| Best-known of the former
GDR states, Saxony (Sachsen) is famous for cities like Dresden,
Leipzig, and of course, the pottery town Meissen.
The Erzgebirge region near Dresden lies on the
border with the Czech Republic. Its mountainous wooded landscape
makes it ideal for walkers in the summer and skiers in the winter.
Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) is
now a national park, its sandstone mountains attracting many visitors.
Chemnitz (formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt) is the main
town in this region. It was heavily bombed during the war and only
a few of its historic buildings remain, including the Old
Town Hall (16th century) and the 800-year-old Red
Tower, others are Freiberg, Kuchwald,
with its open-air theatre, and Seifen with its
toy museum. Zwickau was birthplace of Robert Schumann
and is home to a late Gothic Cathedral, a Town
Hall dating back to 1403 and numerous old burghers’ houses.
With over 500,000 inhabitants, this is one of the largest cities
in the southeast of Germany. Its heyday was during the 17th and
18th centuries when August the Strong and subsequently his son August
III ruled the area of Saxony. The most famous building in the city
is the restored Zwinger Palace, which contains
many old masters in its picture gallery, among them the Sistine
Madonna by Raphael. Allied bombings destroyed much of the
Baroque magnificence of Dresden, once known as the ‘Florence
of the Elbe’ during World War II. However, some of the finest
buildings, such as the Catholic Hofkirche, the
Palace Church, the Semper Opera
and the Green Vault treasure chamber of the Saxon
Princes, either survived the bombings or have been restored
in the intervening period. The Frauenkirche, since
1945 a chilling reminder of wartime horrors, is currently under
reconstruction (due for completion during 2006).
Other attractions include the Arsenal, which has
a vast collection of armour and weapons from the Middle Ages to
the present day, the fountains in the Pragerstrasse, the old market,
the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kreuz
Choir. The Dresden district is home to the minority Sorbs,
a Slavic people who settled there in the 6th century. Sorb-language
newspapers and broadcasts combine with teaching in local schools
to preserve the culture.
The city has a fascinating history. Lenin printed the first issues
of his Marxist newspaper in Leipzig. Lessing, Jean-Paul
Sartre and Goethe all studied at the university.
Music and books are important and there are no less than 38 publishers
located in the city, and it is Wagner’s birthplace. The German
Museum of Books claims to be the world’s oldest of
its kind. Mendelssohn was director of music, and
Bach was choirmaster, at the now completely restored
St Thomas’ Church, between 1723 and 1750. There are museums
dedicated to both composers in the city. Bach’s church choir
still exists and is of an excellent standard, as is the city’s
Gewandhaus Orchestra. The old University (1407),
the famous Auerbach’s Cellar and the Kaffeebaum,
the most famous of the city’s cafes, are further attractions
in the city. Today Leipzig hosts major international trade fairs.
Meissen is the oldest china manufacturing town in Europe and famous
for its fine Meissen china. Visitors can tour the Meissen factory.
The narrow streets of old Meissen retain their historic charm. The
Albrechtsburg Cathedral (1485) and the Bishop’s
Castle tower above the city. Meissen is also the centre of a wine-growing