The Frauenkirche in Dresden is a very special place. the site held the first church in Dresden ; an 18th century rebuild resulted in the greatest Baroque Protestant church in Germany ; it was reduced to piles of rubble in 1945 and arose anew respendent in the early 21st century. It occupies a special place in the hearts of Germans and in mine too as I shall explain.
My first visit to Dresden was in August 1989 and the church was a pile of rubble. My photos will show this. I parked my car nearby and went to mass in the Hofkirche. On my return the date 25 Feb 1945 was scratched on my bonnet with a small swastika! I would never have forgotten Dresden anyway but I vowed to return and hoped to see the church rebuilt. We returned in early summer rain in 2006, and again for the Christmas market in 2016. The transformation is terrific. The building was filled with onlookers both times. Concerts were sold out. I was amzed to find that Zelenka's rare oratorio Il Serpe de Bronzo was full so I never heard it!
I know the outline of the Frauenkirche very well now because the image to your left is a model which i made from a cardboard kit. It is an unusual hobby and this one was not easy. It stands only about 10 inches high and the photo is taken in our garden! Normally it lives in a prime spot inside.
The medieval church on the site became Evangelical Lutheran in 1539. By the 18th century it was in a terrible state and a disgrace in the centre of the majestic Baroque capital which Elector Frederick Augustus the Strong was trying to build.Therefore he agreed with the town council that it be demolished and a new more suitable one be built. A commission was given to George Bahr, the council's carpenter in 1722. The plans were adapted several times over the 17 years it took to buld following the foundation in 1726. It was consecrated in 1734 (most of it) with an inner dome and no altar or organ. The speedy consecration was the town's reaction to Augustus's expedient conversion to Catholicism so he could be King of Poland too. The installation of the tower cross in 1743 marked the end of the construction. Bahr had died back in 1738 so others finished his work. He must have been a remakable man transferring his carpenter's skill into a stone dome to rival the Duomo in Florence, and St Peter's in Rome. He lived to see that at least. Also involved was the State architect Johann Christoph Knoffel. The remarkable dome or "stone bell" was Bahr's idea. Sandstone was used. Alas cracks appeared and gaetano Chiaveri, architect of the Hofkirche, recommended a wooden dome instead. The cracks were sealed and later in the Seven Years'War cannon balls bounced off it and even in 1945 it was not the bombs which finished it off.
The nave has a relatively small ground plan of 45 by 45 metres and it is the 37 metre rise of the inner dome and onward to 68 metre main dome which astonishes us. The colour scehme becomes more radiant toward the altar and instils a memory of white and gold.
Seven doors were made so that all should feel welcome with some 3200 seats originally : now 1800. The weight of the outer dome is linked to the exterior. There are five semicircular galleries. THe emphasis is on the pul[pit - the Lueran idea of the word of God at the centre.
on 13 Feb 1945 heavy bombing detroyed the centre of Dresden. The bombsa bounced off the dome but fire penetrated the windows and burnt the wooden structure and furnishings. On the morning of 15 Feb 1945 about 10 o clock, the gutted dome collapsed. After the end of the War Dresden became part of the GDR and ion 1966 the ruined church was classified as a memorial.
This was the not the end of the story! In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down : Germany was reunited. In 1990 a worldwide call went out to reconstruct the Frauenkirche. Enough was collected to enable the work to start in 1993. They reused as much of the original as possible and this accounts for the mottled effect today. As far as possible they have tried to recreate the original,utilising modern technology and paying attention to constructive use of the building. The exterior dome was finished in June 2004 and the interior consectrated in October 2007.
Large pieces of the 1738 altar have been reused. The original Silbermann organ of 1736 has been replaced by a spendid one by Daniel Kern of Strasbourg. It does not vclaim to reproduce the sound of the original or the same technology. It is a completrely modern 4790 pupe organ with 4 manuals and 67 registers. Listen for yourself later!
The inner dome has 8 pictorial sections with the 4 evangelists and 4 allegoroes (faith, hope, love, mercy) in an imitatoioin of the original of Johann Battista Grone.
The exterior tower cross fell and has been salvaged and a new one raised : a gift from the British people.It iwas made at Grant MacDonald in Bear Lane off Southwark Street in Soutthwark, just down the road from London South Bank University, where I worked for 19 years. Craftsman Alan Smith spent eight months building the six foot cross and orb in stainless steel and copper to the original 18th-century design.His father Frank flew a Lancaster bomber in the 1945 raid that destroyed 80 per cent of the city including the Frauenkirche.
"My father used to tell me about the horrors and the suffering of Dresden," Mr Smith said. "He did not want it to be forgotten. By working on the cross I've come closer to my father and it's my way of saying goodbye to him and fulfilling his wishes."
Old Dresdeners cheered as workers eased the crown and orb inch by inch on to the church's tower with a crane while bells pealed.
|Before the rebuild|
|After the rebuild|
|My photo in 1989|
|Anothter view in 1989|
|Model of how the church fitted into the Baroque city|
|View of Baroque Dresden|
|Another old photo of the bombed city|
|Famous view of Baroque Dresden|