The Theaterplatz during the city festival

CANALETTO – The Dresden City Festival Three very special days in the city centre

Advertisement T he Dresdeners like culture, and they love art, but what they really excel at is celebrating. Every weekend during the summer season, fireworks displays light up the Elbe valley and several of the individual districts in the city organise their own colourful street festivals. So it comes as no surprise that Dresden also stages the largest city festival in Germany. This year’s event on the weekend of 18th to 20th August will be centred on the left bank of the city (i.e. the Old Town) and will feature various new attractions.

Fifteen venues, nine stages and 52 hours of good cheer: around 550,000 visitors throng the historic streets and squares of Dresden which are turned into a huge festive zone for this annual occasion. For this year’s unifying theme, the organisers have chosen the banner headline ‘Dresden. New Discoveries’. For the first time, visitors can avail themselves of a free shuttle bus service from the Messegelände exhibition grounds to the city centre. They can also pop into the state parliament building which will be open to the public that weekend. The City Museum, the Transport Museum (with Bobby Car circuit – perfect for kids) and the Kulturpalast will not be charging the usual admission fee.

Classical sounds and German cult bands

On Friday, the Radeberger stage on Theaterplatz Square will host the Dresden Philharmonic with soloist Amanda Pabyan as they perform arias and evergreens from the classical repertoire. The concert is free of charge, as is the subsequent performance by cult band City and highly acclaimed local duo Stereoact. On Saturday, RENFT and the Berlin group Staubkind will have the audience rocking in the aisles. Meanwhile, Max Giesinger will be belting out his superhit ‘80 Millionen’ on the Freiberger stage. Once again, there will be no admission charge. And if you still have the stamina for it, DJ world champion ESKEI83, a local favourite from Dresden who is permanently booked up for gigs around the world, will be operating the turntables throughout party night. The celebrations continue into the early hours in the new Kraftwerk Mitte cultural complex.

Thrills for teens and young adults – an interactive programme for the youngsters

The "Fürstenzug" during the Dresden City Festival

The organisers and festival sponsors traditionally plan the daytime activities around the family, with a lively programme for children and their parents. The family area run by the Ostsächsische Sparkasse on the Altmarkt is a regular favourite. The rollercoaster never ceases to thrill and the view from the giant wheel never disappoints. Fans of the Middle Ages gather on the festival green in front of the Maritim Hotel, where they compete in an archery tournament. Children will be irresistibly drawn a few metres further along the embankment to the ‘Blue Light Zone’ in front of the state parliament. This is where the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), police and customs park their specialist vehicles: even the very youngest children are allowed to operate the siren and inspect the interior of an emergency vehicle.

Grilled wurst and delicacies from the food zone

Bratwurst and beer are, of course, an integral part of any self-respecting city festival. And because it’s Dresden, Thuringian and Krakow-style sausages are barbecued side by side on the large suspended grills while local brewers (and festival sponsors) Radeberger and Freiberger keep the drinks flowing – of the alcoholic or non-alcoholic variety. But with its prestigious university, many research institutes and companies such as Infinoen or Global Foundries, Dresden is also outward-looking and innovative. At the Streetfood Court on the piazza in Schlossstrasse, FOODClub.44 serves delicacies such as Baumkuchen am Stiel (chocolate cake on a stick) or vegan burgers. The Basteischlösschen stall serves cocktails and exotic refreshments from the Caribbean.

Rubber Duck Race and Baby Parade

The rubber duck race on the Elbe

The Dresdeners show their unique sense of humour with a river race of a very special kind on Sunday afternoon. Instead of fast yachts, squeaky yellow toy ducks are lowered into the water. Each of them has a number and can be ‘adopted’, with certificates costing five euros on sale in advance or during the festival period (info at The starting gun is fired at Carola Bridge, and the ten ducks that arrive at the Augustus Bridge first win prizes for their patrons. Around 7,000 rubber ducks are entered for the Enten-Cup (Duck Trophy), and the proceeds are donated to a worthy cause. Over the past ten years, 225,000 euros have been raised in this way. Next on the programme – and rather appropriate in light of the fact that Dresden has one of the highest birth-rates in Germany– the very youngest members of the family have their moment of glory. Hundreds of prams and buggies line up for the traditional Sparkassen-Babyparade which takes place on the streets that make up the festival zone. The festivities reach their climax on Sunday evening with the famous Höhenfeuerwerk, a massive fireworks display that rounds off three great days in Dresden.