Dresden in eastern Germany was founded in 1206 and became the capital and royal residence of the Kings of Saxony. Dresden was also a key European centre for the arts, music and science. It has always been a cultural city and has many beautiful baroque and rococo style buildings, palaces and cathedrals.
Sadly much like the rest of Germany, by 1945 at the end of World War Two the city of Dresden was in ruins. The order by Allied commanders to heavily bomb Dresden towards the end of the war has become one of the most controversial decisions made in the European theatre.
4 bombing raids by British and American bombers between February 13th and 15th, 1945 dropped around 4,000 tonnes of high explosives and incendiary bombs on Dresden which caused a firestorm, killing up to 25,000 people and destroying 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) of the city. These attacks were followed by 3 more raids targeting industrial targets between March 2nd and April 17th, 1945. 90% of the city centre was destroyed and Dresden was almost wiped from the map!
Historians and researchers have argued that given the late stage of the war Dresden was not a major strategic target and with its beauty and status as a cultural city the extent of damage was unwarranted (as was using incendiary bombs to start the firestorm). It was also seen as a show of force to the nearby Soviet troops who eventually captured Dresden.
Alas war is war. Destruction and death go hand in hand with mans folly and ultimately Dresden had previously been left out of most bombing raids so it still had a major rail infrastructure, munitions manufacturing capability and was a key German communications centre. All of these factors made it a valid Allied target to help speed up the end of the war. In the end mostly women and children died in the raids and RAF assessments indicated that only 23% of the industrial buildings in the city were seriously damaged (from a 1953 report prepared by a Joseph Angell an Air Force Historical Division historian). Despite the strategic value of the city, it remains one of the more controversial bombing targets of World War Two simply because of these various emotional factors.
A major landmark in Dresden and one of its most beautiful buildings was the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady – completed 1743). The Frauenkirche was struck by Allied bombing in February 1945 and virtually destroyed.
Post World War Two the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) turned Dresden into an industrial centre again and rebuilt much of the city. Unfortunately in the 1950’s and 1960’s the Communists also razed many churches and royal buildings that had been bombed out. Luckily they left the Frauenkirche in ruins as a reminder of the war.
It was not until 1992 (following the 1990 reunification of Germany) that reconstruction of the church began. As many original pieces as possible were reused (apart from the dome) and in 2005 the restoration was finally complete (the church was reconsecrated October 30th, 2005). This was one year ahead of schedule and in plenty of time for the 800th anniversary of the city in 2006. After more than 60 years Dresden had their Frauenkirche back!
I was lucky enough to be in the city in 2005 just before the official reopening and got a sneak peek inside. Construction was still going on and this was a real privilege to see the renovation before the general public (how did I do it? I just happened to be walking past a door when some guests were being taken in and I got invited in too!).
Today the city of Dresden reflects much of its former baroque and rococo architecture with a modern spin. A devastated city, long under Communist rule is today a vibrant, beautiful city once again.