Dresden: Visions of the Past

Dresden in eastern Germany was founded in 1206 and became the capital and royal residence of the Kings of SaxonyDresden 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.

Dresden Germany in 1910
Dresden in 1910

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.

Dresden destroyed February 1945
Dresden destroyed February 1945 (Photo Source: German Federal Archives)

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!

B-17G Fortresses of the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force over Germany (U.S. Air Force image). Elements of this Bomb Group were involved in the bombing of Dresden in 1945
B-17G Fortresses of the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force over Germany (U.S. Air Force image). Elements of this Bomb Group were involved in the bombing of Dresden in 1945

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.

Dresden 1945 as viewed from atop the city hall (Rathaus)
Dresden 1945 as viewed from atop the city hall (Rathaus – Photo Source: Deutsche Fotothek)

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.

Post War Dresden 1945 (Photo Source: German Federal Archives)
Post War Dresden 1945 (Photo Source: German Federal Archives)

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.

Dresden Frauenkirche struck by Allied bombing in February 1945
Frauenkirche struck by Allied bombing in February 1945

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.

Dresden 1950s Frauenkirche
A place for sheep in the 1950’s!
Dresden Frauenkirche in ruins 1958
Frauenkirche still in ruins 1958

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!

Dresden Frauenkirche 2005 Rebuilt
Dresden Frauenkirche 2005

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!).

The Frauenkirche reopened in 2005 Dresden Germany
The Frauenkirche reopened in 2005 but you can still see signs of reconstruction going on during my visit
frauenkirche-church-of-our-lady Dresden Germany
Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) interior 2005
Looking down inside from the dome of the Frauenkirche
Looking down inside from the dome of the Frauenkirche
The interior restoration of the Frauenkirche
The interior restoration of the Frauenkirche was fantastic to see
Dresden Germany
Looking along an alleyway back to the Frauenkirche in 2005

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.

Dresden Cityscape
Dresden Cityscape 2005
Albertinum Dresden
Albertinum 2005
Dreden East Germany
Dresden rebuilt
Looking down from the Frauenkirche dome Dresden Germany
Looking down from the Frauenkirche dome
Hofkirche, Schloss & Theaterplatz Dresden Germany
Hofkirche, Schloss & Theaterplatz
Hofkirche Dresden
Hofkirche 2005
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8 Comments Add yours

  1. travelforaircraft says:

    You made great work with your photo opportunity — thanks for posting them as well as about the cities which suffered so much in WW II.

    1. Deano says:

      It was one of those lucky moments. No crowds, just sheer chance that I was right there at that time!

  2. Dave King says:

    Well as you say the bombing of Dresden has many people involved in the discussion. But the photos are a lot like London Looked in 1940, also other cities in the U.K. Like Coventry, Sansea, Liverpool and many others.
    Febuary 1945, the Germans were still trying to kill as many Russians as they could, also killing civilians and destroying as many buildings as they could.
    On the Western front, they continued to kill and destroy; why is everyone so uptight about the allies continuing to try to win the war, do they think that Hitler, the infamous loved leader of Duechland was reducing his will to kill……I don’t think so.
    So quit the whining, as you said war is war, and it was all started by Germany.

    Oh! and btw, my Dad was on the front line from D day until the end of the war, he saw no reason to relax his contribution to trying to stay alive. He was in the RAF as a mobile ground controller, bringing in aircraft support to the army.

    1. Deano says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your comment and I agree with you. Don’t forget there is a major part of my blog stating it was a valid target to speed up the end of the war. Also my previous blog was about the destruction of Warsaw by Germany along the same lines as this one. If I had suitable photos of London landmarks I would do a post on that too. They are written as an interest piece and nothing more.

      1. travelforaircraft says:

        Well said Deano and all due respect to Mr. King — especially for eloquently writing his reasoning. I try but just cannot agree with the argument that the Germans did it first so we can — they did but it is not a justification in and of itself, there must be more when we talk of purposely killing civilians than those few words. And the Allies certainly did mass area bombing on scales magnitudes greater than the Germans — so they did it first but we did it so much worse. I don’t recall the project name but the Allies built a typical German housing area as well as a typical Japanese housing area in Nevada (away from prying eyes) to experiment with the right mix of explosives and incendiaries to maximize burning civilian areas and killing the fire crews. Would any of us like to have been on such a project and count that as a life accomplishment? I’m not anti-Allies by any means but this idea of purposely killing civilians and on such a scale is morally in error, in my opinion. Mr. King is right of course with regard to the Germans killing of civilians and is on point. Therein is the paradox — we lambaste the Axis countries for doing so but justify the Allied countries — plain and simple — which only proves that in war it is best to be on the winning side.

      2. Deano says:

        Thanks for your comments Joe. Its a tough situation and the saying all is fair in love and war sadly rings true throughout history no matter who wins or loses. Not pleasant either way

  3. Bas H says:

    To judge morally one has to remain obliviant of the concept of the war, occupation,slavery and the genocides. Every day Japan and Germany lasted thousands died.
    An estimated 10.000 civilians died during the bombing campaigns and liberation of the Netherlands. Sometimes it was certainly by mistake, like wrong coordinates for the V2 missile launching site in The Hague or mistaking our cities on the eastern border for German cities.
    Would we have preferred to remain under nazi rule?
    I think we fully understand why Germany and Japan had to be brought down the way it went. Every day the occupation lasted longer more people died, the Hunger Winter of ’44-’45 is a national trauma. And we were treated nice compared to the eastern front “inferior race”. The Canadians, British and Americans killed to liberate us could have stayed home, not sacrificing themselves. The human values of the ” motherland” and the threat of invasion won over such nihilism, luckily!

    My grandfather was a forced laborer in Blechhammer, pushed to the west ahead of the red army he happened to stay in Dresden just these two days. He didn’t talk about his experiences but it’s fair to say he was lucky and didn’t cry much about dead nazis or their architecture. His generation was truely great, 500.000 slaves/ workers came back in 1945 and turned a plundered ruin into one of the most prosperous societies in history. They didn’t burden their offspring with their pain and hate against todays (innocent) Germans. A toxic heritage is the worst way to deal with their traumas, today we see how that worked out in collective victimhood of some. More respect for the 1910-1930 generation!

    1. Deano says:

      Very true. The rebuilding of Europe was of truly epic proportions physically and mentally

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