The destruction by British bombers of the baroque centre of Dresden and the Frauenkirche represented “the greatest single loss to the architectural heritage in World War II”, according to the historian Harold Meek. Now its heart is to be restored.
The Frauenkirche, consecrated in 1736, is finally rising from the rubble and the crypt reopened last month. Three years ago the site was a massive pile of broken stones, retained since the war as a memorial to the massive destruction and the 100,000 who died in the firestorms caused by the bombing. The first task was an archaeological excavation. Altogether 8,500 stones were recovered which had been used for the facing of the walls. Each stone was meticulously recorded, with details of where it had been found, its shape and dimensions, and condition.
Wherever possible, the salvaged stones are being reused, and those that were lost or badly damaged are being replaced by newly cut local sandstone. The original stone, blackened from two centuries of pollution and the 1945 fire, contrasts with the newly cut blocks, and the patchwork effect is a vivid reminder of the devastation.
The excavation uncovered the original catacombs, which have now been transformed into a crypt for services and concerts. At the centre of the cross-shaped vault a modern altar has been installed, a large block of black stone carved by the British sculptor Anish Kapoor.
Work is now moving ahead with the massive walls, and these should reach up twenty-five feet by next April. The entire interior up to the level of the dome should be completed by the year 2000, and the church will then be able to be temporarily roofed and used for services. The huge stone dome, whose tip stands 300 feet high, is scheduled for completion in 2006, the eight-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the city.
Among the most intricate tasks will be the reconstruction of Christian Feige’s large carved relief behind the altar, depicting Christ on the Mount of Olives. Another challenge will be to recreate the painting on the ceiling of the dome by Johann Grone, a massive work depicting the four evangelists.
The last stage in the building work will be to top the dome with its nineteen-foot high cross and orb. The original cast iron cross was found buried in the rubble, twisted and partly melted by the intense heat. This is likely to be preserved inside the church as a memorial to those who died in the Dresden raids.
In a gesture of reconciliation, a replica of the cross and orb is to be paid for by the UK-based Dresden Trust, which has already raised £300,000. The Duke of Kent, a Dresden Trust supporter, has recently presented the church authorities with an artist’s impression of the new cross. His involvement, as well as a personal donation by The Queen, will help undo the damage caused by The Queen Mother’s decision to unveil a London memorial to “Bomber” Harris in 1992.
British craftsmen will make the cross and orb under the supervision of London architect Peter Nadini, and the contract for the work is expected to be awarded shortly. It should be completed by he end of next year and it may then be toured to cathedrals across Europe, to publicise the Dresden project (probably starting in St Paul’s and Coventry cathedrals). Total costs of rebuilding the Frauenkirche were originally estimated at DM250 million (£100 million), but the eventual figure is likely to be higher. In Germany DM170 million (£68 million) has already been raised in cash and pledges.