The borough of Pillnitz is a twenty-minute drive downriver from Dresden. It is a quiet hideaway of small houses and fruit orchards, well secluded from the big city. But it is not out of mind, for the town is host to arguably Dresden's grandest tourist attraction outside of the Altstadt, the Schloss Pillnitz -- an 18th-century riverside palace and garden that is enchanting visitors to the Saxon capital in large numbers.
I have been to the Schloss Pillnitz twice -- once in summer by boat from the harbor, once in autumn by bus from downtown. The boat ride is definitely the way to go. The Elba has a regular shuttle route running among the towns in Saxony, and the Dresden-Pillnitz route is a very regular one. The ride on the winding river takes about twenty minutes, mostly along green river banks and small villages beneath tall cliffs to the north (look in particular for the town of Wachwitz). You will get a perfect view of Dresden Neustadt's three old manors and the vineyards beneath them.
The Pillnitz dock is right near the palace, shown in the second photograph. I was immediately struck by the way the palace was decorated -- with the middle being bright yellows and oranges, but the wings were plain off-white with untouched green copper roofs. My first impression was that it must have been forgotten in a renovation project, but it was the same way in my return visit two and a half years later, so I guess that's how it is.
Of course, being so low to the water means the facade is occasionally at risk, such as in the 2002 when the Elba experienced really bad flooding. The amphitheater-style stairs you see lead all the way down to the water, which on both my trips were low to normal. But in the balcony just above it are markers that indicate the floodlines of some of Pillnitz's worst floods. Those lines are on the stone wall with the small arches directly below the painted facade. I was shocked to see that the 2002 flood line was mere inches below that facade, and the water damage to the interior basement was still evident -- it was closed even fifteen months later. It was tough to imagine the waters that high, given how flat the flood plain is for so long on the opposite of the river! Wow.
The yellow, brown, and silver, and orange patterns on the facade actually comprise a very elaborate and intricate pattern of both western and eastern figurines, representing the varied locations that the palace owner had visited -- in particular, England, China, and Japan. You have to get close to the palace to make out the detail, but for an example of how this looks, I have close-up views of a similar palace in Bruchsal.
The building you see is actually one wing of the palace, which is shaped like a U facing downriver (toward the left of the second photo). The museum is divided between the two wings. At riverside are the royal quarters, with several of its rooms reconstructed with the original furniture items and artwork, along with exhibits of Saxon and Bohemian porcelain and other artifacts. The landside wing also has a number of exhibits such as Baroque-era woodworking and metalworking, ecclesiastic art, and modern industrial-glass art. Of course, the interior decor of the palace is fabulous, too, with beautiful rotundas inside and inlaid wooden floors.
The palace garden combines the same English, Chinese, and Japanese elements used in the decor. In fact, there is an English tea house (pictured in the fourth photograph), and a Japanese tea house. The English one is built upon a small duck pond with an island and large bird house. There are huge maze gardens, popular in the Baroque era I guess. One of the garden's attractions is a huge chamomile tree, located near the center of the garden next to a huge greenhouse. There is a large orangerie near the back gate, leading out to beautiful orchards and the town of Pillnitz.
The town itself is a nice little place. Clearly, it caters to the Pillnitz crowd, but it has not in any way been overrun with tourists -- the Pillnitz visitors pretty much stay pat, and the town goes on. The eating establishments along the road have a robust lunch menu, with some of the most reasonable prices for some really good homestyle food served in rooms decorated with a lot of wonderful antiques and pictures of old Dresden (including those taken immediate after the infamous bombings of 1945).
The best part about visiting the palace in the summertime was the flowers, which I spent a lot of time photographing. The backside of the garden has several huge bushes of white, purple, and red flowers that were in full bloom in May (but sadly were not blooming at all by October. The fifth picture gives an idea -- bushes like this was everywhere in the garden facing the landside wing. Flowers of all colors filled the terraces and small gardens all over the complex as well.
If you go by bus, it is pretty simple. Look for the Comelius Platz stop just east of town (several major streetcars go there from the Altstadt) and take Bus 83. You will have to spend a little bit of time walking, probably about a half-mile at the cul-de-sac where the bus stops. If you go by boat, be advised that the boats do stop early -- when I went, the last boat was about 5PM, the same time the museums all close.
But the bottom line is, go. If you are in the Dresden area, you ought to carve out a half-day and head to Pillnitz. It's a great place to go.
Trips taken 26 May 2001 and 12-13 October 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin