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Stone by Stone

DW staffJanuary 23, 2002

A significant masterpiece of European architecture, the Dresden Church of Our Lady, is being rebuilt after heavy Allied bombing destroyed the cathedral during World War II. It is a unique symbol of reconciliation.

Still a building site - the Frauenkirche in DresdenImage: AP

In 1945, Dresden, the capital of the German state Saxony, 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.

In 1990, a group of Dresden’s citizens embarked on a project to rebuild the monument which prior to the bombing, had graced the city’s skyline for 200 years. As reconstruction is well under way, the church is expected to be completed one year earlier than originally planned.

A symbol of reconciliation

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.

One step forward, two steps back

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 ist 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.

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. "We declare herewith a worldwide action for the Rebuilding of the Dresdner Frauenkirche as a center of world peace in the new Europe. For this purpose we appeal from Dresden for help," the group stated in a paper titled "Call for Dresden". In 1991, the Frauenkirche Foundation was established, a year later, the Dresden City Council voted to support reconstruction actively.

Stone by stone

First, the 13 metre high heap of rubble had to be cleared. By May 1994 the cruciform shape of the church slowly became visible. Those ruins that had remained standing after the bombing were left standing, to be incorporated in the new church’s walls.

Today, the walls reach a height of 38 metres, and the last of the scaffolding which has covered the church for almost a decade, may be removed in April. According to the Frauenkirche Foundation’s Finance Director Dietrich von der Heydn, the rebuilding of 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 told DW-online.

The extraordinary support for the reconstruction of the church was symbolized in 2000, when the Duke of Kent presented to the public a replica of the orb and cross which will replace those destroyed in the devastation Allied bomb attacks of 1945. At the presentation, the Duke called the replica a symbol of suffering, reconciliation and rebirth.

The orb and cross will stand over 90 metres from the ground, topping the stone dome of the 18th century baroque cathedral.

However, the replica does not only symbolize reconciliation due to the number of British donations, which made ist construction possible. The eight-metre high orb and cross were made in London by goldsmiths Gant MacDonald. One of the craftsmen is the son of a pilot involved in the 1945 Dresden raid.