Saxony (Sachsen) is federal state in the east of Germany. It contains the two largest and most important cities in eastern Germany other than Berlin: Leipzig and Dresden. The state has a long history of independence as a kingdom (much like Bavaria), and as a result has a strong sense of self-identity. It is home to many historic towns and cities and also the eastern German mountain range, the Ore Mountains or "Erzgebirge" which it shares with the Czech Republic to the south. It also shares international borders with Poland and the region of Silesia to the east. Görlitz, a town divided by World War II along the Oder-Neiße line is also the easternmost point of Germany.
Saxony is divided into six historical, cultural and geographic regions:
- Dresden — must-see state capital with old baroque city centre
- Bautzen — capital city of Upper Lusatia and cultural centre of the Sorbs
- Chemnitz - formerly known as Karl Marx Stadt
- Görlitz — well preserved historic city on the border to Poland and Silesia, easternmost point of Germany
- Leipzig — old banking, trade-fair and publishing city famous for its ties to Bach
- Meissen — medieval cathedral and famous for its Meissen (Chinese) porcelain, medieval residence of the Saxon dukes
- Plauen — famous for its lace industry
- Zwickau - one of the early centers of Germany's automobile industry prior to the Second World War
Once one of the leading German states and first among equals in the Lutheran (Protestant) camp, the princes and kings of Saxony managed to be on the wrong side of almost every war since 1500 and gradually lost territory and influence due to that. the former glory of Saxony and especially the financially reckless spending (i.e. building opera houses and churches from money Saxony didn't have) of Saxon elector and Polish king August der Starke (August the strong) can still be seen in Dresden.
Saxony is also notable as the first industrial center of what would later become Germany. Leipzig and Dresden where the first mainland European cities to be connected by a long distance railway in the 1830s and Zwickau and Chemnitz were among the cradles of the German automobile industry before World War II.
During GDR times Saxony was culturally and economically dominant in the new state and people from the "west" (the old Federal Republic of Germany) think of a Saxon accent if they think of an "easterner" (Ossi). The Messe (trade fair) in Leipzig was for a long time the pride of the regime and Saxony's window to the world, as it attracted many visitors from "capitalist" countries. Although the war and the incredibly bland GDR-architecture have destroyed a lot of what used to be beautiful in cities like Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz (renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt during GDR-times) happenstance, ideology and lack of funds also preserved many things that were lost in western Germany such as many scenic narrow gauge railways or tramways that are among the most extensive and reliable in Germany.
Almost forgotten until the wall came down Saxony now attracts travellers from all over the world, who come looking for beautiful historic (many of them rebuilt) buildings, breathtaking scenery of Saxonian Switzerland or just to buy a nutcracker in the Saxon Ore mountains. While it certainly isn't a budget destination it is notably a cheaper place to go than western Germany with unemployment higher wages lower and lines for attractions shorter than in Bavaria.
Language of communication is naturally German, but the Sorbs in the Oberlausitz also speak their own language. Sorbian is a sister language of Polish and Czech. The Saxon accent is quite strange for most other Germans and therefore often ridiculed and used in comedy. Regardless, the Saxons are very proud of it and it remains a strong part of the region's identity. English is widely spoken and many, especially young people, have a basic knowledge of another foreign language, like French, Spanish or Italian. Russian might be understood by the middle-aged and older Saxons, but with a growing Russian-German community, you might even find a native speaker of the language. In many regions close to the border you will find at least some singange in Czech or Polish. In tourist- oriented hotels as well as some shops you might also encounter signage or people speaking Russian, as there has been a lot of Russian shopping-tourism in recent times, especially to Dresden.
Saxony has two major airports used for scheduled passenger flights in Dresden (IATA: DRS) and between Leipzig and Halle (IATA: LEJ), in the town of Schkeuditz some 25 minutes by S-Bahn from either city-center. Flights to nearly all German cities and to some destinations in Europe are offered. The airport of Leipzig has a slightly better network and good Autobahn and rail connections. Dresden's airport is closer to the city and easily accessible with public transport and car. Both have frequent inexpensive (around 2-3€ one way) direct S-Bahn service to the centrally located Hauptbahnhof (main station) of their respective cities.
From Frankfurt airport, Germany's main international hub there are regular direct ICE connections to Leipzig and Dresden. There are two stations attached to the airport for ICEs take Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof, if you have to change trains at the main station take the S-Bahn from Frankfurt Flughafen Regionalbahnhof.
As Saxony is close to both Poland and the Czech republic, Prague or Wrocław might be feasible options for some travellers. There is regular train service from both main stations. For information on how to get from the airport to the respective station see the respective city articles.
The main hubs for rail travel are Dresden and Leipzig with a new high-speed line between Nuremberg(Munich) and Berlin(Hamburg) via Leipzig scheduled to open in December 2015, with further upgrades along the line ready by December 2017.
Dresden is connected to Wrocław (Poland) via Görlitz by a regional train and special offers starting at 39€ round trip can be had for that connection. the Eurocity Brno-Hamburg and Budapest-Berlin (both via Prague) pass through Dresden and Bad Schandau (Saxon Switzerland)
Leipzig boasts one of the biggest main stations in Germany with a wide variety of shops and free Wifi with modern fast ICE connections to almost everywhere in Germany either operating or scheduled to open in the next few years.
From Czech-German-Polish three country border
- In the vicinity of the Czech-German-Polish three country border, you may profit from the unified fare of the ZVON transport system.
Saxony's major (and some of the minor) cities are all served to varying degrees by long distance buses both domestic (most of them newly emerging or recent due to a change in laws around 2012/13 that prohibited this development earlier on) and international (most of them existing since at least 1990). Berlin is particularly well served for historic reasons as well as because of the bad railway connection between Dresden and Berlin and (historically) Leipzig and Berlin
Public transport is for the most part good fast and reliable. If you plan to do a day trip the "Sachsen-Ticket" might just be what you are looking for. It costs 22€ for one person plus 4 € for each additional member of your group up to five and covers all regional trains in Saxony, Saxony Anhalt and Thüringen plus public transport in Leipzig, Zwickau, Görlitz, Halle, Erfurt, Gera, Jena (not Dresden though). Validity is from 9 am on working days (all day on weekends) until 3 am the following morning.
There are several narrow gauge heritage railways, especially in the Ore mountains. As most of them are privately run (some not-for-profit) the Sachsen Ticket usually isn't valid on them.
Depending on your interests you can see a variety of things including:
- The mountains of Saxon Switzerland
- The old city of Dresden that was rebuilt almost exactly like it was before World War II
- The former prison Bautzen II which was used by the Stasi and can give you a chilling history lesson on the live of critics of a police-state regime
- The Saxon Ore Mountains famous for wooden figurines, skiing and mining. Although the mines are almost all closed by now some can be visited in guided tours
- The saxon Ore mountains offer skiing in the winter (provided there is enough snow)
- Saxon Switzerland is an excellent hiking and climbing area.
Being one of Germany's easternmost regions as well as politically and culturally connected to the USSR during GDR times, Saxony boasts a lot of Slavic influences in its cuisine, notable in dishes like cabbage rolls, dumplings or Soljanka (a soup with various pieces of sausage, meat and vegetables, traditionally eaten with sour cream and lemon juice).
While dishes such as Döner can be had in bigger cities like Leipzig or Dresden, they are usually not up to par to those made in Länder with more (Turkish) immigrant influence, and sometimes have a slightly Asian (mostly Vietnamese) or German interpretation to it.
The Elbe valley between Dresden and Meissen is the easternmost wine area in Germany and on the northeastern edge of wine-growing in Europe. Mainly white wines like Riesling, Pinot and Traminer are grown. There are plenty of wineries in the hills to the northeast of the Elbe downriver from Dresden, connected by the tourist route "Sächsische Weinstrasse" (Saxon Wine Route).
Yes, there are Nazis in this region (until 2014 the far right NPD was represented in parliament); however, they hardly (if ever) target tourists and are mostly present in run down neighborhoods of the big cities (Dresden-Gorbitz, Dresden-Prohlis, parts of Hoyerswerda and Leipzig) or some rural communities in Saxonian Switzerland. In general the security situation in Saxony isn't any worse than in most other parts of Germany (which is to say, very good when compared to almost all populated parts of the world), but the usual cautions in big crowds (pickpocketing), run down neighborhoods and alone at night can't do any harm.
- Poland via Görlitz (just cross the river et voila you're in Poland)
- The Czech Republic via a scenic (albeit slow) train connection in the valley of the Elbe, as well as the Elbe Radweg
- Franconia via Hof and Nürnberg
- Brandenburg and the lakes of the Lausitzer Neuseenland (former open pit lignite mines now converted to tourist friendly lakes)
- Saxony-Anhalt and Thüringen with the Sachsen Ticket (valid in all three regions on all regional trains)