Sunday 30 January 2011

Dresden Old Town/New Town Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 9 km (5.6 miles), terrain flat

Photos courtesy of

Dresden running routes:
Dresden Old Town/New Town
Dresden Elbe River Route
Dresden Grosser Garten Route
For more running routes, see Route List.

Dresden, once known as the Florence of the North, has been rebuilding itself for half a century, after being almost completely bombed-out in World War II. The rebuilding went slowly, and much of the new stuff was uninspired people-boxes built during the communist era. Since the German reunification, the rest of the empty lots have been filling quickly, with more care for the historic nature of the neighborhoods.

Dresden old town, from the other side of the Elbe, photo by Martin Goldmann
Each time I get to Dresden, it's looking more complete, has regained more of its old elegance and culture. I always look forward to getting back there.

If you're running in Dresden, there are a few ways you could head: through the Volkspark and then out over the "Blue Wonder" bridge to the vineyards of Loschwitz, or you could just run out along the Elbe River beneath the palaces along the bluff, or you could also head out north to the extensive woods of the Dresdner Heide. Or you could take a run like this, doing a tourist loop through the historic districts of town.

Dresden Old Town/New Town Route
We'll start the run at the Theaterplatz, in the middle of the most imposing old-town buildings. This is the heart of the Saxon capital: the royal palace, the Semper Opera House, the Zwinger gardens and the Hofkirche church surround you. The ensemble is breathtaking, and all of them warrant a visit inside later. And the Elbe River is just a few steps away.
The Zwinger, photo by Templermeister
The Zwinger was built by August the Strong, who had just managed to gain the title of King of Poland, in addition to his normal title of Prince-Elector of Saxony. He had longed for a king's title, and now he wanted to build a kingly setting for himself in his capital, after having seen the French and their Versailles dreamworld. The church and opera followed later.

Hofkirche and Schloß (palace), photo by Ulrike Jonack
The church was the first Catholic one in the Protestant city, and was needed now that the Saxon princes were also kings of Catholic Poland. This beautiful church was a jewel added to the growing baroque town center.

Let's run right towards the Zwinger, heading southwest through its arched gateway through the middle of the north wing. You'll come out into an impressive courtyard, surrounded by baroque arcades and galleries. Directly across the courtyard, a giant crown tops one arcade: the Saxon kings were certainly not into understatement.

Do a loop counter-clockwise through the courtyard, exiting on the east side, coming out onto the street, facing the rebuilt Taschenberg Palais. This building was rebuilt in the last years of the German Democratic Republic, and its pre-fabricated sections were only partially based on the original, but still it's better than most pre-fab boxes. The Sophienkeller restaurant in the cellar is a great experience, though: it occupies a labyrinth of ancient vaulted rooms, where waiters and musicians dressed in historic costumes bring back the old Dresden, and some are pretty funny (if you speak German, anyway), impersonating August the Strong and other historic figures.

Run to the left, then right, to go around the front side of the building, used as a hotel. Across the square you can see the royal palace, with its round towers. Run straight through the round archway bridging the two buildings.

When you get to the end of the palace, turn left on Schloß Straße. There is a big archeological dig in the big empty lot remaining behind the palace. To the right is the socialist-era Cultural Palace, looking totally out of place.

Run north along this back-side of the royal palace, and go through the next arched opening that goes out into the square out front of the Schloß. You will be facing the Hofkirche again, with the main facade of the palace behind you, with its titans holding up the archway, and a mural with a procession of Saxon rulers marching unperturbed through history, to their demise in 1918.

Steps to Brühlsche Terrasse, photo by Bildpixel
We'll run back along that wall later, on our way back. But for now, run straight ahead, towards the river until you pass the next building on the right, the courthouse. Take the stairway going up to the right, before the shore road. This brings you to the Brühlsche Terrasse, a raised promenade and park on top of the old town walls.

Run straight, and you'll have a great view of the river and the historic steamboats waiting for tourists along the bank. Across the river, you can see the Neustadt (new town), where we will soon be running. On the right, you'll first pass the Kunstakademie (Art Academy), then the Albertinum art museum in the old armory building.
Brühlsche Terrasse, photo by Juergen Gessner
This is one of my favorite little parks, with great views in every direction, statues and fountains, and interesting arched cellar rooms and hallways down in the old fortress below.

Kunstakademie, photo by Ulrich Velten
You can't exit the park near the river: the walls have no way out there, so run back towards the Albertinum and take the first stairs down into the little park below. This path takes you to the modernistic cubes of the new synagogue, newly rebuilt on the spot of the old one, burned down in the Kristalnacht pogrom of 1938.

You are now facing St. Petersburger Straße, leading to the left over the Carolabrücke bridge over the Elbe. There's a lane reserved for pedestrians, which you can take just by running along the left side of the bridge, next to the tram tracks.

Running over the bridge, you have more beautiful views of the old town behind you. Across the river, take the first stairs down to the left. We'll run along the riverside, going west, with the river to your left. The riverside is a wide lawn, with a government ministry building on the right.

You are running towards the older stone Augustusbrücke. The path goes under the bridge, where you keep going straight along the riverside. Across the river, what looks like a giant mosque is the 100-year-old Yenidze cigarette factory, named after the old Ottoman province where they once got their tobacco.

Before you come to the next bridge, you'll see a classical building with a curving green-copper roofline on the right, the Japanisches Palais. It was originally built by August the Strong to hold his porcelain collection (hey, a king's gotta have dishes, right?). Just past the building, turn right and run past it, cross the street at the tram stop, and run straight through the triangular plaza ahead (can you call it a "square" if it's triangular?).

Run straight along Königstraße, with its classical house-fronts and nice restaurants. Keep running till the street ends at the circular plaza (no "square" again), Albertplatz. You need to go to the far side of the circle, so run along either side, cross busy Bauzner Straße, then run up Alaunstraße. You are now coming into the funky part of town, full of interesting pubs, unusual restaurants and shops, full of students and bohemians.

Kunsthof, photo by Hans-Christian Hein
This part of town harbors some hidden treasures behind some very nondescript facades. At Alaunstrße 70, go through the entranceway and you'll run into the first courtyard of a maze of connected spaces, the Kunsthof. Each space is decorated in its own creative direction, and populated by artists galleries and shops. Slow down to a walk here, you'll want to take a closer look.

Rain-gutters in the Kunsthof, photo by Hans-Christian Hein
You'll come out of the courtyards on the other side, on Görlitzer Straße. Turn right and run one block to Louisenstraße, where you turn left and run till it ends at Prießnitzstraße, where you follow the curve to the right. In just a few blocks this street runs into the bigger Bauzner Straße, where you turn right.

Another Kunsthof courtyard, by Ilona Steinchen
The next block, on the right, has a really great shop, the world's most interesting milk store: Pfund's. The whole interior is done in neo-renaissance tiles. Keep running west on Bauzner Straße until you get back to the Albertplatz circle again. The last part can be run away from the street, in a park on the left side.
In Pfunds Milchladen
On Albertplatz, go left till you reach the big pedestrian street that leads back to the river, Hauptstraße. This street has a mixture of old baroque houses and socialist-era newer buildings where the old ones were bombed out. Stay on the right side, along the church and old buildings. If you look closely, you'll see 2 entrances to courtyards with artisan shops: take a quick look in, they're really interesting, and with baroque gardens in the back.

Keep running down the tree-lined pedestrian street, which ends at a golden statue of August the Strong on his horse. Keep running straight, and you'll run over the Augustusbrücke, towards the old town again.

The golden rider, photo by Uwe Wagschal
When you cross the bridge, turn left to do one last small loop through the old town, running directly along the water towards the tourist boats. You will pass an arched opening in the fortress wall on the right, then come to another opening. Turn right and run through this second opening, Münzgasse, with its restaurants and pubs. This is the place to come in the evening if you are staying near the old town.

The Frauenkirche over the rooftops, photo by Templermeister
At the end of the block, you'll come to the rebuilt Frauenkirche, one of Germany's most beautiful churches. It was basically an empty lot with a couple of ruined walls the first time I saw it. It has now been rebuilt, with donations from around the world. The black stones peppering the facade are the few original stones that were usable in the restoration. The original church was paid for by the townspeople, showing that they were ready to build just as imposing a church as the king had just done for the Catholics.

Martin Luther at the Frauenkirche, photo by Rolf Handke
Run a loop around the church. The neighborhood around it was also empty lots 20 years ago, but they are slowly being rebuilt in classical style. Run west on Töpferstraße and you'll come to the wall mural again, with the procession of Saxon princes on it. Right at the beginning there is a great courtyard on the left that warrants a loop through it, with its black and white painted-on false renaissance facade, one of the oldest parts of the palace.

Follow the procession mural towards the Hofkirche, jog past the church, and you will come out right where we started, at Theaterplatz in front of the opera.
Semper Opera, by Ulrich Velten

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