Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dresden

To anyone familiar with the Second World War the name Dresden conjures up images of the almost total destruction of the medieval city. On February 13 and 14, 1945 a massive Allied firebombing attack reduced the city centre to ruins and killed tens of thousands of civilians. 70 years later, the justification for that raid remains hotly debated.
One of the casualties of that attack was the Frauenkirche, a beautiful Baroque church built in the early 1700s. After the war the church remained little more than a pile of rubble until the fall of the GDR and the reunification of Germany in 1990. Then reconstruction efforts took off and the church was rebuilt with money raised internationally, including major contributions from those same Allied countries that caused its initial destruction. All told the reconstruction efforts cost €180 million (about $270 million) and took 12 years, completed in 2005.
I had read about the firebombing of Dresden and the reconstruction of the city and the church. It’s an amazing story of death, destruction, reconstruction, and rebirth, so when the opportunity presented itself on this trip I just had to see for myself.
I was not disappointed. The day we spent in Dresden was one of the highlights of the trip.
But first, to set the scene, this is what central Dresden looked like 70 years ago.
19450213_dresden_angriff_120_jpg
1945_Ruinenstrasse
GERMANY-HISTORY-WWII-BRITAIN-DRESDEN-FRAUENKIRCHETwo towers to the left are all that remained standing of the Frauenkirche.
(Photos from the Internet)
Today Dresden is a modern, dynamic city and a cultural and educational center. It is still undergoing a lot of reconstruction as much was left undone under Communist rule, but the downtown area especially is beautifully restored.

The Zwinger dates back to the early 1700’s when it was built as a palace. Totally destroyed, it was reconstructed under the Soviet military administration after the war.

Inner courtyard of the Zwinger. It’s a huge space.

Hard to see but that’s a lipstick kiss on the Cherub’s butt.

Large public square in the center of town with lots of cafes and eateries lining the square and adjoining side streets. Martin Luther holds a place of honour.

Taking afternoon tea in one of the cafes.

We were going to eat here but €15 for a hamburger was a bit pricey. Still, it was packed!

Just out taking some air. Saw several groups in period costumes. Not sure why.

The rebuilt Opera House. Unfortunately it was closed to the public as were many of the old buildings.

Saving the best for last – the rebuilt Frauenkirche. Dark stones are stones they were able to recover from the ruins and reuse back in their original locations. Note the two dark towers; these were the two towers left mostly standing.

Inside was simply beautiful.

Art work on the inner dome.

View from the Frauenkirche dome looking along the Elbe.
I would have liked to spend more than a day there but our schedule was such that wasn’t possible. But I am certainly happy that we included Dresden in our itinerary.
(If you’re interested in knowing more the book Dresden by Frederick Taylor gives a largely unbiased history of Dresden and the events leading up to and during the bombing in February 1945. Also, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is partially based on his experience as a POW in Dresden during the firebomb attack.)

8 comments:

  1. Dave, I remember visiting London with my mother and grandmother in 1956 when I was only four years old. I distinctly remember being uneasy when we passed wartime rubble that remained. My mother assured me we were safe, but the destruction in those places was disturbing and I still remember it vividly.

    It still amazes me that places like Dresden were able to be restored.

    Allied firebombing was vicious in its engulfing destruction.

    I recently met with a guy who was stationed in Japan in the aftermath of the war. He described the utter destruction and loss of life in a firebombing campaign in March of 1945 that obliterated virtually everything between Tokyo and Yokohama. He said it was utterly devastating to see. It ranks today as the most destructive air raid of the second world war and in history, outdoing Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden as destructive single event air raids.

    Our generation is blessed not having experienced anything even remotely on that scale.

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    1. David - I wasn't aware of that Japan attack, but then again, the campaigns in the far east don't seem to have the same prominence for us. I'll have to check it out.
      We are blessed generally in North America as we have not seen that level of destruction since, I would guess, the Civil War. And even that was limited in scope. I daresay though that the people in Syria, Iraq, and other Middle East hotspots would know it all too well.

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  2. A testament to the resilience of the citizens for rebuilding. Such beautiful architecture.

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    1. Trobairitz - It really was stunning. And your comment about resilience is absolutely true. Not only were they pummeled during the war but they then had 50+ years of Communist rule. And through all of that they still maintained the vision and drive to rebuild. Saw much the same in Berlin (future post). All in all quite a story.

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  3. Dresden had risen like Phoenix from the Ashes. It has become a beautiful and liveable city, indeed. Thanks for sharing these pics. It is on my list to visit next year.

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    1. Sonja - While I admit to seeing only a very small part of the city it left me with the strong impression that it would, indeed, be a nice place to live. I'll look forward to your report and photos.

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  4. Canajun - sounds like an amazing journey that we, in our country, should all take ... lest we forget.

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    1. VSL - One of the most moving experiences I have ever had was a week spent touring the World War I battlefields and cemeteries in Northern France and Belgium. This is a close second. We in North America simply can't relate to what that must have been like for those people who experienced such destruction and loss of life. Visiting the sites helps a little bit.

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