In 1959, Dresden joined with the British city of Coventry as a “twin city,” in an act of reconciliation. In 1940, Coventry was leveled by German bombers during the Battle of Britain. As a symbol of friendship, the Frauenkirche’s altar contains a “Cross of Nails,” a piece of medieval architecture salvaged from the rubble of Coventry’s cathedral.
The emotional history of Germany’s “Baroque Pearl”
By Christian Gossmann, Program Director, Germany
For centuries, the city of Dresden has been an important European cultural capital, a Baroque metropolis on the cutting edge of European art, music, politics, science, and education. Its distinctive skyline, dominated by the massive, steepled dome of the Lutheran Frauenkirche, or “Church of Our Lady,” has inspired visitors with a sense of awe for generations.
However, Dresden’s glory was tragically almost extinguished in World War II. On the night of February 13, 1945, in the final months of the battle for Europe, British and American forces launched one of the most controversial raids in the history of the war. Under cover of darkness, Allied bombers filled the sky and dropped their incendiary payload onto the city below, unleashing a fiery maelstrom that swept through the streets of Dresden, causing almost unknowable death and destruction. 25,000 people were killed and the historic city center was almost completely annihilated.
But Dresden is an old, proud city, and its resilient people refused to allow 800 years of history to be erased overnight. Since the end of the war, Dresden has been engaged in a passionate campaign of reconstruction, determined to restore itself to its former splendor. Much of the city center has been rebuilt in the original style, including homes and businesses alongside historic monuments like the Semper Opera House and Zwinger Palace.
Perhaps the most inspiring effort, however, was the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche. In 1990, plans were put in motion to rebuild the famous church—architects pored over the original 18th-century structural plans and used modern technology to replicate the building’s original design as closely as possible. Builders and engineers sifted through the rubble and meticulously catalogued it to determine its place in the original design—in fact, as much as 45 percent of the material used was salvaged from the original stone. In 2005, the project was completed, and representatives from Dresden’s religious, political, and scientific communities came together to celebrate the new Frauenkirche’s consecration with the proclamation “Peace be with you!”
That’s not the only evidence of how far Dresden has come since World War II. For decades, there were scorched facades and vacant lots serving as painful reminders of the past, but the city’s unflagging rehabilitation efforts have erased these one by one. Last year, the remaining damaged lots were filled, and even many Dresden natives find it almost impossible to tell the old from the new. After six decades, the Baroque Pearl gleams once more.