Sad though it may seem, Dresden’s greatest claim to fame these days is probably that it was bombed pretty much out of existence by the RAF on the night of February 13th 1945:
There are lots of modern buildings interspersed with what was left over and what has been rebuilt to original specs, but it really doesn’t look too bad at all, especially considering that it then had 45 years of communism to deal with. The showpiece of the reconstruction, the Frauenkirche, looks like this from the outside:
At rear left (if you look carefully) and in a few other scattered places you can see the original blackened stone, which was re-used; all the rest is new. Inside, it seems to have been reconstructed perfectly down to the last loving detail of the original design, but the fact is that it looks like a new church – because it is. It has no atmosphere; the accumulated centuries of prayer and celebration were blown away in a single night, and the clock reset to zero. Why did they target this, not the bridges or the railway tracks or the industrial areas outside the city? Yet the damage to the fabric was not the worst thing; that was the death of all those civilians (25,000 in a few hours, the sober historians reckon). The anger that fueled this destruction, anger that Hitler and his satanic cronies had put Europe through entirely unnecessary torment in pursuit of their vicious dreams, and at the waste of all those young lives, is entirely understandable, indeed unavoidable even three generations on; but couldn’t it have been more accurately directed? It is to Britain’s shame that Churchill, Eden, Harris (though the last may well have been a psychopath who should have been on a much tighter leash, to say the least) let it get the better of them when cooler heads could have prevailed and done Britain credit. Where were the bombs on the factories, the infrastructure, Auschwitz? They claimed they couldn’t guarantee precision, but they achieved it on other occasions, and couldn’t they at least have tried?
The main Catholic church, the Hofkirche, was also damaged that night, though not as badly. Hence it doesn’t feel so new. Surprisingly for a baroque church, especially a Catholic one, it has almost no ornament; it is plain white and filled with a sense of space and light. This is uplifting: eyes and spirit are drawn upward to high windows:
Then after the war came the communists:
I am staying in Neustadt, where they have techno playing and lots of restaurants and bars as well as things that now seem unimaginable further west, like headshops! I want to go back 25 years and see momentarily what these streets looked like then…no wonder this place seems more alive than most in Europe, they must really know the value of their liberty. I like this 1990 picture by Wolfgang Koethe, called Small Freedoms: