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Landmark Dresden Church Completes Rise From the Ashes

DW staff (win)October 29, 2005

Dresden's Frauenkirche, a symbol of the suffering of German civilians after its destruction in World War II bombing and now of reconciliation, was consecrated Sunday after painstaking restoration.

The interior of the restored Church of Our Lady cathedral in DresdenImage: AP

The church is perhaps Dresden's most famous landmark and the image of it in ruins is known worldwide as a symbol of the destruction of World War II.

On Sunday, the Dresden Bishop Jochen Bohl said in a sermon during the consecration service: "A deep wound that has bled for so long can be healed. From hate and evil a community of reconciliation can grow, which makes peace possible."

German President Horst Köhler acknowledged in his speech that many critics had suggested before the project began that the money would have been better spent on rebuilding the broken-down former East Germany.

"Did eastern Germany not need roads, roofs and factories more than an expensive church? But a group of residents said Dresden needed more. And now we can see that those people were right," Köhler said.

The Baroque church stood for decades as a decapitated, empty shell. But that changed in 1990 when a group of people began gathering funds to rebuild it. Now, after a decade of reconstruction, the Frauenkirche stands once again in its full splendor, with Sunday's consecration ceremony officially reopening the church to the public.

Bildgalerie Dresdner Frauenkirche
The Frauenkirche in ruins in 1945Image: AP

People from around the world are visiting Dresden for the festivities. Outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his designated successor, Angela Merkel are there.

Britain, which led the bombing raids, has contributed more than one million euros in donations towards the reconstruction and the Duke of Kent, who is patron of the fundraising Dresden Trust, is attending Sunday's ceremony to represent the British royal family.

The tens of thousands of spectators at Sunday's consecration can marvel at a golden cross and orb donated by the English city of Coventry, which itself was flattened by German bombing during World War II.

The "stone bell" returns

Dresdeners themselves are particularly elated that their Frauenkirche is finally opening its doors for Protestant services following its restoration.

Bildgalerie Dresdner Frauenkirche
The church was rebuilt according to original plansImage: AP

Until 1945, the "stone bell" atop the Frauenkirche lent the Dresden skyline its distinctive silhouette. Ilse Walter remembers when the church was bombed by British and American forces during World War II.

"Spring was almost in the air on Feb. 13, 1945," she said. "I remember it vividly. I was sitting in the living room with my family listening to the radio. They were playing relatively happy, light music when suddenly, right in the middle of the song, we heard the air raid sirens."

What kind of memorial?

What followed was one of the most destructive of all Allied attacks, with tens of thousands losing their lives. The city, dubbed "Florence on the Elbe" for its baroque splendor, was practically wiped out. From a military perspective, no one even knows why the city was targeted. The end of the war was already in sight, Dresden had no garrisons, and its industry was outside city borders.

Bildgalerie Dresdner Frauenkirche
The Frauenkirche (left) is now part of Dresden's skyline againImage: AP

But destroyed it was and with it, Dresden's Frauenkirche. As the city was being rebuilt in the following decades, the church remained in shambles -- a skeletal reference to an ugly past.

Many Dresden citizens felt it should stay that way -- a necessary reminder of war's destruction. But for others, the dilapidated Frauenkirche was an eyesore. It was time to move on, they believed. Not forget, but progress.

A merger of past and present

In the end, those in favor of rebuilding the Frauenkirche won. Yet the restored church's architectural design reflects only part of the Baroque style from the 1700s, when the original Frauenkirche was built.

"We had to delve into the Baroque and Middle Ages and study how the stones were laid back then," said Eberhard Burger, the reconstruction director. "We have done that the same way now, but we've used better materials. So the reconstructed building is based on a mix of old and new techniques."

Bildgalerie Dresdner Frauenkirche
The church's new golden crossImage: AP

About a third of the new Frauenkirche building is made from the old, dark-colored stones that were left in the ruins. The rest are new, light colored sandstones. Together they create a kind of mosaic of past and present. The golden cross atop the church's dome was even created by the son of an English pilot who dropped bombs on Dresden in 1945. And of course, there is a new organ.

A global project

The total cost of the project came to 180 million euros ($218 million).

German historian Arnulf Baring, who as a boy witnessed the bombing in Dresden, said he believes the project was worth the enormous cost and said it showed that Germans could find elements of their past of which they can be proud.

BdT: Restauratoren arbeiten im Innenraum der Dresdner Frauenkirche
The recreated frescoes inside the churchImage: AP

"The Frauenkirche was more than a church, it was a symbol of the downfall of a city," Baring told Der Spiegel magazine. "I think it is a good thing that Germans, wherever possible, regain part of their old cities, so they know that we come from somewhere."

And Ludwig Güttler, the chairman of the Society to Promote the Reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, said many nations had played a part in helping to restore the church to its former glory.

"I am enormously grateful," he told AFP news service. "Not just for the donations, which have just kept coming, but for the level of interest shown by other countries. So many people can say that this project is theirs -- whether they be Britons, Americans, Danes, Poles or whatever else."