Dresden of recent headlines is not the city I know

In 2017, Dresden will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of Martin Luther's Reformation movement.
In 2017, Dresden will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of Martin Luther's Reformation movement. Photo Credit: Felicity Long
Felicity Long
Felicity Long

The news out of Dresden in recent weeks does not correspond with the city I visited just shortly before that.

Homemade explosive devices were detonated at a mosque and an international conference center in the city on Sept. 27; fortunately, no one was hurt in either blast. Then on Oct. 3, unrest marred the festivities commemorating the reunification of East and West Germany.

I won't say I didn't see any political activity during my visit to explore activities tied to next year's 500th anniversary of the start of Martin Luther's Reformation movement. At one point, there was a group of young people chanting slogans as they marched by. But that protest went off without incident, and they were protesting against Pegida, the local anti-Islam movement, not in support of it.

Naturally, the local tourism office is eager to assure visitors that the Dresden they will experience when they arrive doesn't resemble anything they may have read in recent headlines.

"Around 450,000 celebrated peacefully the Day of German unification," noted Christoph Munch, director of marketing for Dresden Tourism. "We ... feel concerned that 450 people used the occasion for verbal attacks against German politicians and international visitors joining the service and celebration at the famous Dresdner Frauenkirche [a historical Lutheran church in the city]. This tragic occurrence and the Pegida demonstrations have been spread in the media, but they don't represent daily life in Dresden, which is a complex city with a lot of aspects and also contradictions," he said.

During our visit, the city was tranquil, charming and bustling. The annual Dresden City Festival, which features music, theater and family activities, had just wrapped up without a hitch, and the the streets were teeming with tourists.

Sidewalk cafes were full, cyclists rode along the Elbe on rented bikes and groups with tour guides took in the city's museums and palaces, especially the Zwinger, with its impressive art collection and beautiful gardens.

Dresden has a beautiful opera house where Wagner once served as musical director, and the Dresdner Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, boasts one of the most magnificent pipe organs in Europe.

In 2017, these venues are among those throughout Saxony slated to host Martin Luther-themed events, and the local tourist office anticipates a robust number of interested visitors.

In all, more than 4.3 million visitors come to Dresden every year, Munch said, and there has been a nearly 5% uptick in overnight visitors to the city from the U.S. from January through July, compared with the same period last year, according to the Saxony tourism office.

At the Swissotel Dresden Am Schloss, where we stayed, there have been no issues nor cancellations since our visit, according to Corinne Miseer, director of sales and marketing for the property. In fact, bookings for the December Christmas market is "in full swing and looks very promising," she said. The holiday season is traditionally one of the busiest for Dresden.

Given that this is a city that has experienced its own dramatic rebirth  the historical city center was so heavily bombed by Allied forces in World War II that it remains a controversial case study to this day its reconstruction and vitality give reason to hope for a peaceful future.

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