This eclectic, working-class neighbourhood in Dresden on the other side of the Elbe has been rejuvenating itself since the Wall came down. Today, it's a haven for artists and creative types, and the liveliest bar scene south of Berlin.
When the Allied bombs rained down on Dresden from Feb. 13 to 15 in 1945, the district of Outer Neustadt escaped much of the catastrophic damage. And thankfully, the next regime never fulfilled its plans for Soviet-style "modernization." The lovely 19th-century buildings, cobblestone streets and the warren of interesting passageways and alleys remains intact. In 1989, after the Berlin Wall came down, artists, intellectuals and young hopefuls began to revitalize the garages, alleyways and dwindling factory buildings with art - and soul.
Today, the bohemian quarter of Aussere (Outer) Neustadt, encompassing both the edges of the "New City" envisioned by ruler Augustus the Strong and the bar-café culture of Outer Neustadt, is filled with creative types - fashion designers, shoemakers, artists plying their paints in garages covered with tin and architects making music from huge metal drain spouts channelling rain. Set out on foot from the lovely Tempietto fountain in Albertplatz square to duck into shops, walk the cobblestones and witness the art - on walls and fences, in galleries and restaurants, and even on the outsides of living quarters. Then raise a glass - Prost! - in any of the 100 bars, cafés or clubs to toast such exuberant freedom of expression. Here are a few of the highlights you won't want to miss.
LIVING WITH ART
What do you get when you ask a team of artists to design the perfect living space? Kunsthof Passage, a series of whimsical courtyards and apartments enlivened with bright colour, thousands of handmade tiles, animal motifs and balconies made from wicker as if the residents were about to lift off in an air balloon. "We wanted tiles and sculpture and a feeling of the Mediterranean," said project manager Tankred Lenz as he points out the outdoor mirror tiles reflecting the sun in the Courtyard of the Fabulous Creatures. Stroll through this artistic labyrinth, shop for vintage clothes, buy a novel in the bookstore, wonder at the protected gingko tree or order a local beer on an outside patio. Most amazing is the bizarre arrangement of trumpet-like funnels and gutters against the façade of a bright blue building. Inspired by a leaky roof, sculptor Annette Paul set out to make rain music in the Courtyard of the Elements. During summer, it "rains" music daily. Entrances at Aulaunstrasse 70 or Görlitzer Strasse 21; kunsthofpassage.de
STYLISH FROM TOP TO TOE
Helen Marx Fashion and Alexander Preiss shoes, two of the area's designers, will outfit you handsomely in one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted duds from their storefront studios. Helena Marx, whose background includes theatrical costume design in Senegal, mixes supple leather with fabric to create casual-but-elegant fashions for men and women. Dresses from €700 ($950), custom leather jackets from €3,000 ($4,075). Craftsman Preiss makes shoes, the kind you may have seen in classic movies. Custom shoes that fit your feet like gloves, stitched so the rain never gets through, that never wear out. Works of art? Definitely. It takes two weeks to make one pair. From €1,200. Helen Marx Fashion, Priessnitz Strasse 60, 351-267-9070; helenamarx.de; Alexander Preiss Shoe Manufacturer, Alaunstrasse 41, 351-655-7437, rechtslinks-schuhe.de
In 1879, Paul Gustav Leander Pfund moved to Dresden with his wife, six cows and six pigs, determined to supply milk to the growing populace. An entrepreneur, he opened a dairy that produced condensed milk, filtered milk for children and milk soap for sensitive skin. He introduced pasteurization, a novel concept that reduced infant mortality. Even his wagons were painted pure white. Today, his popular dairy store, restored with hundreds of original hand-painted tiles designed by Villeroy & Boch that tell the history of milk, is both a shop and a tasting house for delectable raw milk or cave-ripened cheeses - washed down with wines from around the world. There's also a restaurant upstairs. In 1997, the Guinness Book of Records declared it to be "the most beautiful dairy shop in the world." No question. Pfunds Molkerei Dairy, Bautzner Strasse 79; 351-80-8080; pfunds.de
WALK THE WALK
Stroll down a back alley or narrow passageway to find a car sculpture under a giant heart, peer at a poster designed with squiggles, enjoy a resident's front fence made of bicycle parts - or try to decipher the numerous examples of graffiti. You may even find artistic creation in a garage, like the tin-covered studio where British artist Christopher Haley Simpson is painting his Group of 20 project, portraits of Leipzig citizens who instigated the Peaceful Revolution - which, ultimately, led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Haley's gallery (atelier-simpson.de) is just one of the stops on various guided walking tours. A night walk inevitably stops at pubs or music clubs - like Katy's Garage in a former tire shop. Nightwalk Dresden (day walks also available), from €13 ($17); 172-781-5007; nightwalk-dresden.de
TIME FOR CHURCH
Possibly one of the most gorgeous squares in the neighbourhood is Martin Luther Platz, named after one of the country's most radical thinkers. It's lined with handsome buildings, former officer quarters designed by city architects. In the middle of the square sits Martin Luther Church, built between 1883 and 1887, and one of the few churches in Dresden to survive bombing. (A war memorial statue stands just behind.) Music has always been a big part of this church. Ask about dates for summer concerts and nights the bells ring out from the 81-metre-tall clock tower. On specific days you're allowed to climb the tower for the view. Martin Luther Church, Martin-Luther Platz 5; 351-804-4977; mmlk.de
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Kunsthaus Raskolnikoff, a popular restaurant with a garden café, is named after the main character in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. In an open kitchen, a staff of six cook stuffed pelmeni (dumpling)with sour cream, bright red borscht brimming with cabbage, cheesy spaetzle with fried onions. For dessert, apple strudel with vanilla sauce and whipped cream. And if you've washed it down with too much vodka? The restaurant also offers rooms upstairs. Kunsthaus Raskolnikoff, Böhmische Strasse 34; 351-804-5706; raskolnikoff.de
Special to The Globe and Mail