Posts Tagged ‘Dresden’

Destruction of Dresden

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

The destruction of Dresden occurred toward the end of WWII. The city, with a population of 350,000, was a cultural landmark in Northern Germany with many world famous museums and historic buildings. Its town center was of little to no military significance. Sixty-nine years ago today, most of the people living in the city center perished.

What happened

During the night of February 13 to February 14,1945, British Lancaster bombers dropped a barrage of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the city center. They did so in two waves. The attacks occurred three hours apart. Then, during the middle of the second day, American B-17 Flying Fortresses bombed Dresden again. Together, the Allies dropped 3,300 tons of bombs on the city within a 24-hr period. The resulting firestorm reached temperatures of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. The incendiary bombs burned for two days. The heat caused the surface of the roads to melt, and peoples’ feet burned as they tried to run away.

The death toll is difficult to estimate. It ranges between 25,000 and 135,000. The reason for the variation is that 25,000 bodies were located. But Dresden also served as a temporary refuge for the people running from the advancing Russian Army, making it impossible to accurately estimate the number of people who perished. In addition, many could not be buried that quickly and were burned instead. Those numbers are also difficult to assess. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/the-bombing-campaign-of-world-war-two/the-bombing-of-dresden/

Why it happened

Opinions differ sharply on the reason for the destruction of Dresden. Although the city center was of little to no military significance, some scholars maintain that Dresden was located in Nazi Germany. The Allies were at war with Nazi Germany. That alone represents sufficient justification.

Others believe that Britain and the United States feared Russia might wish to turn its back on Allied postwar agreements regarding Germany. They believe that the western Allies hoped that a demonstration of power would act as a deterrent.

Still others maintain that Dresden was a legitimate target because of its rail base which could be used to transport troops to the front lines and fight against Russia.

Dresden post-WWII

When Germany was divided following WWII, Dresden ended up in the Russian sector. Their Communist occupiers rebuilt the city in the 1950s and spared no effort in restoring the cultural landmark to its pre-WWII charm. You may also wish to read about Dresden’s Zwinger Dresden’s Frauenkirche , Dresden’s Semper Opera House , and Green Vault .

A commemorative plaque reminds visitors today who it was that destroyed the city and who it was that restored the city to its old splendor.

A Commemorative plaque, installed during the Communist era, reminds the visitor that Anglo-American bombers destroyed Dresden in 1945

A Commemorative plaque, installed during the Communist era, reminds visitors that Anglo-American bombers destroyed Dresden in 1945

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Dresden’s Frauenkirche

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Dresden’s Frauenkirche is a Lutheran cathedral. It has become a landmark of the old German city not far from the Czech border. The classic baroque church is an absolute must-see on anyone’s German travel list.

The Name

The name Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) refers to a church that has been consecrated in honor of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. You will find many churches by that name throughout Germany and Europe. In France and Belgium they would be called Notre Dame.

Previous churches on this spot

The first Frauenkirche on this very spot was built in the 11th century as a village missionary church. With the emergence of the City of Dresden in the 12th century the missionary church turned into a parish church. Of Gothic design, the original Frauenkirche was modified and rebuilt many times over the centuries.

Today’s Frauenkirche

In 1726, the Council of the City of Dresden commissioned the architect, Georg Baehr, to begin construction of a new church with a central dome on a square base. Construction was completed in 1743. The design became a landmark. There are no internal supports. The form of the cathedral’s bell-shaped dome is unique. Made of sandstone, it weighs upward of 12,000 tons and is referred to as the Steinerne Glocke (Stone Bell).

Dresden's Frauenkirche, Photo © J. Elke Ertle 2013

Dresden’s Frauenkirche, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013

Destruction

Dresden’s Frauenkirche fell into ruins on 15 February 1945. Two days after the Allies had dropped 650,000 incendiary bombs on the city of Dresden, the baroque beauty collapsed. It had survived the direct attack, but the extreme heat had caused more and more of the sandstone to explode, and the piers could no longer bear the immense weight of the dome.

Reconstruction of Dresden’s Frauenkirche

The scorched stones lay in a heap for the next 45 years. But after German reunification in 1989, reconstruction began with the help from many groups, including American and British organizations. The foundation was laid in 1994, using Baehr’s original blueprints. About 3,800 original stones were reused. The reconstruction was finished in 2005 at a cost of an estimated $217 million.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Dresden’s Semper Opera House

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Dresden’s Semper Opera House is one of Europe’s most important treasures. If you travel in Germany, I suggest you include the historic old city of Dresden in your plans and visit the Semper Opera House. Dominating the Theaterplatz on the river Elbe, this grand old building was beautifully restored in the 1980s.

Semperoper, as reconstructed in 1985

Semperoper, as reconstructed in 1985

The original opera house that stood on this spot was completed in 1841 and called Hoftheater (court theater). Designed by the architect Gottfried Semper in Early Renaissance and Baroque styles with Corinthian-style pillars, the original building burnt down in 1869. When Dresden’s citizens demanded that none other than Semper himself reconstruct their beloved opera house, King John of Saxony agreed to commission the professor of architecture. But Gottfried Semper was already otherwise engaged. He had been hired to construct Vienna’s Museum of Art History and Museum of Natural History. Gottfried Semper’s son, Manfred, stepped in and rebuilt the opera house according to his father’s plans. This second Hoftheater, was constructed in Neo-Renaissance style and renamed Semperoper after its architect. The reconstruction was completed in 1878.

Dresden's Semper Opera House, stucco columns in vestibule, Photo © J. Elke Ertle 2013

Dresden’s Semper Opera House, stucco columns in vestibule, Photo © J. Elke Ertle 2013

In 1945, during the Allied bombing of Dresden in the final months of World War II, the Semper Opera House was largely destroyed again. Only the exterior shell of the building was left standing. The people of Dresden decided to rebuild the exterior as it had looked before the war and to recreate the interior as Semper had originally designed it. The reconstruction was based on over 3,000 letters between Semper and his son concerning the rebuilding of the Hoftheater following the fire of 1869. It took over eight years to rebuild, but in 1985, Dresden’s Semper Opera House finally regained its former glory. As our theater guide pointed out, the wood-clad walls of the opera house are in reality nothing other than stucco. The same is true of the marble columns in the vestibule on the third floor. Six thin coats of plaster and lots of delicate brushing and sponging were required to achieve the marble look. Local craftsmen had to relearn the skill that turned plaster into works of art in the 1800s. They found that each column required over three hundred hours of painstaking work.

Although the interior and exterior of Dresden’s Semper Opera House were reconstructed to look like the original, its stage was upgraded to the state of the art. The Semperoper reopened in 1985 with the same opera that was performed just prior to the building’s destruction in 1945: Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischuetz. During the flood of the river Elbe in 2002 the Semper Opera House suffered heavy water damage. With substantial help from around the world, it reopened in December 2002.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.