The baroque splendor of Dresden, Saxony's capital city

The best introduction to Dresden is to arrive by boat. There are any number of companies like Peter Deilmann Cruises that operate vessels on the River Elbe.

But most Americans will arrive by Lufthansa Airlines or by railroad, the Deutsche Bahn, a great experience by itself. Currently, Dresden's main railroad station is under repair, being upgraded, and finding something akin to an Amtrak redcap is frustrating. Germans don't believe in that kind of service. With 12 percent unemployment in Germany, this would be a sure way to create a new work force.

The baroque splendor of Dresden

Hotels Dresden Westin Bellevue Hotel Dresden *****

Centrally located in the picturesque gardens on the banks of the River Elbe the hotel impresses with a breathtaking panorama of Dresden's famous historic skyline. Last Minute Hotels Dresden
To reach the city's Old Town and its fabled treasures, the visitor crosses an enormous expanse surrounded by postwar high rise apartment buildings to the pedestrian-only Prager Strasse. The New Town is all walkable, and all roads lead to the city's treasures such as The Semper Opera, one of the best opera houses on the continent. Focal point at the Theaterplatz is a proud equestrian piece of sculpture of a king named Johann, who ruled Saxony when Gottfried Semper built the famed opera house. His Royal Highness appears overconfident seated in his saddle astride his favorite steed, but rumors have it that he was terrified of the handsome beasts and never learned how to ride. Postage stamps of King Johann and his stallion were issued some time ago; fortunately, they were adhesive, thereby depriving squeamish citizens of the need to lick his Royal Highness on the reverse.

The city has reinvented itself; it has been rebuilt and easily reveals its former glory. Dresden's famed Frauenkirche, a huge early 18th century cathedral that took some direct hits during World War II, once dominated the city's skyline; its shell remained intact only to collapse some days following the attack. The heap of blackened rubbish stood for decades, not unlike Berlin's famed Gedachtnis Kirche, as a monument to the folly of war. Reconstruction started 12 years ago and will culminate in local celebrations when the cathedral is reopened in its new splendor this fall.

The Dresden Gallery of Old Masters contains what is considered to be one of Europe's finest art collections, including canvases collected by the Albertine Wettin clan during the 16th century, but the majority of acquisitions were purchased during the days of King Augustus II and his son.

And there is the Zwinger, the city's most famous building, clearly a Baroque structure. It was built in the space between two former town fortifications and houses several museums today.

Think of angels and the two most prominent that come to mind are the famed cherubs taken from Raphael's work The Sistine Madonna, painted in 1513, which can be seen in all its beauty in the Old Masters Picture Gallery. The painting originally was hung above the altar in a monastery in San Sisto in northern Italy. In the late 18th century, Augustus III acquired it for some 25,000 scudi. At that time, an entire district of a town could be built for such an enormous amount. Today, Raphael's two angels smile upon Dresdeners and their visitors.

Seeing the best of Dresden can be done with a Dresden "City Card," which provides economic travel via public transport to the more important sights in town. It also includes admission to 12 museums and special price discounts for city tours or steamer journeys up the River Elbe. But best of all, the rides are on Dresden's marvelous network of silent trolleys, which operate like long range Deutsche Bahn trains across Germany with immense style.

At one of Dresden's two top hotels, management uncorks a geyser of goodwill. A truly elegant hotel is the Westin Bellevue, where a headwaiter with an anxious brow and darting eyes oversees a stunning dining room -- unlike many hotels in North America in which waiters treat guests almost with clinical detachment. It is a special post-opera dinner -- Strauss' Salome at the Semper -- with a superb beef broth followed by a thinly sliced filet moistened with a polished wine sauce that makes an excellent foil for the forest-mushroom strudel and for dessert, a trio of creme brulee innovations. It is pure pleasure just to sit in the Canaletto Room, and the food, God knows, is earnestly intended.