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The Destruction of Dresden's Frauenkirche

Gerda Gericke (lucas)
October 26, 2005

As the final stones are put in place in Dresden's Frauenkirche, long-time residents of the city recall their horrifying memories when Allied bombers destroyed the city.

Dresden's Frauenkirche in the old city center on the banks of the ElbeImage: AP

"February 13, 1945 was a day that reminded me of pre-Spring. I still remember every detail. My family and I were sitting at the table and were listening to the radio program. That evening the Rundfunk transmitted a program that created a rather happy atmosphere when suddenly during a song named 'On the wings of colored dreams' we heard the sirens....."

Bombs were falling all around Ilse Walter and her family.

In the inferno of Dresden tens of thousands of people fell victim to the Allied bombing raid. Some 15 square kilometers of the historical city center were turned into nothing but a gigantic heap of debris. The former palace, the Zwinger, the Semper Opera, the arts gallery and the theatre were reduced to smoking ruins. Even the monumental Frauenkirche, whose impressive dome towered above the silhouette of the city, was leveled in the bombing.

Destroying history

B-17 Flugzeuge bombardieren Dresden
US planes drop bombs near Dresden on Feb. 6, 1945Image: AP

Dresden's famous church with its often admired sandstone roofed dome had stood proudly in the city center for 200 years, but when Allied planes dropped their bombs in one of the most severe attacks in World War II, it was hollowed out. After the air raid, there was hope the Frauenkirche had survived, but on February 15, 1945 at 10:00 a.m. the church eventually collapsed.

Up to this point the city of Dresden had only experienced the horrors of war through stories told by frontier soldiers or reports of eastern Europe refugees, who thought they were safe in Dresden. Ilse Walter recalls the last days before the Dresden bombing:

"It was reported that bombing squads were approaching Hannover/Braunschweig. Yes, Hannover/Braunschweig, we were used to hearing this every day. For us in Dresden these cities were far, far away."

Senseless bombing

From a military point of view the bombing of Dresden was completely senseless. The plan of splitting Germany had been finished long before. The protocol of London had already set the borderlines of the occupation zones in Autumn 1944 and the end of the war was obvious for everyone, even though Berlin still professed otherwise.

Dresden nach den Bombenangriffen
Demolished Dresden after the air raids on Feb. 13 and 14, 1945Image: AP

Dresden was not a garrison city and its industry was located far away from the city's core. Still today there is a question mark over the motives for the destruction of one of Europe's sites of cultural heritage. Many speculations and rumors concerning the attack existed and still exist today. Winston Churchill said at the time:

"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land.... I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives ... rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction."

Rebuilding Dresden the socialist way

After the war in 1945 East German leader Walter Ulbricht dreamed of a socialist Dresden with wide boulevards and large squares for state functions. However, art historians, city planners and protectors of Dresden's historical architecture fought for a thorough reconstruction of the baroque city. Their dream began to materialize on Aug. 9, 1945 when renovation work began on the Zwinger palace and theater. The Frauenkirche, however, did not enjoy the same fate.

A symbol of destruction and rebirth

Dresdener Frauenkirche erhält neues Kuppelkreuz
The dome of the Frauenkirche in DresdenImage: AP

Unlike many other churches in the German Democratic Republic which were demolished during the 40 years of communist rule, the thirteen-meter high skeleton of the Frauenkirche was preserved as a reminder of war's destruction.

After the fall of the wall in 1990 a foundation was established to gather money for the reconstruction of Dresden's famous church. Since then, vast sums of money have poured in from across Germany and around the world, and the church has slowly, piece by piece, been rebuilt. On Feb. 13, 2006, 61 years after Ilse Walter witnessed the destruction of the city's emblem right in front of her eyes, the Frauenkirche will once again dominate Dresden's historic sky line.