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Saxony’s paddle steamers and iron horses

Dampfer vor dem Schloss Pillnitz, © SDG

In Saxony visitors can take an adventure trip in historical style and savour the state’s industrial heritage both on water and by rail. The state capital Dresden is home to the world’s oldest and largest fleet of paddle steamers, and nowhere else in Germany are there so many steam engines.

Ship ahoy: industrial heritage on the water

The story of Dresden’s paddle steamers, sitting side by side in front of the city’s famous old town and the Frauenkirche, Residenzschloss, Hofkirche, Zwinger and Semperoper, is long and fascinating. Their home is an embankment known as the Dresdner Terrassenufer beneath the Brühlsche Terrasse and Dresden Fortress. In 1834, for the first time, a rear-engined paddle steamer operated between Hamburg and Dresden. It belonged to Heinrich Wilhelm Calberla, a sugar refinery owner. Three years later, Andreas Schubert built Königin Maria, Germany’s first passenger boat. And today? Nowadays, the world’s largest and oldest paddle steamer fleet plies the River Elbe between the wine-growing region of Diesbar-Seußlitz in the Elbe valley and Bad Schandau, a spa resort, in the Sächsische Schweiz National Park. Passengers can witness Saxony’s industrial heritage first-hand on nine historical paddle steamers. They can see with their own eyes how these classic boats are painstakingly and lovingly maintained. Seven of the paddle steamers have been operating on the river since the nineteenth century. The engine on the steamer Diesbar is fitted with parts from the world’s longest-running steam engine from a riverboat built in 1841. This paddle steamer is still in service on a route bordering vineyards in Saxony’s wine region. The paddle steamer Stadt Wehlen is even older and in 2017 celebrated its 160th anniversary.

Relaxing on the Elbe

The typical puffing noise of steam engines and the steady churning of paddle wheels and pistons have a calming influence and make these trips a unique experience. All the while, some of Saxony’s cultural treasures can be viewed from the water, or visited on land. The fleet takes visitors to magnificent Pillnitz Castle or the Sächsische Schweiz National Park.

A nostalgic rail trip in Saxony across enchanted valleys to unimaginable heights As well as being a hub for steamboats Saxony is also the land of steam engines. Nowhere else is there so much huffing and puffing. Once upon a time, Saxony’s narrow-gauge railways were the world’s largest, covering 500 kilometres and carrying passengers to far-flung, magical places.

Five narrow-gauge lines still operate in Saxony to this day. They wind their way along picturesque rivers such as the Weißeritz, or up steep inclines, like the Fichtelbergbahn railway. Three former narrow-gauge railways still operate as museum routes. Visitors who travel Saxony’s Steam Engine Route (DAMPFBAHN-ROUTE Sachsen), which is possible by road, can enjoy Saxonian hospitality from Zittau to Leipzig and from Fichtelberg to Lößnitzgrund, in fact everywhere in the state. Covering 750 kilometres, the railways stop at a total of 68 stations around Saxony and are testimony to the state’s cultural heritage. To ensure that visitors continue to enjoy over 175 years of steam engine history, numerous clubs, organisations and museums maintain these much-loved treasures: museums that were once railway stations, miniature railways, park railways and railway museums all embody Saxony’s fascination with steam engines.

Note: Saxony is the official culture partner of ITB Berlin NOW 2021. At the virtual platform from 9 to 12 March, those keen to delve into the world of Saxony’s cultural attractions should visit the Kultur-Café, which will feature interviews, videos, classical and modern music and presentations.

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