The history of Bw Dresden-Altstadt starts in 1872 when a roundhouse for 20 engines and a coal bunker were built at the place of today's famous roundhouse ensemble. These new facilities were some crucial parts of the second extension of "Böhmischer Bahnhof" in the city of Dresden (i.e. the train station for Bohemia-bound services). The "Bohemian station" had been founded and run by the private railway company "Albertbahn" some decades before. It had become insufficient when the "Albertbahn" company was transferred to the state railways of Saxony.
In 1876/77 the coal bunker was extended and roundhouse #2 with 19 tracks was erected. These two loco sheds were exclusively used to park the engines. Any maintainance work was done in the depot located at Böhmischer Bahnhof. A three-storey extension was added to roundhouse #1 in 1884 hosting a high-level water reservoir and recreation facilities for the personnel. A civil servants' house was built in 1891.
Just some few years later, the entire railway facilities in Dresden were fundamentally reconfigured. It had turned out that one central passenger station should be set up to replace various direction-oriented stations spread all over the city. Two further roundhouses were built in the course of these activities (houses #3 and #4) in 1893/94 and an administrative building was placed in between them. A storage building was established between roundhouses #2 and #3, which lateron hosted the locomotive management during the GDR era.
On both sides of the coal bunker arouse three coal piles between tracks #58 and #59 all along the roundhouses. Coaling was conducted by three stationary "Ruge" cranes, one of which is operated until today. The overall capacity of the coal reservoirs was 3,000 tons. In the course of time, any roundhouse was extended to host contemporary (i.e. bigger & longer) engines. As well, all turntables - one in the focus of each roundhouse - were adapted to newly required lengths: that of roundhouse #1 was extended to a platform length of 23 metres, which has not been changed ever since. Those infront of roundhouses #2 and #3 (which do not exist any longer) had a length of 20 metres and 16 metres, respectively. The turntable belonging to roundhouse #4 received a platform length of 16 metres, which is today's length as well.
Any maintainance of locomotives was conducted in the heavy repair works (in German: "Ausbesserungswerk") based in the urban district of Friedrichstadt in Dresden until the mid-1920ies. This divided system had been established by the "royal state railways of Saxony" (or however you might call "Königlich Sächsische Staatseisenbahn" in English): mere storage and recreation in one place on the one hand - and both "light" and "heavy" maintainance in another place on the other hand. It was handed over to nation-wide "Deutsche Reichsbahn" after WW I and continued for some few further years. However, in 1926 the system of locomotive maintainance in depots and repair works was re-organized fundamentally. In the course of this, a new depot building equipped for locomotive maintainance was placed in prolongation of roundhouse #4. (The repair works fulfilled only "heavy" maintainence from that time onwards). It was not designed as a roundhouse but as a rectangular hall housing seven tracks. Hence, a sliding stage was mounted instead of a turntable. According to its function, this ensemble is colloquially denominated as "the repair shop" instead of its formally correct name "house #5". These additional facilities were the last to complete the depot in its maximum size - all space available for railroading in this urban district of Dresden-Plauen had filled up.
By that time, almost all prestigious (formerly) Saxonian classes of steam locomotives for express passenger trains were domiciled in Dresden-Altstadt, most importantly the "pacifics" of class 18.0 and the "mikados" of class 19.0. Lateron, equivalent engines inherited from the former Prussian state railways (classes 17 and 39) were added. Not to forget, the most up-to-date passenger express steam locomotive classes developed by Deutsche Reichsbahn - classes 01, 03 and 61 - were located here as well. In the hey days, an average number of 120 steam engines resided in Dresden-Altstadt. All these locos were the pride of Dresden-Altstadt and hauled all well-known international and national express trains which contacted Dresden. By name, one of them was the famous "flying steam train Henschel-Wegmann Zug": it was operated between Dresden and Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof, hauled by Henschel-built 61 001 and equipped with a special set of four waggons developed by Wegmann - it had a scheduled travelling time of as few as 102 minutes between the two metropoles. Apart from these highlights, Dresden-Altstadt gave home to numerous passenger train engines to haul district trains, local and conventional suburban trains as well as what we might today call a "rapid commuter transit service": classes 38.2-3 (formerly Saxonian class XII H2), 38.10-40 (Robert Garbe's Prussian P8), 86, 93 and 98.0 (formerly Saxonian class I TV, the famous "garden spider" bound for services on mountainous "Windbergbahn").
After Hitler had occupied and annected Bohemia and Moravia, classes located in these areas as well hauled trains between Decin/Tetschen or Usti nad Labem/Aussig and Dresden in parallel to Dresden's locos. They attended the depot in Dresden-Altstadt for scheduled recreation and occasional light maintainance.
In the late 1930ies, the depot facilities at the freight and marshalling yard in Dresden-Friedrichstadt were designed in a contemporary style, significantly enlarged and relocated. The engine repair shop was opened there in 1940 and several locos and classes left Dresden-Altstadt to be hosted in Dresden-Friedrichstadt from then on. In Dresden-Altstadt, roundhouse #3 was abandoned as a home for locomotives. Its turntable was removed, all original tracks removed, two loading sidings installed and the hall itself re-used as a storage room for goods vital to the war.
1988 until today
After the end of giving home to the 01's in September 1977, Bw Dresden-Altstadt was stepwise abandoned as a home for locomotives. This trend intensified quickly in the 1990ies, i.e. after GDR as well as DR had faded away. However, tradition-conscious railroaders as well as Verkehrsmuseum Dresden (VMD, the Dresden museum of traffic) revitalised the location as a high-quality establishment for historic railway activities. In 1999, core members of the "Bahnsozialwerk Gruppe Dresden" (potentially, this should be translated as "social association of dedicated railroaders in Dresden") founded the club "IG Bw Dresden-Altstadt e.V." (which, in turn, can potentially be translated as "organised community of passionate people who want to keep the Dresden-Altstadt depot alive"). This club has been active since 2000 up until today.
In 2001, Deutsche Bahn AG re-organized all its tradition-oriented activities and focussed them under the leadership of DB Museum Nürnberg. In the course of this process, roundhouse #1 was transferred to that business unit of DB AG and became explicitly a branch of DB Museum Nürnberg. As such, it was opened as a museum depot on May 18th, 2002. In parallel, VMD as well worked hard to establish a branch of itself in roundhouse #4 and the repair shop, which was still in operation as a maintenance base of DB AG by that time.
However, the entity of Bw Dresden-Altstadt could not completely be transferred to museum activities. One partition company of DB AG, DB Regio, continued to be present in significant areas and intended to further use them for ordinary maintainance of railroad rolling stock (locomotives, DMUs, EMUs, passenger coaches). However, all the facilities were rather old-fashioned. To overcome this situation, DB Regio planned to establish a contemporary (new) maintainance building and reconfigure spacious parts of the entire area in between the roundhouses #1 and #4 after the year 2000. These new structures significantly affected the museum activities because they cut the district of roundhouse #1 (and its turntable) on the one hand apart from that of roundhouse #4 (and its turntable) and the repair shop (and its sliding stage) on the other hand. However, by doing so, all parties - i.e. DB Regio, VMD and IG Bw Dresden-Altstadt e.V. - can cohabit in the inherited piece of land inmidst the city of Dresden. Construction started in 2005, in the course of which the old administrative building, sand bunkers, the former cafeteria and the EVDR shack were demolished for the sake of DB Regio's new maintainance district. A water crane, one "Ruge" crane and the coal bunker were transferred to the vicinity of roundhouse #1. Thus, original equipment dating back to the steam locomotives' ages was not only preserved but could be very beneficially utilized anew.
In parallel, DB Musuem gave away roundhouse #1 (and the turntable and the closer surrounding grounds) - and IG Bw Dresden Altstadt e.V. took it over and re-started historic activities in there by 2006, from then on denominated as "Eisenbahnmuseum Bw Dresden Altstadt e.V.".
On April 17th, 1945 most of the depot's area was laid to waste. Only roundhouse #4, which still exists today, and the administration building were not completely ruined but could be reconstructed rather quickly. After rehabilitation of roundhouse #4 and re-assembly of the repair shop ("house #5"), a new roundhouse was established in the place of former roundhouse #1 in 1953. This new building is what we recognize as "the roundhouse in Dresden-Altstadt" nowadays. Its design also allowed for hosting electric locomotives in addition to steam engines. However, no electric locomotive has ever been located in Dresden-Altstadt - except E 77 10 since 2013/2014, but that's another story.
Roundhouses #2 and #3 were not re-erected but some parts of their places were used for some multi-purpose (temporary) buildings or even lay fallow for decades. By these times of the early 1950ies the basic facilities of the depot were recovered.
The basic stock to fulfil everyday's haulage tasks continued to consist of pre-war locomotives for many years. All locomotives suitable for express passenger train services dated back even to the times before WW I (e.g. classes 18.0, 19.0 and 39).
Apart from the established classes, several exotic locomotives could be found in Dresden-Altstadt as well. They were relicts of confusions related to WW II, especially the final chaos in early and mid-term 1945, which had stranded in Dresden or its close surroundings. Some of them had been built long before WW I, some of them were foreigners. Enormous efforts were made to retain these species in working condition or re-design them for practicability at all - everything just for some very few years. But in those days, any locomotive available had to be utilised by any means. Two individuals among these "uncommon" engines are to be mentioned by name: formerly French 231-E-18 and 241-A-4, denominated as 07 1001 and 08 1001 from 1952 onwards, respecitvely. In spite of everything, they remained unwelcome mavericks and suffered from more days in the mechanical departments than in hauling trains. Finally, they were discarded in 1958.
The state railway authorities of GDR, which continued to denominate themselves as Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR, although there was no "Reich" = "empire" any longer), allotted several locomotives of their newly developed classes 23.10 and 65.10 to the depot in Dresden-Altstadt in the mid-1950ies. As well, several locomotives of class 22 resided in Dresden-Altstadt. These were fundamentally refurbished engines of class 39, so-called "Reko" (reconstructed), equipped with newly designed boilers. By 1958, class 03 re-entered Bw Dresden-Altstadt. The final era of express train steam locomotives initiated in 1967 when Dresden-Altstadt gave home to non-reconstructed class 01 again. Until September 1977 these engines handled the entire heavy international express passenger service between Dresden and East Berlin, the capital of GDR.
As well in 1967 the importance and individuality of Bw Dresden-Altstadt was curtailed significantly. By that time, the authorities of Deutsche Reichsbahn unified the three independent depots of Dresden-Altstadt, Dresden-Friedrichstadt and Dresden-Pieschen in one so-called "large scale complex". The name "Bw Dresden-Altstadt" vanished and was replaced by a phrasing like "sub-division of Dresden depot, located at Zwickauer Straße" (in German: "Bw Dresden, Betriebsteil Zwickauer Straße"). Headquarters were established in Dresden-Friedrichstadt. However, all the steam engines for the prestegious express passenger services remained at their inherited place.
On September 25th, 1977 regular steam engine operations of Bw Dresden expired. For quite some time, only class 01 had still been in active service. Some of the last 01's of Dresden were handed over to other depots in GDR. And some of them lateron even started a "second life" - e.g. 01 066, 01 118 and 01 204, but that's another story. After that date, some few steam locomotives in Dresden-Altstadt were used for local heat supply services only. Non-steam engines entered the depot in Dresden-Altstadt, but these were shunting diesels only.