The small city of Dessau (or Dessau-Roßlau) is located at junction of the rivers Mulde and Elbe about an hours drive from Leipzig.
Dessau was badly damaged in WW2 and was re-constructed in typical GDR style, so don’t expect much in the way of historical architecture or elegant boulevards.
Nevertheless, Dessau has always been on my to-see list because of it’s strong ties to the Bauhaus movement as well as various parks and palaces including the beautiful Dessau-Wörlitzer Gartenreich and famous old Zoo at Mausoleumspark.
Bauhaus & Masters’ Houses
Founded in Weimar in 1919, relocated to Dessau in 1925 and then finally closed in Berlin under pressure from the Nazis in 1933, the Bauhaus school of architecture and design only existed for about 14 years. Despite this, the Bauhaus movement ushered in “modernism” and it’s impact on design is still evident today. Dessau is a key stop on the Bauhaus trail and venue for the upcoming Bauhaus 2019 Centenary events.
The glass-steel-and-concrete Bauhaus Building was finished in 1927 and yet looks astoundingly modern. Damaged in WW2 the building was renovated and since 1986 it hosts a research and teaching institution with permanent collections, exhibitions, and student residencies. A guided tour includes areas off limits to the public as well as the nearby Masters’ Houses in which key members of the movement lived, such as Walter Gropius, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.
Castles and Gardens
After Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817) came home from his Grand Tour of Europe he decided to build the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz (Dessau-Wörlitzer Gartenreich). Over a period of forty years the Prince created the first planned and landscaped garden in continental Europe. And it is massive, encompassing 142 km2 though not all parts are connected.
Nowadays this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a quirky mishmash of grand palaces, monuments, naturalistic woodlands, lakes with gondola rides, the Dessau Zoo complete with mausoleum (but of course), and even an artificial volcano.
For cheap and quick eats the Rathaus-Center Dessau shopping mall has the usual range of dining options (plus good car parking). We ate at the excellent cafe / restaurant in the basement of the Bauhaus building. Later we visited the Brauhaus Zum Alten Dessauer where we had Apfelstrudel washed down with excellent freshly brewed beer.
Dessau’s main sights can be covered in a day so we didn’t stay overnight. However, if we did it would be very cool to stay at the Bauhaus Building itself. For about EUR55 a night for a double you can stay in the exact same studio wing the first Bauhaus students lived.
Our 68km drive to Dessau was straightforward (though a bit dull) on the A9 autobahn but it’s easily doable as a day trip by train. Check out the frequent train schedule from Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (central station) to Dessau Hbf here. Journey time is just short of a hour.
[page content last updated November 2016]