Dresden: on the trail of a Romantic icon in Germany

The Saxon city celebrates the 250th birthday of Caspar David Friedrich this year

View of the Basteibruecke (Bastei bridge) and the landscape of the Saechsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) region in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains
Friedrich 'felt the presence of God' on walks in the 'Saxon Switzerland'
(Image credit: ARNO BURGI / DPA / AFP via Getty Images)

Best known for his painting "Wanderer above the Sea of Fog" (c.1818), the Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich is a "German icon" and an "Instagram meme". This year marks the 250th anniversary of his birth, making it a good time to visit the baroque city of Dresden, where he lived, said Oliver Smith in the FT, and to walk in the countryside to its east, where he found inspiration. Here, for instance, lie the Elbe Sandstone Mountains – peaks that rise to about 723 metres, and which have been sculpted by wind, rain and ice into "fantastical forms". With its dense forests and "dreamlike" mists, the region – known in the 19th century as the "Saxon Switzerland" – is among central Europe's loveliest.

Born beside the Baltic in Greifswald in 1774, Friedrich studied in Copenhagen, and moved to Dresden in his 20s. He was haunted by demons – his mother died when he was seven and, aged 13, he witnessed the death of his brother, who fell through the ice while skating with him on a frozen lake. "Wracked by grief and maybe guilt", he often went on lonely walks in the hills, where – a devout Lutheran – he is said to have felt the presence of God. Walking the 116km Malerweg (Painters' Way), or on shorter hikes, you can see the views that inspired "Two Men Contemplating the Moon" (c.1825-30), "Rocky Ravine" (1822-23), and other paintings of individuals "humbled" by immense landscapes. And if you go on one of Kristin Arnold's guided tours, you can learn how Friedrich rearranged elements of the landscape in his compositions, which, he said, were as much about the inner as the outer world.

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