IN Dresden, May is as good a time to see August - August the Strong, that is, otherwise known as Frederick Augustus I. Here in this majestic city in the south-eastern corner of Germany's Saxony region, statues of August (1670-1733) and his fellow kings of Saxony abound.
At this time of the year, the statues - typically painted in gold and gleaming brightly in the late spring sunshine - serve as constant reminders of the major role the kings played in the history and culture of the region, especially in building the many beautiful castles, palaces and stately homes that feature throughout the city and the surrounding countryside.
Although the city was founded in the 13th century, it was during August's influential reign that Dresden became famous all over Europe. August, a great admirer of the Italian Renaissance, was responsible for the many grand buildings built in the baroque style that can be seen during a stroll through the centre of the city.
Not for nothing is Dresden (population 490,000) sometimes known as the Florence of the River Elbe. The city lies in a picturesque valley along the banks of the river. During his time, August also turned the city into an important centre of art, culture and technology. He wanted this to be his legacy and believed that 'Princes become immortal through his creations'. He conveniently decided to take this motto quite literally, since he is believed to have fathered some 352 children - perhaps August the Stud would have been more appropriate.
Much of Dresden - especially the old part of the city, with its many historic and cultural sites - was demolished by Allied bombs during one February weekend in the last days of World War II. There has been speculation that while it was not of strategic importance, the city was bombed because the Western forces knew it would be given over to the Russians.
More than 40 years of Communist rule didn't help much either, even though Dresden became an important industrial centre under the former East Germany. Since reunification in 1990, though, many dramatic changes have taken place.
Today, many new buildings stand side by side with the old, but visitors would never know it because Dresden is nearing the end of an ambitious programme, due to be completed in 2010, to restore it to its former glories as a showcase for spectacular period architecture. Many important buildings that were flattened during the war have been painstakingly restored or totally rebuilt in the original style, using original plans and old photographs.
That's why many old buildings are actually new, but the city's administrators made a conscious decision to bank on the past. The move seems to have paid off, because Dresden is now a popular tourist destination among Germans, and is slowly gaining ground on the international tourism trail as well.
If you can get over the Disney-like aspect of Dresden - due not to the fact that it resembles a theme park but because many of the important buildings are technically not totally original, even though they look as they did (from the outside, at least) when they were first built, then there is plenty to enjoy and admire.
Indeed, the city has a lot going for it, including its compact size, proximity to other interesting cities like Berlin and Prague, and a discernible civic pride among its residents. When spring flowers are in bloom, it looks especially pretty, so it comes as no surprise to learn that Dresden is the only city in Eastern Germany where the population is rising.
Recently, business publications have also been going on about the innovative way in which the city wiped out its entire public debt, by riding the wave of foreign interest in German real estate and selling its entire stock of 48,000 city-owned apartments to a US firm for US$1.2 billion.
You don't have to be a property speculator to enjoy the many interesting buildings around Dresden, however. One of the most popular sites includes the Church of Our Lady. Wat was once one of the most important Protestant churches in the country has only just rebuilt after a painstaking restoration costing 179 million euros (S$362 million). The church, which stands on one corner of busy Neumarkt square, lay in ruins for many years, serving as a poignant symbol of the war. Now, it symbolises the revitalisation of the city.
The Zwinger, a stunning complex in the grand baroque style, located in the middle of town, is perhaps the most impressive site in the city. It was built in the early-18th century by August and features a series of gardens, gateways and pavilions - including the interestingly named Bath of the Nymphs. The Zwinger, which has also been extensively rebuilt, houses several important art galleries and one of the largest collections of porcelain in the world.
Another world class building is the Semper Opera House, which stands next to the Zwinger on the expansive Theaterplatz, which features a statue of King Johann. Restoration work on the building was completed in 1985 and as usual, is entirely faithful to the original, thanks to the discovery of more than 1,000 letters between the architect Gottfried Semper and his son detailing the architectural work. Across from the opera house is the Old City Guard House, which resembles a Greek temple. The Furstenzug (procession of princes) is a nearby frieze on a grand scale, made from painted porcelain tiles that line the entire outer wall of a building and depicting the entire line of Saxon sovereigns, including August and the likes of Otto the Rich and the unfortunately named Friedrich the Bitten.
Dresden has long been associated with porcelain, and it was August who brought together the artisans who eventually developed the technique for making it, based on his collection of Chinese porcelain. Just 25 kilometres away from Dresden is Meissen, a medieval town that is the capital of German porcelain and home to the famous factory of the same name.
The first porcelain in Europe was manufactured in Meissen in 1710 and today the factory creates some of the most exclusive porcelain in the world - if handcrafted 2,000-euro teacups don't faze you, there might be a bargain or two for you at the factory store.
Back in central Dresden, right next to a large park, The Transparent Factory stands as a testament to the city's more recent past - and gives some idea as to where it might be headed as well. Here, in a state-of-the-art building with an all-glass exterior that looks more like a modern museum than a car-making plant, Volkswagen assembles its line of luxury vehicles.
The high-tech factory, complete with restaurant and visitor centre, is an attraction in itself and a modern counterpoint to a tradition-minded city. Ask a Dresden resident about what it is that drives the city to recreate the past to such exacting detail and the answer comes back swift, sure and simple: 'We just want to have our old city back.'