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23.6.04

Restoration of Dresden's Frauenkirche

Frauenkirche, Dresden, 1930hem|mungen noted today the final phase in the restoration of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady, Notre-Dame, however you want to translate it) in Dresden (shown at left in 1930). The church's distinctive bronze cupola and golden cross were put in place as part of a ceremony yesterday. There are pictures and more info in this article (A New Cupola for Dresden's Frauenkirche, June 23) by Anita Purcell from Deutsche Welle (in English). Beginning on February 13, 1945, the Allies bombed the living hell out of the city of Dresden, dropping over 650,000 incendiary bombs there and killing 135,000 residents. The Frauenkirche was not all that old, a Baroque building completed in 1743, but it was the largest Protestant church in Germany, which is strange considering its dedicatee. The Allied pilots may have tried to avoid hitting the church, because it survived two full days and nights of carpet bombing. Eventually, however, the heat of the explosions, estimated at around 1,000° C, essentially melted the foundations. As the DW article relates,

The eight interior sandstone pillars supporting the colossal dome exploded; the outer walls shattered and nearly 6,000 tons of stone plunged to earth, penetrating the massive floor as it fell. The building vanished from Dresden's skyline. [...]

In 1989, a handful of residents in Dresden formulated plans to rebuild the Frauenkirche. One early obstacle was a lack of funding, so in 1991, the residents formed a society in support of rebuilding the cathedral and collected donations from around the world. Another issue was how to rebuild the church. Should it be altered in some way to represent the time that had passed between its construction and its downfall and the historical changes of that time span? In the end, the society finally decided to restore the Frauenkirche to its original form. Reconstruction finally began in January 1993.
Ruins of the Frauenkirche, Dresden, Summer 1947Since World War II, it had become almost a permanent symbol of the war and the devastation it caused (shown at right in the summer of 1947). The cost so far has been €130 million ($157 million), with two-thirds of that amount coming from private donors. Almost 8,000 of the church's original stones were set back in place among millions of replacement stones, work made possible by a computer imaging program. More work on the dome and interior will continue, hopefully to be finished by 2006, for the 800th annivesary of the city of Dresden.

Another article (Finishing touches on Dresden's Frauenkirche, June 22) from Expatica relates that a British group of donors has paid for the cross that now tops the dome, in a sort of British mea culpa for the bombing: "The silversmith who built the new cross is the son of one of the British bomber pilots who participated in the massive firebombing raid on the night of February 13, 1945, which killed an estimated 135,000 people." And this article (Dresden's renaissance, June 23) from The Telegraph gives some interesting background on the act of bombing:
The Frauenkirche was the centrepiece of the city known as "Florence on the Elbe," until heavy American and British bombing obliterated its 18th-century splendour three months before the end of the war. For years afterwards, Dresden was more an Abhorrence on the Elbe, with the rubble of the wartime bombing barely relieved by the acres of Stalinist concrete housing that sprang up after the war.

Ever since the bombing, the desecration of the city has been held up as a dark chapter in the story of the Allied victory. The latest book on the subject, Frederick Taylor's measured Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945, showed how important Dresden was as a rail terminus for the hundreds of thousands of German troops heading for the Russian front, and as a Nazi foundry—127 factories in the city were used for war work. That doesn't detract from the 25,000 deaths in the Dresden firestorm, with people boiled to death in the burning waters of the Elbe. The weighing-up of German civilian deaths against military advances will always be an unscientific exercise, but history suggests the raid was justified.
Since the publication of Jörg Friedrich's book Der Brand (The Fire: Germany and the Bombardment, 1940-1945), which condemns the Dresden bombing as a war crime, Germans have finally felt able to confront this part of their history. The images shown here come from the Photographic views of early to middle twentieth-century Dresden, Germany, which were shown in an exhibit, Dresden: Treasures from the Saxon State Library, at the Library of Congress here in Washington.

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