Saturday, January 21, 2012

ProJo's David Brussat writes about Dresden

The Frauenkirche rises above the Dresden skyline. See also amazing link below, with panorama photos of Dresden during recent reconstruction, 2005-present.

Architecture Here and There Blog
Column: In Dresden, a tale of two resurrections January 19, 2012 12:14 am

Weeks before the end of World War II in Europe, U.S. and British bombers wreaked a terrible punishment on Dresden, causing a firestorm that killed 25,000 civilians and consumed the entire center of the city, known to history for its beauty as the Jewel Box of Germany.

The Dresdener Frauenkirche and the Bundeswehr Military History Museum represent the optimistic and the pessimistic sides of the controversial project of rebuilding.

The military museum, an enormous neo-classical barracks and arsenal, served as the Wehrmacht (army) district headquarters during the war. It lies outside central Dresden; it was not targeted in the Feb. 13-15, 1945, bombing. It was targeted 60 years later, when architect Daniel Libeskind designed a glass-and-steel cleaver to slice through the building's right wing. The addition is said to represent Hitler's intrusion into Germany's otherwise glorious military history. But it also symbolizes a politico-rhetorical thrust by the Saxon state government at the rising neo-Nazi sentiment of recent years.

Dresden's Military Museum with addition

Libeskind was hired to repudiate the museum. He succeeded brilliantly. Understandable, but still deplorable on several levels.

More pleasant to contemplate is the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche -- "Our Lady" in German, same as "Notre Dame" in French. Between Germany's reunification in 1991 and the church's reconsecration in 2005, Dresden's effort to rebuild the church and its surrounding market square garnered support from around the world. Most remarkable was the help from Coventry, England, whose 14th Century Gothic cathedral and city center were destroyed by the Luftwaffe, in 1940 -- an act said to have motivated the Allied attack on Dresden. The cathedral spire remains standing in Coventry today but the church was never rebuilt. In an impressive act of healing, Coventry contributed millions to rebuild the Frauenkirche.

It traces its fascinating history as "Our Lady" to earlier Dresden churches back to the 11th Century. Its name is unusual for a Protestant parish church: Protestants do not accept, doctrinally, the Catholic sense of the holiness of the Virgin Mary. Moreover, the Baroque design of the church, built in 1726-43 by architect George Bähr, was unusually splendid for a Lutheran congregation. Lutherans are nothing if not spare in their ecclesiastical aesthetic.

Frauenkirche, 1750, Bernato Bellotto

Its Baroque style was rendered more in sync by Saxony's Prince-elector Frederick August I ("The Strong"), who converted to the more rococo faith of Catholicism in order to be crowned the king of Poland in 1733. (Also called "The Saxon Hercules" and "Iron Hand," August was known for breaking horseshoes with his bare hands and for tossing foxes -- a princely sport of the age -- with a single finger.)

The Frauenkirche's 12,000-ton dome of sandstone was also strong. In 1760, during the Seven Years' War, Frederick the Great, of Prussia, laid siege, unsuccessfully, to Dresden. The dome was said by eyewitnesses to have withstood 100 cannonball hits from Prussian artillery. With an irony that I will not attempt to characterize here, history accuses the autocrat of purposely shelling the civilian parts of town.

Frauenkirche before 1945 bombing
The Frauenkirche did succumb entirely to the 650,000 far-deadlier bombs of 1945.

Later, as it did with many other piles of rubble elsewhere in what became East Germany, the communist regime cloaked a reluctance or inability to rebuild the Frauenkirche as a memorial to the horror of war. Frauenkirche, 1950, as war memorial

So after the reunification of East and West in 1991, restorers of the church rescued, catalogued, stored and reused 8,425 blackened stones and fragments from the ruin, including 7,110 in the exterior façades.

The salvaged stone forms 40 percent of the rebuilt church. Its light sandstone façades are thus spotted with dark, much as history's years of peace are spotted by years of war. Frauenkirche facade with spots

Experts still debate whether smiting an old army barracks with a violent new addition better commemorates mankind's folly than the graceful restoration of an old church with new and old stone. I would ask which aesthetic calls us more effectively to peace. Dresdeners seem to prefer the gentler to the harsher assault on their senses and their memory.

David Brussat is a member of The Journal's editorial board ( This column, with more illustrations, is on his blog Architecture Here and There, at

As promised, here is the link to the HOURLY PANORAMA CAM SINCE 2005! along the Elbe River, focusing on this section being currently rebuilt in Dresden. I think you'll be inspired.

No comments:

Post a Comment