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Trip Tips: Dresden - The City That Rose Again On The Elbe

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DRESDENGermany, March 28 (Reuters) - American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, a prisoner of war in Dresden during World War Two, has a scene in "Slaughterhouse Five" where time-travelling hero Billy Pilgrim sees the city's firebombing in reverse, with phosphorous bombs sucked back into warplanes.

Visitors today to the German city that proudly, if a bit cheekily, calls itself "Florence on the Elbe", in a nod to its Italianate architecture, could almost think the scene was prescient of Dresden's resurrection since World War Two.

Imprisoned at a slaughterhouse that inspired the novel's title, Vonnegut lived through the infamous bombing raid in February 1945 which destroyed the old part of the city three months before the war in Europe ended. It killed, according to widely varying estimates, 35,000 to 100,000 people, or more.

Emerging from the relative safety of the slaughterhouse, Vonnegut wrote that the destroyed city looked like a moonscape.

Today the moonscape can be seen only in photographs. Sited on land that slopes up gently from the scenic Elbe in the historic kingdom of Saxony, Dresden, formerly part of communist East Germany, is one of the beneficiaries of German unification.

Its booming semiconductor, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries, including a glass-fronted factory that produces Volkswagen's luxury Phaeton model, and is a tourist attraction in its own right, mean the city is flush with cash to support a thriving restaurant, boutique and cultural and arts scene.

One of Germany's most prestigious opera houses, the Semperoper, which saw the premieres of nine of Richard Strauss's operas and three of Richard Wagner's, dominates a vast square.

Nearby, the Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) has a spectacular collection including works by Rubens, Durer, Rembrandt and Canaletto, plus touchstones of art like Raphael's "Sistine Madonna" and Vermeer's "Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window".

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