The Frauenkirche in Dresden (originally the Church of Our Lady – the name refers to St. Mary) is a Protestant-Lutheran church of the Baroque and the formative monumental building of the Dresden Neumarkt. Rebuilt from 1994 to 2005, the church is considered a magnificent testimony to Protestant sacred architecture and has one of the largest stone church domes north of the Alps.
The Dresden Frauenkirche was built from 1726 to 1743 to a design by George Bähr and became an emblem of both the Dresden Baroque and the famous city skyline. In the air warfare of the Second World War, it was heavily damaged during the air raids on Dresden in the night of 13 to 14 February 1945 by the storm of fire in Dresden and collapsed on the morning of February 15 burned down in itself. In the GDR, a small part of the church remained as a ruin and was left as a memorial against war and destruction, instead of being demolished like other church ruins.
The Frauenkirche had a total height of 91.23 meters. It was 41.96 meters wide and 50.02 meters long. The dome began at a height of about 40 meters, and the lantern – the dome attachment – opened at a dizzying height of 62 meters above the Neumarkt of Dresden. The stone dome made of Saxon sandstone had an outside diameter of 26.15 meters at the bottom, about 10 meters at the top, a wall thickness of up to 2.30 meters and weighed about 12,000 tons.
During the period of National Socialism, the Frauenkirche gained additional importance through the efforts of the “German Christians” to declare them a center of German Protestantism of National Socialist character.
After the three air raids on Dresden by bombers of the British RAF and the American USAAF on 13 and 14 February 1945, the Frauenkirche burnt down completely. Some windows had been walled up, the others were damaged by blasting bombs smashing into the Neumarkt or bursting through the extreme heat. The Frauenkirche was exposed to the firestorm, which raged in the city center with a fire heat of up to 1200 degrees Celsius the strongest.
After the large-scale attack on the city Neumarkt had no longer a house. The Martin Luther monument in front of the church was badly damaged. Long after the attack, the Frauenkirche was still burning while the dome towered over the ruins. At 10 o’clock in the morning on February 15, the glowing inner pillars could no longer bear the weight of the massive vaulted construction with the stone dome. Under the enormous pressure of the dome, the massive outer walls were blown apart, the building collapsed with a dull thud. A huge, black cloud of smoke rose over the city. In its symbolic power, this event exceeded the previous devastation for many Dresdeners; for them the last hope of being able to preserve at least some of the old Dresden was destroyed. A huge pile of rubble lay where the church once was. The altar created by Johann Christian Feige was saved from destruction as dripping pewter of the melting Silbermann organ, which was completely destroyed, softened it and the falling wooden parts of the organ mitigated the impact of falling dome debris.
After the war, on the initiative of the former state curator Hans Nadler first investigations were carried out to rebuild. The altar was secured in 1947 and walled up to protect it from the weather. At the insistence of the town councilors in 1959, the stones were used for paving Brühl’s Terrace, with half of them being rescued and returned to the Debris Mountain. The large-scale debris clearance in the inner city of Dresden in the sense of new socialist urban development quickly shattered the hopes for a reconstruction. The attempt of the authorities to remove the rubble mountain in 1962 in favor of a parking area failed. It came to protests from the population, also lacked the necessary money. The rubble mountain was planted with roses.
In the City of Dresden Council in 1985, a long-term planning for the next projects after the completion of the reconstruction of the Semperoper was worked out, which also included the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche after completion of work on the city palace. The reasons for this were, inter alia, the progressive weathering of the sandstone remains and the resulting loss of memorial character. By the turn of these plans were, however, obsolete.
In 1989, an “open letter” by Günter Voigt to the regional bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony Johannes Hempel set an important signal on the day of the Reformation with the thought of re-thinking reconstruction. Out of a circle of like-minded citizens of Dresden, who met in November 1989, arose the “call from Dresden”, which was formulated by the pastor Karl-Ludwig Hoch.
The total cost of reconstruction amounted to 180 million euros. Of this, about 115 million euros came from donations from all over the world. The remaining share of 65 million euros was provided by the city of Dresden, the Free State of Saxony and the Federal Government in approximately equal parts.
The consecration service took place with 1700 invited guests in the church and another at least 60,000 people in the church square, to which the consecration service was transmitted by screen and speakers instead. After the liturgical part, Federal President Horst Köhler gave the speech in which he pointed to the Frauenkirche as a symbol of civil liberty and German unity.
During reconstruction, the cataloged stones, a total of 43 percent of the original building fabric, were partially reused. Even some large finds could be lifted to their original place as a whole. The remains of the corner tower and the choir were also integrated into the building. These ruin parts left alone accounted for 34 percent of the total mass.
Text by Claudiu C. CREȚU
Photography by Wikimedia Commons
© The Bunget Arts & Culture 2018