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Dresden: Turned into Rubble and Rebuilt

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Tourist guide seems to be a very popular profession in Dresden. At every corner in the city center, at least one guide is busy with his or her monologue about the millions of sightseeing attractions available. It almost seems like there are more tourist guides than people with conventional professions.

On this day, two ladies in their 50-s are explaining things to British and American visitors in excellent Oxford English around the ‘Frauenkirche’, which used to be a pile of rubble after the war, until it was rebuilt after the reunification of Germany.

Three German-speaking tourist groups are on the move as well. One of the young guides sounds very intellectual. Maybe he just came out of one of the many colleges here. A lady who looks like she might be both German and Japanese is explaining things to a rather large Japanese group at the Procession of Princes. Most members of her herd are pointing their iPhone cameras at that truly fascinating mural.

Japanese tourists at the Procession of Princes mural. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

As beautiful and historic the center of Dresden might be, it is also a mess these days. That is because a gazillion construction sites are spread all over the place, including the historic Old Town. The provincial government is building as if there were no tomorrow. The construction activities are messing up part of the ‘Schlossplatz’, the Augustus Bridge, the ‘Terrassenufer’ which is the street along the Elbe river, and they produced two cavities which are as big as several football fields.

A wooden construction site fence around the famous ‘Semperoper’ (Semper Opera House) screws up all those photos, about 30 per minute, taken by tourists walking in its direction, in the scorching heat of this sunny Monday morning in mid-September.

The countless tourists in Dresden need to be fed. This is where the city’s huge restaurant business comes in. For its 550,000 inhabitants, many of whom live in huge apartment blocks constructed in communist times, in the outskirts, Dresden does not need this many elegant restaurants in the very center. But sightseeing makes people hungry.

At one of those many food spots, located on the ground level of a perfectly renovated old building, the chicken Schnitzel with mashed potatoes is not only delicious, but also looks attractive. That design of the meal on the plate almost looks too beautiful to eat. In Germany, having ‘Apfelsaftschorle’, a very refreshing mix of apple juice and club soda (sparkling water), is compulsory.

In Dresden there are so many important sightseeing spots, it is hard to find a good starting point. The Procession of Princes mural is 101 meters long and tells the story of a mounted procession of the rulers of the House of Wettin. The Pfunds Dairy was established in 1880. It is safe to call it the most beautiful dairy shop in the world.

Dresden after the war. Photo: Bundesarchiv

Inaugurated in 1841, the Semper Opera House is one of the buildings destroyed by the Allies’ bombings in 1945. Later, it was restored. The Royal Palace, constructed in the 15th century, was destroyed and rebuilt as well. Another fascinating building to check out is the Sanctissimae Trinitatis Cathedral, a baroque style chapel built from 1738 to 1754.

It does not end there. The beautiful ‘Zwinger’ Palace, the ‘Brühl’s Terrace’, the Golden Horseman and especially the ‘Frauenkirche’ are places which need to be visited. Martin Luther has the best spot in the city. His black statue in front of the ‘Frauenkirche’ is the perfect photo object.

This enormous house of worship was constructed from 1726 to 1743. Historians believe the chapel had a predecessor, which, according to them, must have been built shortly after the year 1000. It was probably a wooden construction. In the 12th century, a small church was erected on the premises covered by the church today. Archaeologists found pieces of that building’s walls.

Before World War II, parts of the ‘Frauenkirche’ needed to be renovated all the time, since the material used for some walls and pillars which carried the bigger part of the enormous weight of its gigantic dome had been constructed using bad quality stone. There were issues all the time. Metal bars and other supporting elements needed to be built into the walls all the time.

Martin Luther has the best spot in Dresden’s Old Town. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In the fall of 1944, the Allies were fighting Nazi Germany, and they were months away from finally defeating fascism. In early 1945, from February 13th to 15th, the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Air Force flew attacks in four waves, during which countless bombs were dropped on Dresden. Up to 25,000 residents died during those raids.

Historians are still discussing the question whether those bombardments were really necessary in order to defeat the Wehrmacht or if they even were a war crime, since they obviously targeted civilians. This argument is rather complicated, since the Allies took so many losses and saved so many lives by ending the terror and by liberating Germany’s death camps.

Regarding the ‘Frauenkirche’: It was destroyed during those bombings. On the morning of February 15th, 1945, the huge fire storm caused by all the bombs had weakened the pillars of the church. At 10 a.m., they gave in and the enormous dome collapsed. From this moment onward, the ‘Frauenkirche’ was a pile of rubble.

The GDR (communist Germany) checked whether a reconstruction was feasible. After a while, the regime in East Berlin came to the conclusion that a project of that kind was far too big and expensive. It had roses planted on top of the rubble and declared it a memorial.

After the reunification of Germany, the Lutheran Church started thinking about a reconstruction again. An association for that purpose was founded. On March 18th 1991, the Synod of Saxony decided to rebuild the ‘Frauenkirche’. From 1996 to 2005, the enormous endeavor was implemented. It cost 180 million Euro (160 million GBP or 212 million U.S. Dollars). A big chunk of that sum, 115 million, was donated from all over the world.

The reconstruction itself was more than complicated. First, every single stone on that pile of rubble needed to be identified, registered and numbered in a catalog. The parts also needed to be prepared and missing parts had to be made, while architects tried to figure out how to make sure the church would be stable.

The incredible history of the ‘Frauenkirche’ and the reconstructed building alone justifies a visit to Dresden. So does the beauty of the city’s old town. While the main shopping zone is ugly as hell, since most of the buildings there were constructed in the communist GDR during the 1960-s and 70-s, many parts are fascinating, including the Blue Wonder, one of the Elbe bridges which was inaugurated in 1893.

Dresden’s geographical location also makes it a good starting point for a nice little trip to Prague or a big journey to South-Eastern Europe. The distance from Dresden to Berlin is only about 180 kilometers. And do not forget to have a Schnitzel and an ‘Apfelschorle’. You will love it.

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