Theme Week Dresden – The Frauenkirche

Saturday, 11 April 2015 - 01:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Museums, Exhibitions
Reading Time:  11 minutes

© flickr.com - Christian Prade/cc-by-2.0

© flickr.com – Christian Prade/cc-by-2.0

The Dresden Frauenkirche is a Lutheran church in Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony. Although the original church was Roman Catholic until it became Protestant during the Reformation, the current Baroque building was purposely built Protestant. It is considered an outstanding example of Protestant sacred architecture, featuring one of the largest domes in Europe. Built in the 18th century, the church was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. The remaining ruins were left as a war memorial, following decisions of local East German leaders. The church was rebuilt after the reunification of Germany. The reconstruction of its exterior was completed in 2004 and its interior in 2005. The church was reconsecrated on 30 October 2005 with festive services lasting through the Protestant observance of Reformation Day on 31 October. It now also serves as symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies. The surrounding Neumarkt square with its many valuable baroque buildings is also reconstructed since 2004. The Frauenkirche is often called a cathedral, however it is not the seat of a bishop. The bishop’s church is the Church of the Cross. Once a month, an Anglican Evensong is held in English, by clergy from the St. George’s Anglican Chaplaincy. The original Baroque church was built between 1726 and 1743, and was designed by Dresden’s city architect, George Bähr, who did not live to see the completion of his greatest work. Bähr’s distinctive design for the church captured the new spirit of the Protestant liturgy by placing the altar, pulpit, and baptismal font directly centred in view of the entire congregation. In 1736, famed organ maker Gottfried Silbermann built a three-manual, 43-stop instrument for the church. The organ was dedicated on 25 November and Johann Sebastian Bach gave a recital on the instrument on 1 December. The church’s most distinctive feature was its unconventional 96 m-high dome, called die Steinerne Glocke or “Stone Bell”.

On 13 February 1945, Anglo-American allied forces began the bombing of Dresden. The church withstood two days and nights of the attacks and the eight interior sandstone pillars supporting the large dome held up long enough for the evacuation of 300 people who had sought shelter in the church crypt, before succumbing to the heat generated by some 650,000 incendiary bombs that were dropped on the city. The temperature surrounding and inside the church eventually reached 1,000 degrees Celsius. The dome finally collapsed at 10 a.m. on 15 February. The pillars glowed bright red and exploded; the outer walls shattered and nearly 6,000 tons of stone plunged to earth, penetrating the massive floor as it fell. The altar, a relief depiction of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives by Johann Christian Feige, was only partially damaged during the bombing raid and fire that destroyed the church. The altar and the structure behind it, the chancel, were among the remnants left standing. Features of most of the figures were lopped off by falling debris and the fragments lay under the rubble. The building vanished from Dresden’s skyline, and the blackened stones would lie in wait in a pile in the centre of the city for the next 45 years as Communist rule enveloped what was now East Germany. Shortly after the end of World War II, residents of Dresden had already begun salvaging unique stone fragments from the Church of Our Lady and numbering them for future use in reconstruction. Popular sentiment discouraged the authorities from clearing the ruins away to make a car park. In 1966, the remnants were officially declared a “memorial against war”, and state-controlled commemorations were held there on the anniversaries of the destruction of Dresden. In 1982, the ruins began to be the site of a peace movement combined with peaceful protests against the East German regime. On the anniversary of the bombing, 400 citizens of Dresden came to the ruins in silence with flowers and candles, part of a growing East German civil rights movement. By 1989, the number of protesters in Dresden, Leipzig and other parts of East Germany had increased to tens of thousands, and the wall dividing East and West Germany toppled. This opened the way to the reunification of Germany.

Of the millions of stones used in the rebuilding, more than 8,500 original stones were salvaged from the original church and approximately 3,800 reused in the reconstruction. As the older stones are covered with a darker patina, due to fire damage and weathering, the difference between old and new stones is clearly visible for a number of years after reconstruction. Two thousand pieces of the original altar were cleaned and incorporated into the new structure. The builders relied on thousands of old photographs, memories of worshippers and church officials and crumbling old purchase orders detailing the quality of the mortar or pigments of the paint (as in the 18th century, copious quantities of eggs were used to make the color that provides the interior with its almost luminescent glow).

© Kay Körner/cc-by-sa-2.5 © Netopyr/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Chaosbastler/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Christoph Münch/cc-by-sa-3.0 © David Müller/cc-by-sa-3.0 © flickr.com - Christian Prade/cc-by-2.0 Frauenkirche © Rnt20
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© flickr.com - Christian Prade/cc-by-2.0
During the last months of World War II, residents expressed the desire to rebuild the church. However, due to political circumstances in the GDR, the reconstruction came to a halt. The heap of ruins was conserved as a war memorial within the inner city of Dresden, as a direct counterpart to the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed by German bombing in 1940 and also serves as a war memorial in the United Kingdom. Because of the continuing decay of the ruins, Dresden leaders decided in 1985 (after the Semperoper was finally finished) to rebuild the Church of Our Lady after the completion of the reconstruction of the Dresden Castle. The reunification of Germany, brought new life to the reconstruction plans. In 1989, a 14-member group of enthusiasts headed by Ludwig Güttler, a noted Dresden musician, formed a Citizens’ Initiative. From that group emerged a year later The Society to Promote the Reconstruction of the Church of Our Lady, which began an aggressive private fund-raising campaign. The organisation grew to over 5,000 members in Germany and 20 other countries. A string of German auxiliary groups were formed, and three promotional organisations were created abroad. Günter Blobel, a German-born American, saw the original Church of Our Lady as a boy when his refugee family took shelter in a town just outside of Dresden days before the city was bombed. In 1994, he became the founder and president of the nonprofit “Friends of Dresden, Inc.”, a United States organization dedicated to supporting the reconstruction, restoration and preservation of Dresden’s artistic and architectural legacy. In 1999, Blobel won the Nobel Prize for medicine and donated the entire amount of his award money (nearly US$1 million) to the organization for the restoration of Dresden, to the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche and the building of a New Synagogue. It was the single largest individual donation to the project. In Britain, the Dresden Trust has the Duke of Kent as its royal patron and the Bishop of Coventry among its curators. Dr. Paul Oestreicher, a canon emeritus of Coventry Cathedral and a founder of the Dresden Trust, wrote: “The church is to Dresden what St. Paul’s [Cathedral] is to London”. Rebuilding the church cost €180 million. Dresdner Bank financed more than half of the reconstruction costs via a “donor certificates campaign”, collecting almost €70 million after 1995. The bank itself contributed more than seven million Euros, including more than one million donated by its employees. Over the years, thousands of watches containing tiny fragments of Church of Our Lady stone were sold, as were specially printed medals. One sponsor raised nearly €2.3 million through symbolic sales of individual church stones. Funds raised were turned over to the “Frauenkirche Foundation Dresden”, with the reconstruction backed by the State of Saxony, the City of Dresden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony. The new golden tower cross was funded officially by “the British People and the Royal House of Great Britain”. It was made by a British blacksmith whose father was one of the bomber pilots who were responsible for the destruction of the church.

A bronze statue of reformer and theologian Martin Luther, which survived the bombings, has been restored and again stands in front of the church. It is the work of sculptor Adolf von Donndorf from 1885. The intensive efforts to rebuild this world famous landmark were completed in 2005, one year earlier than originally planned, and in time for the 800-year anniversary of the city of Dresden in 2006. The church was reconsecrated with a festive service one day before Reformation Day. The rebuilt church is a monument reminding people of its history and a symbol of hope and reconciliation. There are two devotional services every day and two liturgies every Sunday. Since October 2005, there has been an exhibition on the history and reconstruction of the Frauenkirche at the Stadtmuseum (City Museum) in Dresden’s Alten Landhaus. Since re-opening, the Church of Our Lady has been a hugely popular tourist destination in Dresden. In the first three years, seven million people have visited the church as tourists and to attend worship services. The project has inspired other revitalization projects throughout Europe. In 2009, US President Barack Obama visited the church after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Grünes Gewölbe.

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Read more on frauenkirche-dresden.de, frauenkirche-dresden.de, dresden.de – Frauenkirche and Wikipedia Frauenkirche (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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