Dessau: A town for fans of architecture

Dessau is world-famous for its Bauhaus architecture and attracts students of design and architecture from all over the world. Surrounded by woodland and rivers, Dessau is a cosy and friendly place to study.

by Janine Funke

Bauhaus Glass Screen © Stadt Dessau-Roßlau
Bauhaus Glass Screen . © Stadt Dessau-Roßlau

Facts & Figures

Monthly rent:
273 €
Explore Dessau on foot and discover nice spots in hidden corners!

Welcome to Dessau

At first glance, Dessau is unremarkable. The town centre is small and cosy. The majority of the 80,000 inhabitants live in the many smaller villages that belong to the town. But you'll soon discover interesting parts of the town and be inspired by its impressive architecture.

In addition to the town's more modern houses, you'll discover older buildings dating back to the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. From the viewing platform of the "Alter Räucherturm", you have a magnificent view of the town. You have to climb 131 steps to get to the top, but you will be rewarded by views of Dessau, the surrounding countryside and the river Elbe.

Panorama of Halle © Jörg Weitzenberg
Panorama of Halle . © Jörg Weitzenberg

Dessau is world-famous for its Bauhaus architecture. When you see the buildings for the first time, you might not think they look very innovative by today's standards. But in the mid-1920s, when this style emerged, this kind of architecture was ground-breaking. Walter Gropius, the founding father, was the first architect to functionally separate the complete complex of a building. Examples of this style are the Meisterhäuser, which you will find all over town. Students of design and architecture still come to Dessau today to admire the unique buildings and study the trade.

Living in Dessau

Thanks to the numerous students who come here from abroad, Dessau is a vibrant town despite its size. Parties are often held here in private student accommodation or at the "Unikomplex" and the atmosphere is friendly and familiar. In Dessau, you can travel almost everywhere by bike.

Meisterhäuser © Stadt Dessau-Roßlau
Meisterhäuser . © Stadt Dessau-Roßlau

For culture lovers, Dessau has much more to offer than just architectural masterpieces. You can spend a weekend visiting the Johannbau and find out all about the history of Dessau and the region.

In the evening, you can watch a play at Anhaltisches Theater, where operatic performances and musicals are also shown. If you're looking for a more alternative programme, visit the TheaterBurg Roßlau. This fringe theatre hosts jazz concerts and modern readings, but also plays by the classics such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich von Kleist.

Dessau is famous for its many lakes, where you can bathe, hike and relax. The rivers Elbe and Mulde flow through the town. After a hard day's work, you can unwind on the banks of the river and enjoy the peace and quiet there. At the weekends, it's also worth venturing a little further afield into the many woods that surround the town. In the Saalberghau nature reserve, you can spend a day hiking and then take a refreshing dip in "Kühnauer See". In the landscaped gardens of Schloss Luisium, you can enjoy the natural environment during a stroll through the grounds.

My tip

You should definitely explore Dessau on foot. A lot of nice spots can only be found in hidden corners!

For afternoon coffee and cake, a visit to "Café im Bauhaus" is a must: try the delicious cakes and snacks here. At "Café Hilde" in the town centre, you can relax in wicker beach chairs and soak up the sun, or in the evenings listen to concerts. To bring the evening to a close, treat yourself to a cocktail at "Bar MAXXIM".

If Dessau doesn't offer you enough options, Leipzig is only a short train journey away. Often referred to as "Little Berlin", it takes just an hour to get there by train. Berlin is also only 1½ hours away.

Interview with Chukwuemeka Vincent from Nigeria

Chukwuemeka Vincent is 30 years old and studying for a Master's degree in International Architecture at the university in Dessau.

Picture of Chukwuemeka from Nigeria © Noack/DAAD
Chukwuemeka from Nigeria . © Noack/DAAD

What made you decide to come to Dessau to study?

It was mainly because of Bauhaus architecture that I decided to come to Dessau. Bauhaus is a very important modern architectural style and I wanted to study this style in greater depth.

How do you like the university?

The university is great, small but really very good. There are around 2,000 students, supervision is very good, and so is the atmosphere among students. My course is taught in English and there are around 200 international students from over 70 countries taking it. The people here are very friendly and open. But you need good social skills to find your way around. We are like a small international island in Dessau.

Johannbau © Noack/DAAD
Johannbau . © Noack/DAAD

What do you think of Dessau as a place to study?

Great, I love Dessau, especially for its architecture. The town is just really inspiring and study conditions are very good. I have my peace and quiet here in Dessau, but if I want some action, I can go to Berlin. I go everywhere by bike, which is great. Obviously, there's no nightlife in Dessau, you have to go elsewhere for that. If you've lived in a big city, you might find it difficult getting used to Dessau. That's why some students live in Berlin, they just come here once a week.

Is the town open to foreign students?

The university definitely is. I've never had any problems, nor have I had any in the town itself, at least not during the day in shops and cafés. In the evening and at night, you have to be more careful. Then things aren't quite so friendly. As a black person, you stand out in Dessau, and at night, you don't necessarily want to bump into any drunks. But it doesn't really bother me.

Kühnauer See © Lutz Bittag
Kühnauer See . © Lutz Bittag

Did you learn German in preparation for coming to Dessau?

I couldn't speak German when I arrived in Dessau. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to take lessons. During my flight to Germany and at first, it wasn't a problem. But I sometimes pronounce place names incorrectly. The first time I took a train from Berlin to Dessau, I mispronounced Dessau and ended up in Potsdam and was a bit lost. It took me ten hours to get from Berlin to Dessau. But now I can speak some German so I cope OK. I also have a lot of German friends now. I always ask my German friends to correct me and help me learn. This helps me make progress.

What is your advice to other students from abroad?

I didn't actually have any problems organising things, everything went smoothly. If you come from Nigeria, it takes a while to get your visa. I think I had to wait three months. I'd advise everyone to take German lessons so that you can at least have a basic conversation. Otherwise, you should just look forward to your stay here. Germany is a very open and friendly country.

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