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Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area with 2.4 million inhabitants.
Since German reunification in 1990, Dresden has regained importance as one of the cultural, educational, political and economic centers of Germany and Europe. The Dresden University of Technology is one of the 10 largest universities in Germany and part of the German Universities Excellence Initiative.
Dresden has experienced dramatic changes since the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s. The city still bears many wounds from the bombing raids of 1945, but it has undergone significant reconstruction in recent decades. Restoration of the Dresden Frauenkirche was completed in 2005, a year before Dresden’s 800th anniversary, notably by privately raised funds. The gold cross on the top of the church was paid for and donated by the City of Edinburgh as a mark of the bond between the two cities. The urban renewal process, which includes the reconstruction of the area around the Neumarkt square on which the Frauenkirche is situated, will continue for many decades, but public and government interest remains high, and there are numerous large projects underway—both historic reconstructions and modern plans—that will continue the city’s recent architectural renaissance.
Dresden remains a major cultural center of historical memory, owing to the city’s destruction in World War II. Each year on 13 February, the anniversary of the British and American fire-bombing raid that destroyed most of the city, tens of thousands of demonstrators gather to commemorate the event. Since reunification, the ceremony has taken on a more neutral and pacifist tone (after being used more politically in Cold War times). In recent years, however, white power skinheads have tried to use the event for their own political ends. In the last ten years, Dresden was host to some of the largest Neo-Nazi demonstrations in the post-war history of Germany. Each year around the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden in World War II, Neo-Nazis demonstrated to “mourn” what they call the “Allied bomb-holocaust”. From 2010 on, these demonstrations were prevented by antifascist counter-mobilizations that successfully blocked the annual Neo-Nazi marches.
The completion of the reconstructed Dresden Frauenkirche in 2005 marked the first step in rebuilding the Neumarkt area. The areas around the square have been divided into 8 “Quarters”, with each being rebuilt as a separate project, the majority of buildings to be rebuilt either to the original structure or at least with a façade similar to the original. Quarter I and the front section of Quarters II, III, IV and V(II) have since been completed, with Quarter VIII currently under construction.
In 2002, torrential rains caused the Elbe to flood 9 metres (30 ft) above its normal height, i.e. even higher than the old record height from 1845, damaging many landmarks. The destruction from this “millennium flood” is no longer visible, due to the speed of reconstruction.
The United Nations’ cultural organization UNESCO declared the Dresden Elbe Valley to be a World Heritage Site in 2004. After being placed on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites in 2006, the city lost the title in June 2009, due to the construction of the Waldschlößchenbrücke, making it only the second ever World Heritage Site to be removed from the register. UNESCO stated in 2006 that the bridge would destroy the cultural landscape. The city council’s legal moves meant to prevent the bridge from being built failed.
The Dresden Elbe Valley was an internationally recognized site of cultural significance by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for five years. After being placed on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites in 2006, the city had its status as world heritage site formally removed in June 2009, for the willful breach of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, due to the construction of a highway bridge across the valley within 2 km (1 mi) of the historic center. It thereby became the first location ever in Europe to lose this status, and the second ever in the world.
Dresden is a spacious city. Its districts differ in their structure and appearance. Many parts still contain an old village core, while some quarters are almost completely preserved as rural settings. Other characteristic kinds of urban areas are the historic outskirts of the city, and the former suburbs with scattered housing. During the German Democratic Republic, many apartment blocks were built. The original parts of the city are almost all in the districts of Altstadt (Old town) and Neustadt (New town). Growing outside the city walls, the historic outskirts were built in the 18th century. They were planned and constructed on the orders of the Saxon monarchs, which is why the outskirts are often named after sovereigns. From the 19th century the city grew by incorporating other districts. Dresden has been divided into ten districts called “Ortsamtsbereich” and nine former boroughs (“Ortschaften”) which have been incorporated.