3 * DRESDEN: 26 Aug

The third city I had the opportunity to visit was Dresden – the capital of Saxony, in southern Germany, which has an inspiring story of hope and tolerance, when it comes to heritage preservation and a post-war reconstruction. From its beautiful gardens over the Elbe river to its magnificent brick and wood-framing buildings, there is a lot to see. Founded by the Margraves of Meissen in the 13th century, it was based on a stereotypical plan of central Europe – a rectilinear street system disrupted by a main market square.

[The skyline of the historical district of Dresden]

August II (1670-1733), an important saxon, left a big impact in the physical city. As a lover of the arts and architecture, he turned Dresden into a major cultural center, by attracting many international artists and commissioning lavish baroque palaces that form(ed) the iconic ensemble of the city’s downtown.

Dresden is not a World Heritage City but it was an unmissable stop between Berlin and Prague, as it shows the will of a people to safeguard its cultural heritage, shows how long-lasting the effects of war are in cities and helps showcase the diversity of urban and architectural heritage safeguarding strategies adopted in Germany after WWII, as local contingencies varied in a divided country.


[The statue of August, the Strong in the new district, and a new building contrasting with the historical reconstruction on the orher side of the Elbe]


In one of the most aggressive air offensives by the Allies, Dresden was heavily devastated on 13-14 February 1945, in a raid that had little military purpose and aimed to weaken Germany by the end of the war, killing many civilians and obliterating a symbol of German culture. Under soviet-influence after WWII, the strategy to rebuild the city was first oriented in a way that aimed to evoke the ideal socialist society, but the significant amount of rubble – as Dresden was one of the German cities that faced more destruction – and the financial challenges of German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the decades to come, made the process start late and see guidelines change often, resulting in a significant loss of the city heritage landmarks.



DAY 5: Tainted Baroque Splendor 

With only one day to visit Dresden, my day started with an Eierschecke – a local sweet speciality made of three layers: cake, quark cheesecake and vanilla custard- , offered by Felix, a local history teacher that kindly hosted me and gave me a small welcome tour. As the newer and the older parts of the city are divided by the Elbe river, we crossed Augustusbrücke, one of the oldest long-standing bridges in Germany, responsible for connecting important trade routes since the medieval period.


[The sweet Eierschecke / The Augustusbrücke, rebuil using a similar approach to the one used in the Frauenkirche: burnt stones were recovered from the river and reused]

At first glance, it might seem that the contemporary skyline of the old town does not differ much from what we can see in Canaletto’s veduti dated from mid-1800’s but, in fact, before the war the city had already seen major alterations during the 19th century and some key baroque landmarks ended up never being reconstructed after WWII. 

On the other side of the bridge, one is welcomed by a big gate, leading into the historically reconstructed part of the town. But first, one both sides of the street there are two spots worth a stop. On the left, the Brühlsche Terrasse, a garden originally private and built by a count between 1739-1748, that now allows everyone to admire the beauty of the Elbe’s banks. And on the right, near the Katholische Hofkirche, the Napoleon Stone, marking the spot where the emperor paraded his troops before an important victory during the Napoleonic Wars. 


[The entrance to old Dresden, from the opposite view points / The Napoleon Stone]

Continuing through the organic urban fabric, one stumbles upon the Fürstenzug, (“Procession of the Princes”), a mural with 102 meters and circa 23 000 Meissen tiles, produced in Saxony – the largest porcelain one in the world. It depicts the Wettin dynasty, the historical Saxony ruling house and was done in the 19th century as a way to celebrate its 800th century. Meissen porcelain, also known locally as “white gold”, can be recognized as authentic by displaying two crossed swords inscribed.

[The impressive Fürstenzug]

Then, we passed by the Neumarkt, where the rebuilt Frauenkirche stands, to quickly be faced with the contrast embodied, only a couple of hundred meters away, by another square and another public building, from a different period and built upon a different ideology. The Kulturpalast, in the Altmarkt, faces a main, large avenue. Built during the communistic period, still to this day, it is used as the library and concert hall of the city. On one of the exterior façades, one can admire the mural “The Path of the Red Flag”, a propagandistic mural completed in 1962, that aims to portray the history of socialism. Felix told me about the Trümmerfrauen depicted; women that have been elevated to national heroes all over the country, as they are celebrated in many paintings and sculptures. After WWII, there was a lack of construction workers due to displacement and war losses, so women volunteered or took very poorly paid jobs helping clearing the rubble and sorting amongst it the materials that could be reused. According to the available stats, they were not as many as the memorials might have made us think they were, but they hold for sure a symbolic role in German reconstruction and heritage safeguarding. 


[The Frauenkirche / The contrast between old and new stones ]

In the afternoon, I walked around the Zwinger Palace and the Semperoper, iconic baroque buildings of the city, heavily damaged during the war, but repaired and reopened. As the sun was setting, I catched a tram to an area further away from the historical center, to see one last heritage jewel: the traditional regional timber-framed houses, in the Loschwitz district. I was told that this common local typology was also very common in the old town back in the day, but that after the fires that destroyed the city after WWII’s bombings the majority of them burnt down. They still can be seen in the outskirts of dresden and are a beautiful example of local heritage and craftsmanship.


[The Semperoper and the lavish Baroque of the Zwinger Palace]

After more than seven decades, Dresden, in a major parto due to its people’s will, is still rebuilt itself, even after many demolitions post-conflict and heritage loss due to lack of political decision. Following an historical approach of building come era, dov’era but without eradicating fully all the periods of history the city faced, as darken stones punctuate buildings everywhere we look, the city is a great example of how heritage can foster togetherness and urban vibrancy. 

[Timber-framed houses, in the Loschwitz district]



In Neumarkt, where, quarter by quarter baroque buildings have been reconstructed for decades now, this Lutheran church, a major symbol for Dresden, was built in the 18th century. During the aerial bombing of Dresden, a fire made its dome collapse. After many decades of abandonment, as the GDR struggled to decide on the approach to rebuild the old center of Dresden, it was only rebuilt from the mid-90’s according to its original plan, after the famous “Appeal from Dresden”, a popular appeal that aimed to end years of indecisiveness. 


[The exterior / the interior of the reconstructed church / a metalic cross from the original building burnt during the fires following the bombing, recovered from the rubble]

The numerous private donations helped start the reconstruction of this big landmark of hope, finally finished in 2004. Even if the exteriors and interiors aimed to match as much as possible the original George Bähr’s plans, traces of the scars left by the conflict still remind visitors of the tumultuous times the structure and the city faced:  the original stones found in the rumble were used whenever possible, in their exact original position, contrasting with the newer ones, not darkened by the fires. 

2 * POTSDAM: 25 Aug

Potsdam is a beautiful city, located only some kilometers away from Berlin, in an area surrounded by lakes and forests. Many Prussian kings and queens enjoyed spending the summer season in the city, which endowed it with magnificent parks and palaces. Even with the capital in Berlin, Potsdam was the house of the Hohenzollen, the dynasty that ruled Germany, for more that 500 years, until WWI, which resulted in a particularly attentive urban planning and landscape as well as a concentration of architecture landmarks, which tell the story of many periods in german history.


Bombed in April 1945, the old town of Potsdam was significantly destroyed, similarly to many other cities in northern Germany. However, contrary to the city center, the palaces and parks, especially those further away from the city, were spared. With the end of the war in Europe the following month, the victorious powers needed a proper place to gather and decide on the aftermath of the conflict. 

[The Sanssouci Palace, built on top a vineyard, a mark of its time and Frederick, the Great’s interest in recreation, beauty and the arts]

However, Berlin had been massively destroyed and no building that could host securely such a pivotal meeting there was found. Potsdam made history once more, by hosting the Postdam Conference, in the Cecilienhof Palace, from July 17 to August 2, 1945, where representants of the US, UK and USSR decided on the future of Germany and the new borders in Europe, paving the way for a divided country and a time of apparent peace – the Cold War.


[Magnificient details inside the intimate Sanssouci, much smaller than its previous Baroque precursors]


First considered a World Heritage City in 1990, the city has seen since then the number of buildings included and the area classified grew twice, in 1992 and 1999, including now, besides Sanssoussi – the first of the summer palaces to be completed in 1747 – many other aristocratic houses, parks and even a Russian colony downtown. 


[The portico outside / The painted ceilings / Details of the gardens, a project by Peter Joseph Lenné]


DAY 4: From Summer Palaces to the WWII Aftermath

My visit to Potsdam started at the Sanssouci (in French, Without Problems) Park, with a guided tour through the Sanssouci Palace, commissioned by Frederick, the Great and the first one to be built in the magnificent gardens, a landscape jewel designed by Peter Joseph Lenné. In an extensive green area, where each details seems to be have been cared for, I also had the opportunity to stop by the Roman Baths, the Charlottenhof Villa – an elegant small neoclassical palace by Karl Friedrich Schinkel – and the Orangery – the last addition to the complex, built between 1851 and 1864.


[The Roman Baths, portraying the renewed interest in the Classical period in mid-1800’s / The Orangery, the last building to be built in the park]

[A stop at the Chinese Pavillion, another sign of the interest in oriental, less-known cultures and the habit of having tea, in the 19th century]

Then, I headed a couple of kilometers north to visit the New Garden, a newer area, built to suit the acquired taste for privacy and English landscaping of the late 18th century, with the intention to visit the Cecilienhof, the last palace to be built and where the Potsdam Conference was held. To finish my day, before getting back to Berlin, I walked back to the city center and visited Aleksandrova – the Russian colony – and the Dutch Quarter, testimonies of the artistic and multicultural environment promoted by the presence of the court back in the day, as well as some churches that deserve to be mentioned: the Nikolaikirche – another neoclassical major work by Schinkel – and the Franzosische Kirche – where the traces of the destruction in the city right before German surrender could still be seen. 


[One of the gates of the old city / A street where the local historical preserved architectural heritage can be see / The Dutch Quarter, built in the 18th century, with typical brick two-stories houses]

In comparison to Berlin – a bigger city, later divided -, I got the impression that in Potsdam – that fell under western influence after the war -, the reconstruction process was more linear and sparked less debate on the approach to follow. The majority of the buildings were repaired or rebuilt as they were or following guidelines that were grounded in local tradition. The result is an overall coherent urban center, that seems to be very appreciated by its inhabitants and visitors. 


[The beauty of how Schinkel plays inside Nikolaikirche / Signs of April 1945 bombardements in Franzosische Kirche, that was repaired without hiding that layer of history]


Cecilienhof Palace

Built between 1913-1917, as the residence of Crown Prince William and his wife Cecile, this final Hohenzollern palace was created in the style of an English country house, but resourcing to cutting-edge building techniques and newer materials for its time. In 1945, it was the chosen venue to host the Potsdam Conference.

[The Cecilienhof Palace, seen from the New Garden]

The several days event counted with the leaders of the winning allied countries and their staff, finding refuge is this area of the city that escaped bombing and the massively destroyed capital. It is a magnificent place to learn more about this period of history and have a grasp of how WWII heavily changed the lives of people, countries and cities.


[The entrance / A model of the palace showing where each national committee would enter the building / The room where the meetings were held]

Nowadays, the palace hosts a permanent exhibition about the Potsdam Conference, guiding those who visit it through the chronology of the war, teaching about its intervinientes and why it was such a pivotal event in world history.  

[Some historical participants of the conference, like Stalin, Truman or Churchill, depicted in the common room that preceded the meeting room]

1 * BERLIN: 22 – 24 Aug

War leaves undeniable scars in cities, their people and their heritage. Talking about those in Europe without mentioning Berlin is almost impossible, considering its recent 20th century history and how intertwined it is with the destructive Second World War.  Located in the banks of the Spree and of the Havel, the city has been for many centuries an important crossroad due to its central position in Europe. In the 15th century, it became the capital city of  the Margraviate of Brandenburg and it has not lost that role ever since.

[View of the Museuminsel, from the Berliner Dom]


As the main headquarters of Nazi Germany, Berlin suffered tremendously during the war. After the beginning of WWII, in 1939, Berlin was bombed for the first time in the summer of 1940. From 1943 onwards, Allies began large-scale bombings of the city, and in 1945, right before the end of the conflict in Berlin, the Red Army entered the limits of the German capital, resulting in more than 55 million cubic meters of rubble and a decrease of almost half of the total population. 

Reconstruction began even before the end of the conflict, but had different paces and approaches, as Berlin was divided into four sectors and administered jointly by the occupying powers: the United States of America, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Many destroyed heritage sites laid in ruins for many decades, some were reconstructed or repaired promptly, others are still a current topic of debate.



Berlin currently has three different classified World Heritage Sites. In 1990, the first two were inscribed in the World Heritage List: The Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin – an extensive area that mediates both cities and includes important landmarks of German architecture and landscaping –  and the Museum Island (Museuminsel). The last site to be added, in 2008, was the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates – six housing projects, located in different parts of the city and completed in-between World Wars, that are major examples of the changes witnessed in these typologies in the early 20th century.


[One of the classified Housing Estates – the Carl Leigen Neighbourhood, built between 1928-1930, by the modernist architect Bruno Taut]


DAY 1: Museuminsel

On the day of my arrival to Berlin, I headed to the Museuminsel, one of the UNESCO classified sites in the city. Many of the museums that together make this ensemble witnessed the war and still showcase traces of the conflict – in the walls, patches covering bullet holes can still be seen, as well as darkened stones recovered from the rubble that were restored to their original spot after the war. It was also an opportunity to visit Berliner Dom, the Lutheran cathedral of the city, whose dome offers a panoramic 360º view of the city, allowing visitors to still witness the differences in the eastern – where some soviet-like housing blocks are still prominent – and the western – where less war damage and western influence led to a preservation of more traditional german architecture – parts of Berlin. 


DAY 2: From East to West

With Berlin divided in the aftermath of WWII, differences in the way each area was ruled and rebuilt became evident quite soon. With the construction of the Berlin Wall, in 1961, that became even more evident, as this physical separation remained until 1989. My second day in Berlin started in Alexanderplatz, possibly the most well-known square in the city, and ended in  Charlottenburg, a quarter after the Tiegarten, part of western Berlin.


[The soviet-inspired architecture in Alexanderplatz and the the urban marks of the previous division between East and West Berlin]

As I walked from East to West, it was very interesting to notice how different political, economic and social views informed different ways to see destroyed heritage and if or/and how to preserve it and protect it. Not far from my starting point there is the Humboldt Forum, a Prussian palace that was massively destroyed during the war and left in ruins for many years in East Berlin, resulting in demolition in 1950. More than fifty years later, the German parliament approved its reconstruction, in 2002, following the original plans and incorporating original pieces, previously stolen. The project loved by some, criticized by how expensive it was by others, is today a space for cultural exhibitions and events.


[The contrasting façades of the Humboldt Forum: the one facing the river in a modernistic style that dispenses ornament and the other as true to the original Baroque design as possible]

On a totally different note, as I moved west, many buildings witnessed contemporary additions in replacement of destroyed parts, in an attempt to possibly honor the different times they went through and work as an informal tool to teach about the city’s history. The Reichstag, house of the national parliament, is a good example of that, with its flamboyant dome, designed by the star-architect Norman Foster, in 1995, replacing the one burnt during conflict.


[The Brandenburg Tor, behing which the Berlin Wall passed, and the striking contrast between new and old stone in the Reichstag]

In the evening, I spent a couple hours in the Topography of Terror, the empty SS quarter block, raised to the ground after the war, now a place of remeberance. In the pavilion that now stands there, I could visit an interesting temporary exhibition about Albert Speer, known as Hitler’s architect, and learn about construction during war and planned destruction as well.


DAY 3: Jewish Heritage

In my last day in Berlin, I explored the Jewish history and heritage in the city, starting with a visit to the Jewish Museum, a contemporary building in southern Berlin that tells the story of Jews in Germany and consequently of their urban life and architectural heritage destruction. In the afternoon, I visited some neighborhoods on the eastern side and walked along a preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, in Friedrichshain. An example of some of the interesting sites visited is  the Water Tower, in Prezlauer Berg – a building used during the Nazi period as a detention space that has now been converted in housing and stands in the middle of a local urban park.



Altes Museum 

Part of the UNESCO list since 1999, together with the ensemble of the other museums in the island, Altes Museum is a major mark of German Neoclassical architecture. Built between 1825-1830, it embodied a new idea for its time: citizens should have access to art. A major work by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, it was partly destroyed during WWII and rebuilt until 1966.

Karl-Marx Allee  

Connecting the Alexanderplatz with the eastern neighborhood of Friedrichchain – heavily bombed during WWII – Karl-Marx Allee is a main axe that was rebuilt in the 50’s in East Germany, with buildings that could resemble Moscow, clearly portraying soviet influence.


Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche 

A beautiful church, finished in the early 20th century, placed in the Western part of the city. The bombed tower was left as it was and a memorial chapel was built next to it in the late 50’s to evoke tolerance and spark conversation about the painful history of the building.


INTRO: Cities at War – Heritage Lessons from the 20th Century

Hello, Carolina, here! Now that I am about to depart and embark in the adventure to visit 7 cities (6 of which are World Heritage ones), from Berlin to Warsaw, to learn more the impact war has on cities, it is time for an introductory article with more details about the project!


During my Erasmus in Italy, in 2016-2017, I was profoundly touched by the refugees’ crisis in the Mediterranean. Back to Lisbon, to finish my master’s in Architecture, I decided to investigate on different reconstruction strategies that were used in different scenarios through time and geographies in urban settlements impacted by armed conflict, choosing as my main study case Aleppo, in Syria. Since then, I am fascinated by the topic and always eager to learn more about the importance of safeguarding our physical cities during challenging times as population heavily depends on the basic services they host and the memories they embody. Now, sadly, with war back in Europe, the topic choice was even more clear, as these are crucial matters on the table again!


Under the theme “Cities at War: Heritage Lessons from the 20th Century”, I will start in Berlin and end in Warsaw, covering the impact World War II had in Central Europe. In total, my trip will include 4 countries, 7 cities and too many experiences, discoveries and stories to count!


Variety! Each city faced slightly different challenges during and after war, when it comes to heritage safeguarding and preservation. During WWII, some were heavily bombed, like Dresden, others almost spared miraculously, like Kraków. Some were battlefields, others occupied, like Prague and Vienna. Some cut almost all ties with the past, some were rebuilt to look like they did in the most hopeful times before the war, like Warsaw.


I will be travelling from August 22nd until September 8th. I plan to stay a couple of days in each city. The expected calendar is the following:

Berlin ( 22-24 Aug) > Potsdam (25 Aug) > Dresden (26 Aug) > Prague (27-30 Aug) > Vienna (31-2 Sep) > Kraków (3-5 Sep) > Warsaw (5-8 Sep)


Almost eight decades after the war, I plan visit each city main sites and speak with heritage professionals in loco. I am sure will have many interesting conversations and learn more on what worked, what didn’t and what we might learn from these interventions nowadays! Each city will later inspire a blog article, but following this trip’s Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/cities_at_war/) can also be a complementary way to learn more about this project as I explore. Stay tuned!