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Culture

More than Music

A dispute over the Frauenkirche's future organ has cast a shadow over the otherwise swift restoration of a once magnificant baroque church, destroyed in WWII.

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A possible model for the Frauenkirche's organ?

In 1945, the capital of the German state Saxony, Dresden, was the target of concentrated Allied fire-bombing which devastated the city, killed 100,000 and reduced the city’s beautiful baroque cathedral to rubble. Almost half a century later, first steps were taken to the church’s extensive restoration.

Restoration progress has been fast, and reconstruction may be completed earlier than originally planned.

However, the rebuilding process has been severly marred by a quarrel over the church’s organ. Indeed, squabbling over whether or not the original organ should be rebuilt using original plans, or should be replaced by a modern version, has practically divided the city on an issue which was due to be decided this week.

Most magnificent church

The Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, was built between 1726 and 1743 and was renowned as the most magnificent baroque church in northern Europe.

After two days of heavy Allied bombing, the thick, stone walls literally crumbled. It is said that the temperature of the remains of the church’s masonry reached a temperature of 1000 C.

After the war the leftovers of the once majestic church were left where they fell until an international appeal was launched in 1991.

Left in peace

First wishes to rebuild the church were expressed as early as 1945, and detailed plans were soon conceived to begin with preliminary planning . In 1948-49, around 600 square metres of stone were salvaged for reuse.

However, first steps taken to the extensive restoration of the Church of Our Lady were soon daunted by the former GDR government.

During the GDR era, especially in the 60s, numerous churches were destroyed, including the Sophienkirche in Dresden and the Nikolaikirche in nearby Leipzig. But Dresden’s Church of our Lady was a world-famous symbol and still a centre of attraction to the city’s population.

Every year, Dresden’s citizens would flock to the church on February 13, the day of its destruction and light candles in remembrance of the bombing which marred the city and left so many dead. Thankfully, the government decided to leave the ruins to reside in peace – but no moves to restore the crumbling walls were made, either.

A turning point

German unification saw a turning point for the development of the church. On February 13 1990, the 45th anniversary of the destruction of Dresden, a group of Dresden citizens took the initiative for the rebuilding of the church. In 1991, the Frauenkirche Foundation was established, restoration began that year.

The dispute over the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche’s organ was sparked five years ago. Those in favour of an original organ reconstruction argued that only a replica of the original built in 1736 by Gottfried Silbermann was in accordance with the basic idea of a reconstruction true to the original Frauenkirche.

The Foundation’s Organ Committee, however was in favour of an organ "in the spirit" of Silberman’s instrument – an extended, mordernised version of the original. According to the Organ Commitee, a historic instrument would reduce the instrument’s musical repertoire.

Debates and discussions followed, suggestions and yet more suggestions. The tone was moderate – for a while. Bickering increased, names turned up such as "Organ mafia", and it was soon assumed that both sides were only hoping for his, or her various organ builder to be assigned with the reconstruction project – an assignment worth at least 1,5 million Euros and one which could decide who would be the leading organ-builder in the next decades.

In the end, the German Dussman Foundation due to pay for the project, decided to freeze the money until a consensus was found.

On Thursday, Peter Dussman said both sides were near to finding a compromise and that any quarrelling between both sides was over.

Despite no exact decision as to shape and size of the Frauenkirche's future organ, the instrument now expected to be built is a mixture of a replica, plus additions such as extra stops.

But Dussman did make clear that if the money was to flow, it would only do so on the condition that an organ builder from Saxony would be appointed for the job.

The Frauenkirche foundation had favourised a French organ builder.

Swift progress

According to the Frauenkirche Foundation’s Finance Director Dietrich von der Heyden, the Frauenkirche’s reconstruction may be completed by 2005, a year earlier than originally planned.

Progress has been surprisingly swift since the first stone was laid for the church’s "new" foundation in 1994.

However, building progress would never have been as fast without the tremendous moral – and financial - support, both in Germany and worldwide. According to von der Heyden, more than 50 per cent of the reconstruction’s costs, estimated at around 250 million marks, are donations.

The Dresden-based Frauenkirche Foundation has partners all over the world, including the Friends of Dresden in the US and the Dresden Trust in France. "The fact that donations come from all over the world is unique," Dietrich von Heydn says.

The Foundation now fears the organ dispute may throw a shadow on the Frauenkirche’s restoration process, and on the flow of donations.

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