• Germany's news in English
 

Saxony with InterRail: a gateway to central Europe

Published: 22 May 2012 19:51 GMT+02:00

Its two main tourist draws are the stunning cities of Leipzig and Dresden. Along with impressive architecture, vibrant cultural scenes and picturesque backdrops, they are also the perfect bases to explore further into central Europe by train.

Leipzig

The second city of Saxony will greet you with a big bang on arrival. The central station is the largest in Europe by floor area with its 24 platforms housed in six train sheds. Leipzig has long been known as an important trade city since 900 AD, thanks to its location at the intersection between two important trade routes. The city’s famous trade fair continues that tradition today.

But business mixes with musical pleasure. Leipzig became a centre for classical excellence in the 17th and 18th century as the place where two of Germany’s most famous composers, Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn, lived and worked. Bach was choirmaster at the Lutheran St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) where he was laid to rest. Regular concerts of his cantata’s and services featuring the famous boy’s choir Thomaschor remain popular. Organists can even visit and play the very instrument where the maestro himself composed.

A statue of Felix Mendelssohn was erected outside the church in 2008, after the Nazis destroyed the original in 1936. Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatoire (now the University of Music and Theatre) in 1843 – the oldest university school of music in Germany.

The city's oldest church St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche) was built in 1165 and, with its striking Gothic style, is also popular among visitors. The building is most famous as the scene of the Monday demonstrations in 1989, the start of a peaceful revolt against communist rule. For an intriguing insight into the past, visit Museum in der Runden Ecke (Museum in the Round Corner) – the original city headquarters of the Stasi has been kept exactly how it was found in the late 80s. Through documents and surveillance equipment it present a fascinating look into the inner workings of the secret police.

For a unique view of the city, climb the 500 steps to the viewing platform of the Battle of the Nations monument. Built in 1913 to commemorate Napoleon’s defeat in Leipzig a century before, it is the largest war memorial in Europe and stands 91 metres tall, allegedly on the spot where Napoleon ordering his troops to retreat.

In between sightseeing, stop off for a respite at Mädlerpassage, a quaint shopping arcade filled with an array of boutiques. Ensure to pay a visit to Auerbachs Keller – a restaurant that can cite Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as one of its former local patrons. He was a regular during his student days in the city and marked it with a mention in a scene from Faust I.

The biggest family attraction is Leipzig Zoo, with its sprawling grounds and botanical gardens close to the city centre. A modern take on the traditional zoo, it concentrates on conservation and animal protection. There are 850 species of animals from around the world and a newly-opened tropical rainforest the size of two football pitches to explore.

Why not combine your stay in Leipzig with a day trip to the German capital? Berlin is just 200 kilometres away and only 75 minutes on the express ICE train.

Alternatively, take a longer scenic route into Bavaria and a three-hour journey that allows you to enjoy the spectacular views along the River Saale towards Nuremberg – unspoilt nature and serene valleys lined with fairytale castles come guaranteed.

Dresden

The capital of Saxony is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, a waterway lined with meadows that snakes its way 23 kilometres through Dresden. The contrasting architectural styles in the heart of the old town are a throwback to realities of World War II and the controversial aerial attack in 1945. Previously, the city was referred to as the Jewel Box, because of its baroque and rococo buildings and many were rebuilt including the Semper Opera. Elaborate and ornate in Renaissance style, it houses a packed programme of opera, ballet and jazz performances as well as being open for guided tours.

Local residents began a campaign and raised private funds to complete the restoration of the famous Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady) cathedral in 2005, a year before the city celebrated its 800th anniversary. Since the re-opening, it has been one of the cities biggest tourist attractions with over seven million visitors in the first three years alone.

The Zwinger Palace hosts galleries and gardens in a museum complex comprising the Old Masters Picture Gallery with works by Rembrandt, Rubens and Raphael. For a glimpse of sheer opulence, visit the two Green Vaults in Dresden’s former Royal Palace. Founded by Augustus the Strong in 1723 there are over 1,000 artefacts and treasures from around the world including gold, amber, ivory and the Dresden Green Diamond, the only large naturally green diamond ever to be found.

Take time to soak in the natural surroundings on offer – Dresden is one of the greenest cities in Europe with over 60 percent of the city covered by forest and green space. Protected gardens and parks are scattered around the city along with four nature reserves in close proximity. An hour’s bike ride from the city centre along the Elbe Cycle Path takes in vineyards, riverside palaces, beer gardens and former villages by the river bank.

For the alternative side of Dresden, step into the Neustadt neighbourhood. Home to the city’s student population it comes complete with a pulsing nightlife and vibrant cultural scene. Admittedly, it may not have the sights of the historical inner city, but with its narrow streets, funky shops and bohemian feel, this is where the fun is to be had for younger visitors.

Make the most of your stay by conveniently taking in another country and another capital by train. Close to the Czech border, a day trip to Prague is just 150 kilometres and two hours and 20 minutes away.

On leaving the city, follow the Dresden skyline reflected in the River Elbe while the beauty of the Elbe Valley awaits. Further on, the colossal rocky cliffs of the Sächsische Schweiz National Park tower above a number of pretty, colourful villages. Once across the border, the train follows the Vitava River at Mělník, providing more waterside views before arriving in the popular Czech capital of Prague.

Article sponsored by Eurail Group.

For information on the InterRail Pass range and where to buy click here.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

05:16 May 23, 2012 by LiterallySimon
Dresden Germany's fourth largest city? Tenth would be closer to the truth.
19:14 May 24, 2012 by maras777
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
Today's headlines
Sudeten Germans give up 'right to homeland'
Sudeten Germans practising traditional dance at a gathering in 2014. Photo: DPA

Sudeten Germans give up 'right to homeland'

The Sudeten German Homeland Association has given up its claim to the group's former home in parts of the Czech Republic, quieting one of the final echoes of the Second World War. READ  

Minister draws fire over wage transparency plan
Families Minister Manuela Schwesig. Photo: DPA

Minister draws fire over wage transparency plan

Families Minister Manuela Schwesig confirmed on Sunday that she wants a new law allowing women to compare their wages with men doing similar work, provoking angry reactions from employers. READ  

Police wind down Bremen terror response
Heavily-armed police on patrol outside Bremen cathedral. Photo: DPA

Police wind down Bremen terror response

Police in Bremen said that the risk of a terrorist attack had been reduced in the city after they arrested two suspected arms dealers. The city remains under high alert, with special protection for the Jewish community. READ  

Germany's Schäuble softens Greece tone
Photo: DPA

Germany's Schäuble softens Greece tone

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Sunday Greece's new hard-left government needs "a bit of time" but is committed to implementing necessary reforms to resolve its debt crisis. READ  

UK Pegida rally dwarfed by counter-demo
Photo: DPA

UK Pegida rally dwarfed by counter-demo

An estimated 375 people turned out for the Germany-based PEGIDA movement's first demonstration in Britain on Saturday, but were outnumbered by a 2,000-strong crowd of counter-protesters, police said. READ  

Greek PM vows to 'start working hard' after vote
Photo: DPA

Greek PM vows to 'start working hard' after vote

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed Friday to "start working hard" to implement vital reforms in the stricken eurozone country, after Germany's parliament approved a four month extension to its bailout. READ  

Ukraine: troop deaths 'serious breach' of truce
Photo: DPA

Ukraine: troop deaths 'serious breach' of truce

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared the killing of three government troops by pro Moscow rebels a "serious breach of the ceasefire", during a telephone call Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her office said. READ  

Man wins court battle over loud footsteps
Trouble at the top. Photo: DPA

Man wins court battle over loud footsteps

Germany's highest civil court ruled in favour of a man who swapped the carpet in his new apartment for parquet flooring, incurring the wrath of the retired couple who lived below him over his loud footsteps. READ  

Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday
Photo: DPA

Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday

Teachers all over the country are expected to stike starting Monday, German education trade union GEW said, after negotiations with the wage commission of the federal states (TdL) failed to achieve results. READ  

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes
Andre Shepherd at the European Court of Justice in June 2014. Photo: DPA

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes

American soldier Andre Shepherd, who applied for asylum in Germany as a conscientious objector against the war in Iraq after going AWOL from his unit, saw a judgement by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) go against him on Thursday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
Photo: Police
Rhineland
Student driver crashes tank into family garden.
Photo: DPA
Politics
There was a notable absence at the Anti-Semitism Commission
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
National
How Dresden bombing still divides Germany, 70 years on
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Take a cute break with this gallery of baby animals
International
What's keeping UK expats from voting?
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
All you ever needed to know about Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,199
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd