Risen from the ashes: the Dresden Frauenkirche
October 30, 2005 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Risen from the ashes. For nearly half a century, the ruins of the Dresden Frauenkirche lay untouched, as a memorial to the Allied bombardment in February 1945 that devastated the city. Over the past decade, the church has been painstakingly rebuilt, with assistance from former enemies. Today it was reconsecrated.
posted by holgate (32 comments total)
wow. I was in Dresden a decade ago. I'm glad they rebuilt it with such class and astheticism. It looks wonderful.
posted by Busithoth at 9:49 AM on October 30, 2005

This is a good story. Do you have links to any good photo galleries of the church?
posted by afroblanca at 10:11 AM on October 30, 2005

Pictures via BBC
posted by adamvasco at 10:29 AM on October 30, 2005

I've been by this place a few times. Years ago, I guess during the reconstruction process, there was rubble all over the place, each bit of stone carefully accounted for with an archeaological style ID number on it. Seemed like they wanted every little original piece to be reconstructed when possible, although they seemed to have needed to replace a lot as well.

Incidentally, Kurt Vonnegut was there in Dresden (as a POW) when the place was firebombed.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2005

The official picture gallery.
posted by CKZ at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2005

interesting, from DW's Visit Germany pages: ...Dresden’s geographical position behind the Saxon hills meant its residents could not pick up Western television or radio broadcasts in GDR days. This earned it the label Tal der Ahnungslosen, or Valley of the Clueless. ...
posted by amberglow at 10:43 AM on October 30, 2005

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, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed
-- Winston Churchill
I never spent much time wondering what was going on down below. I eased my conscience by feeling that the Germans must do what we'd been doing, which was to evacuate non-participants. I'd done my duty, which was to take a load of high explosive to an aiming point laid down by those in authority above me, whom I trusted. If I'd been an imaginative character I might have wondered exactly what happened when those bombs hit, but I merely hoped that I was hitting a factory, or machine tools or something of that ilk. The only way I could have got a picture of the effect of bomb attack on people was to go to the East End of London.
-- Wing Commander Rod Rodley DSO DFC AE


(...) in 1995, the U.S. Rand Corporation whose research is frequently commissioned by the military, published a pamphlet titled “Night Raids by the British Bomber Command: Lessons Learned and Lingering Myths from World War II.” Its author, Frank Heilenday, surprisingly describes “Lingering Myth B” as the one that holds that “German morale was broken by massive attacks against their cities” In reality, he contends,
Despite over 590,000 German civilian fatalities, nearly 490,000 others seriously wounded, and over 3½ million dwelling units destroyed or heavily damaged, German morale did not break and the war continued until Allied ground troops occupied all of Germany. The goal of de-housing industrial workers in an air campaign was not achieved.
"Shifting and Shifty —Justifying Killing in Modern War” by Margot Norris
posted by matteo at 11:14 AM on October 30, 2005

and thanks for the post, holgate, it's great to have you back
posted by matteo at 11:16 AM on October 30, 2005

Thanks for this.
posted by Jairus at 11:22 AM on October 30, 2005

I never knew it was so huge.

Clearly, the decision to leave it in ruins was influenced by Soviet desires for anti-Western propaganda. I wonder today whether there is a difference of opinion between "Osties" and other Germans. Likely the Dresden natives felt it should be rebuilt. Was there a unanimous groundswell of support, or were there holdouts concerned about the loss of a powerful antiwar symbol?

Interestingly, the response at Coventry was almost having it both ways.
posted by dhartung at 11:25 AM on October 30, 2005

Finished a year earlier than expected? The German people continue to impress me.
posted by cali at 11:25 AM on October 30, 2005

for dhartung a quote from AFP's note on this:
"Although two-thirds of the funding for the reconstruction came from donations, German President Horst Koehler acknowledged in his speech that there was considerable opposition in the immediate post-reunification period to committing any state funds to the Frauenkirche project.

"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," Koehler said.

Lifelong Dresden resident Herbert Rummel, 67, one of the 60,000 people watching the service on giant TV screens outside the church, said the Frauenkirche's worth could not be measured only in financial terms.

"I was not near the church on the night of the bombings, but many people had taken shelter nearby. They were never seen again," he said.

"So to see the church back to its former glory is important to me in so many ways. And it fills me with joy to know that so many countries donated to the reconstruction."
posted by threehundredandsixty at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2005

It is a great, beautiful building, but there is something soporific about rebuilding it.
posted by ori at 12:06 PM on October 30, 2005

It is a great, beautiful building, but there is something soporific about rebuilding it.

You do realize ori that there is a lot more to German history than the brief experiment with National Socialism.

Why shouldn't the Germans rebuild something that represents the greatness of their culture? I think it's fantastic and a testimony to what modern Germany has become.
posted by three blind mice at 12:45 PM on October 30, 2005

Saw this on the news tonight. It's a truly beautiful building.
posted by kaemaril at 12:53 PM on October 30, 2005

You do realize ori that there is a lot more to German history than the brief experiment with National Socialism.

A touch of irony here, as I spend most of my academic energies on German culture.

three blind mice: I don't think Germany ought to become/remain an enormous memorial-state where one can't take more than a few steps without running into some marker of one Nazi monstrosity or another. I respect the wishes of new generations of Germans to move past eternal atonement.

At the same time, there is a hallucinated quality to this building, something totally unreal about its resurrection. It strikes me not as a genuine attempt to look forward but an attempt to revise history and blot out the nightmares of the twentieth century.

Destruction and mourning is part of the history of a state. One should not be expected to dwell in the rubble of history forever, but when one replaces that rubble with a perfectly-polished, smooth-bricked reproduction, we are not at fault for suspecting denial.

Auschwitz is not a bad dream. Dresden was not a bad dream. History happened. We can and must rebuild, but when the whitewashing is so thorough as to launder all traces* of a history, when the task of reconstruction borders on erasure, when the past is aestheticized, we must be vigilant to restore the traces of the real.

(*save a rather benign and inconsequential marker within the church, that will no doubt strike future generations as a curious, if negligible, aberration fron the exquisitely beautiful interior.)
posted by ori at 2:31 PM on October 30, 2005

please forgive the structural and grammatical errors--it's one of those dark and rainy Sundays.
posted by ori at 2:33 PM on October 30, 2005

(*save a rather benign and inconsequential marker within the church, that will no doubt strike future generations as a curious, if negligible, aberration fron the exquisitely beautiful interior.)

Or not. Blackened old stone faces and interweaves with new stone. It's not a facsimile.
posted by holgate at 2:53 PM on October 30, 2005

I find this far more acceptable than the similar but utterly pointless rebuilding of Moscow's Church of Christ the Savior, where a shoddy replica of an ugly church was built at incredible expense (with much corruption) on the site of a much-used public swimming pool. I don't think Germans are in any serious danger of forgetting the holocaust, and I'm not sure how the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche would further that nefarious aim.
posted by languagehat at 3:01 PM on October 30, 2005

ori, we can agree to disagree here. Rebuilding a centuries-old religious and cultural landmark looks more like an affirmation than a denial. Are we talking about a people moving beyond the legacy of der dritte Reich or becoming fixated on it? pro-Soviet DDR was doing the latter; The Church and a reunited Germany seem to have opted for the former.
posted by alumshubby at 3:48 PM on October 30, 2005

That spot would have been perfect for a parking garage, or maybe a library or something.
posted by davy at 5:08 PM on October 30, 2005

I also see that the Bishop of Coventry will preside at the first services. I don't think that indicates a desire to paper over the past.
posted by dhartung at 1:01 AM on October 31, 2005

I think the one most curious and singular fact about the church is its reuse and incorporation of as many original buildingblocks as possible. This fact will be the one most visible (the old blocks are black while the new are white) and will make sure no one forgets its past. Ori, I cannot understand how you think the rebuilding in this way will help to revise history. A look at the church will show you several stages in its history. Leaving the rubble would be an even stronger message about only one particular period.
posted by Catfry at 1:29 AM on October 31, 2005

Dresden is beautiful. The rebuilt Frauenkirche is fascinating, in part because it's a traditional building built with modern technologies. It's also astonishing to see a bright yellow stone building, undarkened by pollution. It makes the few original stones look poetic.
posted by Nelson at 2:38 AM on October 31, 2005

You guys are treating this like the only two options were preserving it in its state of destruction or totally reverting to the original. Couldn't they have designed something truly new, that looks toward both the church's former splendor and its subsequent destruction? The fact that they swung from one extreme to the other does not indicate, to me, that they moved past the obsessive fixation with the past of the Soviet-puppeteered DDR. Whereas the DDR was obsessed with guilt and destruction, this "new" structure is equally hypnotized by a single and bygone moment of Dresden's splendor to the exclusion of all others.
posted by ori at 4:03 AM on October 31, 2005

Your best friend is a carpenter. She spends a year designing and building a new house for herself. It is magnificent. After happily dwelling in this house for a few years, however, the house burns down in a tragic fire.

At first, your friend is inconsolable. She spends all her time walking through the ashes and grieving for her home. But when her grieving becomes a prolonged and exclusive fixation you gently suggest she moves on and begin to recover. Your friend, it is worth mentioning, has undergone tremendous changes to her personality.

At first she is reluctant, but finally she relents. You drift apart a bit, each concerned with their own affairs.

One day you receive a cheerful phonecall: "It's done! Come visit!"

Next Saturday you get in the car and drive over. As you pull into her driveway, you are slowly overtaken by astonishment. You get out of the car and stare in disbelief: it's almost as if the house has never burnt down.

"I've spent extraordinary amounts of time perusing old photos of the house before the fire," she tells you. "I wanted to make sure I got it just right."

You walk inside. In the living room, the you notice the same identical couch made of the same identical dark-blue suede ("I had to go to the same ranch where the original leather was harvested to make sure it had the same texture") positioned in the same identical spot right next to the same identical IKEA coffee table ("They stopped making it so I had to have it custom-made") on top of the same identical carpet ("I incorporated whatever shreds of fabric remained from the burnt carpet into the new weave.")

You are a little creeped out.

And then you notice the one thing that is not identical: the occupant, your friend. On the bookshelf, there is an identical reproduction of the photo of your friend with her dog that used to be displayed there. You can't help but note just how much she has changed.

And the dog? The dog died long ago.
posted by ori at 4:29 AM on October 31, 2005

From your analogy it sounds like you think they have simply taken the church too seriously? I can agree with that.
posted by Catfry at 4:38 AM on October 31, 2005

ori, I have to disagree and say that the church isn't the 'same identical' church when there's such a visual reminder of what happened to it - the old black stones of the ruin interwoven with new bright stone, and pieces recovered from the ruin inside. In your little anecdote, your hypothetical friend is trying to erase the past, yes. But the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche ensures that the scars of the past are still visible and very obvious. Not quite the same.

I also would suggest that it's less an attempt to erase the first half of the century and more an attempt to reclaim the fact that Germany has a past that extends beyond the two world wars. Recall that in all of Germany [but particularly firebombed Dresden] many beautiful and historic buildings were utterly destroyed. Unless I'm gravely mistaken, most were not replaced with replicas - they were replaced with modern buildings. Rebuilding the occasional historical landmark to give the nation a few visual reminders of its non-war past fails to strike me as creepy. If Germans rebuilt every building to prewar specs, sure, that'd be very creepy. But that's not what's happening. We're looking at the reconstruction of one beautiful building, where the building's past is explicitly and visibly recognized.
posted by ubersturm at 5:13 AM on October 31, 2005

If you're worried that rebuilding the Frauenkirche is somehow Dresden returning to its past, feel free to walk around the rest of the city. There's plenty of hideous Soviet-era architecture around. Some good stuff, too.
posted by Nelson at 5:21 AM on October 31, 2005

ubersturm, compellingly argued. I think I might have to agree.
posted by ori at 6:30 AM on October 31, 2005

Clearly, the decision to leave it in ruins was influenced by Soviet desires for anti-Western propaganda.

Berlin's Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser William Memorial Church), in what was West Berlin, combined the tower that was the only thing left after the Allied bombing with a modern building.

Incidentally, Kurt Vonnegut was there in Dresden (as a POW) when the place was firebombed.

Yep, his experience was the basis for Slaughterhouse 5.

WikiPedia article on the bombing of Dresden. This interesting article in Air Force Magazine basically says that Dresden had it coming and calling the bombing a war crime is falling for Nazi propaganda.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:29 AM on October 31, 2005

I have family in the area (Chemnitz, formerly called Karl Marx-stadt), who are pleased that the cathedral is rebuilt. A number of lost techniques were rediscovered in order to recreate the windows, for example - techniques lost when the medieval guild structure collapsed and they were never passed on to apprentices from masters.

Yes, there's something a bit creepy about it. But the cathedral is a thing of such soaring beauty I can forgive it as a purely aesthetic exercise in creation.

You may not, and that is your right. But the Erzgeberge region, old Saxony, has one of its marvels back, in a way that remembers the old along with the new. To see it in person, as I did during the construction, is awe-inspiring. I'm not even catholic, or christian, but I think I was more impressed by the Cathedral than I was by the moments spent at the base of the World Trade Center before 9/11 (and I do live in the NYC area).
posted by mephron at 8:44 AM on October 31, 2005

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