The principal railway station in the onetime capital city of Saxony is a building of profound significance in European history. The hauptbahnhof was constructed in 1892-98 to the design of the architects Giese and Weidner, and stands on the edge of the ancient city. It was always a complex structure, with six lines entering the train shed at ground level, and another six at an elevated first floor level, and a detached concourse building with which the platforms are linked by underpasses. The station was damaged but not totally destroyed in the bombing raid on Dresden in February 1945, which obliterated much of the ancient city. It was an important transit point both for troops and prisoners in the latter stages of the Second World War, and, after observing the passage of trains carrying refugees from Czechoslovakia to West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, crowds demonstrated in the streets calling for similar freedoms to be extended to the citizens of the DDR (German Democratic Republic).
A programme of restoration under the direction of the British architect Norman Foster was completed in the autumn of 2006. As in many old stations many accretions had been made over the years that were cleared away to expose the original lines of the architecture. The twin sandstone clock towers that topped the station were restored, and dramatic lighting effects over the platforms have been achieved by stretching a translucent skin of Teflon-coated glass fibre over the original steel arches. For much of the day the station is lit entirely by natural light. A new glass cupola was erected at the front entrance at the intersection of two arcades that were once the upper and lower class waiting rooms. Foster’s restoration has been described as ‘one of the most spectacular additions to this once very beautiful city’. Ironically the event that stimulated the restoration of the station was Dresden’s catastrophic flood of 2002, during which a torrent of water a metre deep engulfed the buildings.