Dresden in a day, from the arts to robotic carts

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DRESDEN, Germany -- So much to see, so little time. A common problem for anyone visiting Europe, the conundrum perplexes even well-traveled visitors on a short stop in multifaceted Dresden at the tail end of a business trip to Germany.

With just one full day to take in as many of the Saxon capital city's glories as possible, I managed -- I'd like to believe -- to boil down locals' recommendations to the bare historic essentials plus two stunning attractions of more recent vintage.

Volkswagen's state-of-the-art Transparent Factory, above, is an ecologically correct car plant astride Dresden's Botanical Gardens. One of those impressive new wonders is the mostly glass Transparent Factory, built by automaker Volkswagen next to the city's Botanical Gardens.

Economically, ergonomically and ecologically correct, the crystalline car plant provides much-needed jobs for Dresdeners in a high-tech, surprisingly spotless facility that produces just one model, the Phaeton.

Guided tours of the plant -- which boasts gleaming hardwood workshop floors and self-guided, robotic delivery carts -- are available by prearrangement at a cost of about $6 (e-mail [email protected] for information); the factory also has a restaurant.

After dreamily inspecting a $120,000 Phaeton on display, I tore myself away and went "downmarket" with a mere tram ride to the Neumarkt -- or New Market -- site of the imposing Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), under reconstruction.

Queen of the Dresden skyline for 217 years until it collapsed after Allied firebombing in 1945, the Frauenkirche will once again hold court after completion in 2006; reconstruction has passed the halfway point.

From the Neumarkt it was a short stroll via tiny Munzgasse, packed with souvenir shops and restaurants, to the Bruhl Terrace, Dresden's riverside byway. Strung along or near the terrace are the city's top antique attractions, including the Albertinum, with its Green Vault treasury; the Hofkirche and Royal Palace at Schlossplatz; the Semper Opera; and the Zwinger, home to Raphael's famed Sistine Madonna.

I had time only for quick visits to each before heading to my most surprising find: Saxony's state winery, at the Schloss Wackerbarth villa outside town.

Saxony, it turns out, is Europe's most northerly traditional wine culture; at historic Schloss Wackerbarth, visitors are treated to tours and wine tastings in the villa, in the vineyards and at an adjacent high-tech winery, built in 2002 with tourists in mind.

Multimedia displays -- including the "Aroma Game" sound and light show, an ingenious interpretation of wine appreciation -- illustrate the production of sparkling wine.

The winery also has a tavern and gift shop; tours run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. though Sept. 30.

Entrance to most of the myriad attractions I crammed into my itinerary was free with the 48-hour Dresden Card visitor pass; to obtain the card, or for more on Dresden, contact the the German National Tourist Office at (212) 661-7200 or at www.visits-to-germany.com.

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