Dresden & WWII

Between 13 and 15 February 1945, British and American planes unleashed 3900 tonnes of explosives on Dresden in four huge air raids. Bombs and incendiary shells whipped up a mammoth firestorm, and ashes rained down on villages 35km away. When the blazes had died down and the dust settled, tens of thousands of Dresdners had lost their lives and 20 sq km of this once-elegant baroque city lay in smouldering ruins.

Historians still argue over whether this constituted a war crime committed by the Allies on an innocent civilian population. Some claim that with the Red Army at the gates of Berlin, the war was effectively won, and the Allies gained little military advantage from the destruction of Dresden. Others have said that, as the last urban centre in the east of the country left intact, Dresden could have provided shelter for German troops returning from the east and was a viable target.

And so it Goes: Kurt Vonnegut in Dresden

Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1922–2007), one of America's most influential 20th-century writers, spent the end of WWII as a POW in Dresden and later based his famous 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, on his observations and experiences. Thanks to Danilo Hommel, owner of NightWalk Dresden, you can now walk in Vonnegut's footsteps, while being peppered with intriguing stories about why the writer ended up in Dresden, how he managed to survive the February 1945 bombing, and what he saw and suffered through in the aftermath. The highlight is a visit to the slaughterhouse meat locker where Vonnegut and his fellow POWs survived the fateful bombing. Tours run for two hours and start at 11am each weekday from the König Johann monument on Theaterplatz. Even if you don't do the tour, Slaughterhouse-Five is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the horrific 20th-century fate of this city.