Nearly every sizable European city dating to the Middle Ages or earlier had defensive moats on accounts of wars waged between various duchies, kingdoms, and empires. Some of these moats were manmade and others were modified natural streams. Along with moats, every city had a millstream whose water was harnessed to produce grain for the residents. When moats and milldams became obsolete, they were reduced in size, filled, or retained as water features in parks.
Above is the Kaitzbach stream flowing through the Große Garten park in Dresden, Germany. Here, it widens into the Carolasee lake before disappearing under the city’s streets. The postcard dates from 1914, the year when imperial Germany plunged into the First World War.
Where it Flows
I stumbled upon this little-known stream on a Google map of Dresden, which shows it flowing through the city’s flagship park and then alongside the St. Petersburger Straße on the eastern side of the city’s historic center.
In reality, the stream cannot be seen on the surface beyond Zinzendorfstraße, where it leaves the Bürgerwiese park and descends beneath the streets. Its appearance on Google Maps is likely the result of the map editor feature, where a historically inspired GIS enthusiast laid out its buried course.
The Stream and the City
The site of Dresden had settlements dating to the Neolithic period, but it was the indigenous Sorb people who named it Drežďany, which was Germanized in the Middle Ages as Dresden. As a country, Germany did not take shape until 1871, prior to that it was a kaleidoscope of competing entities constantly at war with each other.
To defend against other states and unruly peasants, the city dammed the Kaitzbach to form three moats: Neuer See, Alter See and Judenteich.
The last one indicates the Jewish presence in the city, translating to Jewish Pond. At the time, Jews were constantly on the move, expelled by one German state and then accepted by another.
Upstream from the moats on this map from 1500, the Kaitzbach flows through the Bürgerwiese, or public meadow where livestock could graze freely. In many western cities, today’s public parks originated either as public meadows or as palace grounds. As the Bürgerwiese follows the stream outside the city, it could be considered a predecessor to the linear parks of today.
Kaitzbach on the Map
Germans are known for their attention to detail and the maps that I’ve found are treasures when it comes to unlocking the city’s past.
In 1755, Matthaus Seutter made a map showing 190 places to see in Dresden. The city is ringed by a moat and palisades with estates and farms beyond the walls. Defense for the Saxon capital was vital as Saxony was sandwiched between the rival kingdoms of Austria and Prussia. On the lower left corner we see the Bürgerwiese meadow and the Kaitzbach flowing towards the city. Judenteich is clearly visible, but Seutter does not show the synagogue.
Skipping ahead to 1849, the walls and moats are gone and the last couple of kilometers on the Kaitzbach have been forced underground. The Judenteich is gone, a short street carrying its name appears in its place. The Bürgerwiese field is still there, hemmed in by the expanding city. On this map one can also see the other hidden waterways of Dresden: Weisseritz, Muhlgraben, Landgraben, and on the north side of the city, Priessnitz.
By 1876, the railroad lines that ran atop the filled moats have been expanded to nearly ring the old city. The Kaitzbach is not seen anymore.
In 1908, the German Empire was at its height as was Dresden. Numerous trolley lines follow the streets and the beaux-arts style dominates with tree-lined boulevards piercing through the city. Although Saxony merged into Germany in 1871, it retained a great degree of autonomy, including its local monarchy. On the map above, the Kaitzbach is rerouted towards the Prinzen Palais (Prince’s Palace). The place was destroyed during the firebombing of Dresden in February 1945, and its traces today are the building outline and a few outdoor statues that came with the palace.
The final map which I would like to share is the 1969 Postplatz plan for Dresden. Following the massive allied bombing of Dresden in February 1945, nearly the entire city had become a heap of rubble. The once-proud Florence of the Elbe had lost its historic palaces and churches. Following the defeat of fascism, East Germany was occupied by the Soviets who imposed a Marxist regime. Eager to discard traces of the past, the rubble was cleared and the empty blocks were treated as a clean slate for a modernist city. On this plan, the prewar parks are preserved and expanded.
In yellow atop the buried Kaitzbach, a boulevard was constructed. In 1970, it was named Leningrader Straße on the centennial of Vladimir Lenin’s death. Following the collapse of communism, the street followed the Russian example and was renamed St. Petersburger Straße.
Kaitzbach in Art
As Dresden was compared to the Italian Renaissance city of Florence, it promoted fine art and architecture. The Kaitzbach was a favorite of artists seeking to depict a touch of nature in the city, where the pastoral enters the urban. Landscape painter Carl Wilhelm Müller (1839-1904) offers a Romanticist depiction of the stream in this undated sketch of a maid doing laundry and a child observing the scene.
In 1829, Christian Gottlob Hammer made a Rococo-style depiction of the Kaitzbach flowing through the Großen Garten. This genre of art is known for its idyllic landscapes, classicist ruins and feathery trees.
The most recent work of art relating to the Kaitzbach is Aqulux, a sculptural installation of Plexiglas panels illuminated at night. This 2003 Kirsten Kaiser piece approximates the course of the stream. It stood near the New Synagogue, close to the stream’s former confluence with the Elbe River.
The Kaitzbach today
On this blog I previously wrote about how some of the world’s great streams have monuments placed at their headwaters. The humble Kaitzbach has one too, nearly eight miles from the Elbe River in the village of Kleinnaudorf in a ravine bound by Meßweg. A “naturdenkmal” (natural monument) sign informs travelers that this is where the stream begins. The above photo was taken by local resident Daniel Eggers.
The Kaitzbach expands into the Dorfteich (village pond) and continues across the rural landscape towards the city. In the neighborhood of Mockritz, the creek expands into a pond that is used as a public beach.
At Zschertnitzer Strasse, the once-wide river valley tightens into a culvert, and nearly a mile downstream at Lockwitzer Strasse, the creek disappears entirely beneath that street. From that point, the Kaitzbach appears and disappears in a fashion that invites urban explorer to search deeper. Where it appears on the surface, it runs through tight channels between and within residential properties.
Sometimes spotting the stream’s course is as easy as noting changes in the sidewalk and road paving, as at the intersection of Altstrehlen and Kreischaer streets. A pedestrian street, Kaitzbachweg follows the channel to Gustav Adolf Platz traffic circle, where the stream goes dark beneath Oskarstraße. It reemerges to a glorious setting at Großer Garten.
Central Park of Dresden
For a city that received so much destruction and physical change in the past century, its Großer Garten (Great Garden) appears virtually unchanged from three centuries ago. A giant rectangle of green deep inside the city, it is Dresden’s counterpart to New York’s Central Park. Both parks adapted their natural waterways into lakes and ponds. At the Carolasee (Carol Lake), visitors can rent boats, and observe the fountain from a lakeside restaurant.
This lake was originally a gravel pit that was conveniently filled with water in 1882 by park administrator Friedrich Bouché. This lake was named “Carolasee” in honor of Queen Carola. The Carolaschlösschen castle that hosts the restaurant dates to 1895. Following the war, a more modest design was adopted for the restaurant while retaining its castle-inspired name. The lake was drained briefly in 2015 to clear out excess mud and trash.
The Kaitzbach leaves this lake through two channels. One channel flows north to the Neuer Teich (New Pond) and then into the sewers. The other channel flows west through Großer Garten, past its zoo and miniature railway to its next park.
The Kaitzbach leaves Großer Garten at Lennéstraße, and on the other side of this street flows through the Bürgerwiese park. In the section between Blüherstraße and Lindengasse, the Kaitzbach flows through its final pond, which has a fountain shooting out of its center. Throughout the park are statues from the periods of the kingdom and empire, solitary remains of opulent palaces destroyed by war.
This linear park, whose history dates to the middle ages when it was a public meadow serves as a greenbelt connecting the city’s “central park” to Blüherpark and its historic downtown with its ring boulevards. The stream goes underground for the final time at Zinzendorfstraße, flowing beneath it towards St. Petersburger Straße. This view below from Zinzendorfstraße looks upstream on the Kaitzbach.
The Stream Underground
The wide median of St. Petersburger Straße could allow for the daylighting of the Kaitzbach, giving it the function of a bioswale that absorbs runoff from the road. Near its end the stream curiously flows beneath the city’s New Synagogue. This facility carries the nearly 1,000-year story of the city’s Jews. Following the pogroms and expulsion of 1406, Jews did not return to Dresden until the 1700s.
In 1840, the city’s Old Synagogue was completed on this site. Designed by Gottfried Semper, it evoked history and prestige in having the same architect as many opera houses and town halls. The Semper Synagogue was torched on Kristallnacht, spelling the beginning of the holocaust.
Nearly 60 years on the Dresden Jewish community had the opportunity to rebuild its grand synagogue. In contrast to the nearly Frauenkirche– a wartime ruin rebuilt to its prewar appearance, the new synagogue is a postmodern structure with a memorial on site to remember the original synagogue. The Kaitzbach flows deep beneath the synagogue, emptying into the Elbe River near the Carolabrucke bridge.
A Final Word on Kaitzbach
Even a seemingly small brook can cause devastating flooding after a heavy rainfall. This is why Dresden authorities published a plan for this stream and its tributaries seeking to manage its overflow in an environmentally sustainable manner. As Dresden is remembering its prewar history, this includes its natural history of which the Kaitzbach is a major part.
Previously on this blog I’ve documented a few other European urban streams with histories similar to the Kaitzbach:
- Peugue River, Bordeaux whose buried course also appears on Google Maps.
- Opływ Motławy, Gdansk a former defensive moat built by Germans in this now-Polish city.
- Südlicher Heidekampgraben, Berlin like the Kaitzbach it is an obscure stream that has its glory moment inside a sizable urban park.