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Pirna: Saxony’s Medieval Beauty

Located in south-eastern Saxony, close to the Czech and Polish borders, Pirna is at least 780 years old. Its medieval buildings, including the ‘Sunshine Palace’, and narrow alleys make it one of the most beautiful towns in Germany.

Pirna/Berlin, March 16th, 2020. Update: October 22nd, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — When Merten Heynemann rented a studio at ‘Dohnaische Strasse’ in Pirna exactly 558 years ago, he probably knew why. The man they called “the beauteous tailor” must have paid a rather high rent. In return, he got a spot on the elegant main shopping street in Pirna. And the Elbe river was only a few steps away.

Street Has Hardly Changed in 500 Years

Today, ‘Dohnaische Strasse’ does not look very different. The medieval houses lined up there accommodate shops and restaurants, including the ‘Arme Sau’ (‘Poor Sod’). It is still the nicest shopping street ever, more than five centuries later. Because traveling is so much easier today, and because of its unmatched beauty, lots of tourists invade Pirna.

Pirna looks awesome from above too. photo: Imanuel Marcus

In 1463, when tailor Heynemann was active, Pirna was already 230 years old. The town was mentioned in a certificate in the year 1233. Another 36 years later, in 1269, the fortress of Pirna was first written about. Erected from 1545 to 1548, ‘Schloss Sonnenschein’ (‘Sunshine Palace’) is the building that stands at the fortress’ location, on a hill overlooking the town. It is one of the many tourist magnets here.

The Darkest Period in Pirna

Around that time, there was a port village between Pirna and the Elbe river. Since it was not protected by the former walls around the town, the village was destroyed in wars several times. Today, the port is part of Pirna, where some 36,000 residents live by now.

‘Sunshine Palace’ is quite a sight itself. Also it provides the perfect view of Pirna from above. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In Pirna, 40 percent voted for Hitler’s Nazi party NSDAP in the 1933 general elections. Germany’s darkest period followed. Books were burned right in the town’s center. In 1940 and 1941, 13,720 mentally ill people and a thousand inmates of concentration camps were murdered in Pirna. Only 74 years after fascist Nazi Germany was finally defeated by the Allies, about one in five residents voted for the extremist far-right AfD in the town hall elections of 2019. In Saxony’s state elections, even one in three inhabitants of Pirna voted for those radicals.

Communist Regime Neglected Historic Center

After the war, the next bad period came: communism. The GDR’s regime had dozens of those typical socialist apartment blocks built in the outskirts. At the same time, the medieval heritage, meaning those historic buildings Pirna is full of, were neglected and fell apart.

There are so many perspectives in Pirna. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

After Germany’s reunification, they were renovated. The outcome is stunningly beautiful. Pirna has been back in shape for quite a while now. Another flood in 2002 did a lot of damage, but it was all repaired.

‘Hamburgers’ Know a Wider Elbe River

Walking through Pirna today is a nice experience. So is trying the town’s culinary treasures. The market place in the center offers stunning views of ‘Sunshine Palace’. At the same time, the palace up on that hill provides just as wonderful perspectives of the town. Climbing up those stairs is mandatory.

Pirna’s nice marketplace is the center of this little universe. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

For a real ‘Hamburger’, or someone who has seen the Elbe in Hamburg, the same river seems rather narrow and wild over here. In Hamburg, the giant port, docks, huge factories, including Airbus, musical theaters and expensive villas are lined up along the Elbe riverbanks. Huge freighters and countless ferries move up and down the river 24/7.

Down here, we will never run out of great views. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In comparison, the port in Pirna is tiny and cute. It has one ferry and one tourist boat. Instead of a never ending concrete wharf, beautiful flowers garnish the riverside. It is truly nice down here. The view of Pirna from the other side of the river is priceless too.

Pirna has the most beautiful port on Earth. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

A trip to Pirna can and should be combined with other Saxon marvels, including Görlitz and Meissen (Meißen), but also Dresden and Leipzig. Another interesting eastern German city can be found 232 kilometers (144 miles) north of Pirna. It is known as Berlin. You can make it there in two and a half hours if you kick it.

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