor Gothic style - today a romantic hotel.

In 1866 Saxony sought to demonstrate its cultural affinity to Austria in the political arena, but lost the war to Prussia. The monumental military barracks on the northern edges of the city have remained as witnesses to Prussia's distrust of the southern Saxons. Nevertheless, a short time later Dresden, too, was caught up in the fever of the Foundation period.

Pfund's Dairy was opened on the Bautzner Strasse in 1892 - the most beautiful dairy shop in the world. The beer mat was invented. A year later Karl August Lingner developed Odol mouthwash, one of the world's first brand-name products. In 1895 the bra was invented, in 1896 condensed milk, and in 1908 the coffee filter.

The revenue from the flourishing industry was not only invested in impressive factory buildings, such as the Bienert Mill near the Alberthafen river port, the Old Malthouse, or the grand Yenidse tobacco warehouse, which has just been restored to its former magnificence.

Whole new districts arose in the heavy splendour of Historicism: Pieschen, Mickten and the Outer Neustadt to the north, Löbtau and Cotta to the west, and the extensive villa districts Albertstadt, Weisser Hirsch, Oberloschwitz, Blasewitz, Tolkewitz and Striesen to the east are unique evidence of the city's riches and artistic spirit during the 19th century.

Around 50 ballrooms, of which Ballhaus Watzke has picked up the old traditions once more, provided for pleasure. Many new theatres were set up, as for example the new Semper Opera House in 1878. The Dresden Philharmonic was founded. The State Orchestra gained such a good reputation, that the Munich composer Richard Strauss insisted that most of his operas be premiered in Dresden. Numerous writers chose Dresden as their home. The Polish author Ignacy Kraszewski brought Saxony's Augustan age to life in his novels. His house is today a museum.

Art was given new representative rooms in the Albertinum and in the Lipsius Art Academy on the Brühl Terrace. And Dresden became a tourist city. The builders of two cable railways to viewpoints over the city and the Elbe valley no doubt also had the visitors and summer guests in mind. These attractions, by the way, are reached via a further technical masterpiece of the period, the steel construction of the Blue Wonder bridge, which was opened in 1893. (Christoph Münch)

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