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Dresden’s time will come

The rebuilt city is making its way in the world.

Last week I was back in Dresden after a long absence. I was last there in 2005 for the inauguration of the Frauenkirche, the church that looks like an ornate teapot and which epitomises the whole bittersweet, phoenix-from-the-ashes story of the city.

Dresden was, of course, completely flattened by Allied carpet-bombing. Since the reunification of Germany its old town has been mostly reconstructed, although there are still one or two gaping holes. Its epicentre, the Frauenkirche, was rebuilt completely from donations, with its tower cross funded by the British (including the Royal Family) and made by a blacksmith whose father was one of the bomber pilots that destroyed the church in the first place.

These days the city’s atmosphere is something like an Oxford or a Prague for Germany. Beautiful, relaxed, timeless, with music echoing off ancient stones. The old town areas are almost entirely car-free, and much of the architecture is massively ornamental, with sculptures of electors, dukes and margraves peering down at the general public from lofty rooflines. The river is busy with steam-powered paddlesteamers, the cobbled streets overflowing with diners from designer restaurants. All in all it is a lovely place to be.

Even the new town along Prager Street, the section built during the communist era which links the railway station to the old town, has been spruced up. It used to be a soulless canyon of dreary shops, but capitalism has injected both life and colour and filled in some of the gaps.

So Dresden could be a major tourist destination for British and international travellers, but it isn’t. Why?

The answer lies in two things. The main one is its transport connections: there are very few international flights into its airport, and none from the UK. Lufthansa tried, as did Cityjet, but their main market was the business traveller, and there isn’t enough business traffic.

We do have lots of flights, of course, from the UK to Berlin, which is only a couple of hours away from Dresden by train, so you can get there with a bit of extra effort. The extra £30 outlay is easily made up by cheaper hotels, meals etc, but there are surprisingly few direct, fast trains. It is almost as if the authorities didn’t want the travelling public to discover this Saxon city.

And then there’s the unfortunate impact of Pegida. Germany-watchers will know that this is the thuggish right-wing anti-immigration movement which has been hogging the headlines, and which has chosen Dresden as its meeting point. Although it is no longer allowed to demonstrate in the heart of the old town, as it used to, it is still a presence in the city.

But the numbers are growing. The graph is still upwards. Dresden’s time will come.

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