Spotlight On Dresden

The Re-Consecrated Frauenkirche

By Patricia Keegan

A Magical City Had Been Annihilated.

At the close of the 18th century Dresden had become the center of the Romantic Movement, influencing all areas of intellectual life in Germany. Attracted by Dresden’s baroque beauty and rich art collections gathered from around the world by King Augustus the Strong of Saxony, it had for many years served as a magnet for intellectuals and artists.  The city hosted a long line of composers including Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Maria von Weber, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Richard Wagner. Writers Goethe and Schiller, philosophers Schopenhauer and Schelling, all came to Dresden to perform, write, or take up residence in Germany’s cultural capital.  It was a city of light and music, where the brilliance of men and women freely contributed to the exaltation of the human spirit. 

Then came the dark days of war-torn, 20th century Europe, and with the rise of Hitler, fear and intimidation tightened like a noose around the soul of the city. The light that had shone so brightly in Dresden was extinguished.
At the end of WWII, with Europe divided between East and West, the Red Army took control of East Germany and the suffocation of the soul continued.  The fear and paranoia that began with the rise of Hitler become part of the East German psyche – until the fall of the Berlin Wall.  If it were possible to take the soul in both hands and wring it out like a wet rag, this was the affliction preying daily upon the lives of populations ruled by Communist dictators. The return to freedom finally came in 1989 as Eastern Europe was released from the stranglehold of communism.

Although the communist regime had rebuilt the Museum and the Semper  Opera House, the beloved Frauenkirche still lay in ruin. Communists having no use for a cathedral left it to lie as an open wound -- a reminder of the threat of the West.  They built ugly, sterile flats around the immediate area of the Neumarkt, once an architectural symphony of townhouses that once stood in harmony with the Frauenkirche.

The Re-Consecration Begins

The long anticipated morning of October 30, 2005, dawned in brilliant light, with promising blue skies overhead. At 7:30 a.m. I joined the crowds swarming in the direction of the Frauenkirche.  The excitement was palpable.  A huge television screen was set up next to the church which would broadcast the ceremony to an estimated 100,000 beginning to gather in the square.
 Standing before the cathedral, I recall having stood here many times,  watching it evolve from a poignant pile of rubble until, half finished, a banner was hung from its exterior: Building Bridges, Living Reconciliation.  I had attended the “Crowning” of the cathedral when the British Trust’s gift of an elaborate golden cross and orb, an exact replica of the original, was again placed upon the church. The cross was built by London goldsmith Adam Smith, whose father had been one of the pilots on the bombing mission over Dresden.  As it was lifted on gigantic cranes to its place atop the dome, the Frauenkirche’s bells rang joyously for the first time in over 60 years. I saw many people overcome with emotion, some having lived through the bombing attack.

Entering the cathedral built under a massive stone dome, I discovered a quadractic ground plan in a circular interior; a church of classical proportions.  From the altar, a semi-circle of pews and three levels of balconies fan out. I found my assigned seat at the center of the second balcony.  Around me a world of light and openness shone white and gold in perfect clarity, and all things pointed in one direction – down toward the altar with its majestic organ pipes. I had waited a long time to see this altar, and now I behold a glorious sight.

The main focal point is the slight figure of Jesus kneeling at Gethsemane, hands joined in prayer as he pleads with God; “Father, take this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou willest.”  His profile looks toward heaven where a descending angel with golden wings extends a delicate hand as though to offer consolation. This amazing statue of Christ was, according to architect Eberhardt Burger, found among the rubble. The poignant figure still bears the ingrained stains of war and dust of time.

Above the altar is the magnificent organ, a myriad of soaring golden pipes. Further above the organ is a choir loft joined by several more choir lofts throughout the circular church. Looking high up at the inner dome, at the very peak of the church, 263 steps up, I saw a fluttering movement. At first I thought of birds, but then someone told me it was the boys’ choir from the Kreuzkirche, the Church of the Holy Cross. The Kruezchor has a tradition reaching back 700 years.  Spreading out from the choir loft I saw the ceiling murals in soft pastels resembling those of the Sistine Chapel. Windows are everywhere, adding to the sense of openness on each balcony. They serve as magnets for the fullness of the sun rays free to roam throughout church, randomly alighting on a subject, spotlighting vivid color and life.
The Re- Consecration.

Trumpets burst forth heralding a line of clergy and dignitaries entering the church. The procession was led by a group of children carrying candles.  There was Eberhard Horst Koehler, President of Germany;   Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Bishop of Saxony and the Bishop of Dresden; Pastor Fritz, pastor of the Frauenkirche;  Mayor of Dresden; the Duke of Kent; German Ambassadors from the US and France; and architect Eberhard Burger.  To many, Burger was the hero of the moment, having managed the entire project of reconstruction from start to finish. Working against all the odds and all obstacles, he approached this immense project with the passion and dedication of an artist, and the equanimity of a humble man. 
 The service began with a warm welcome from Pastor Fritz followed by a deep silence throughout the congregation, then the bells began pealing a joyful message.
Pastor Fritz spoke these words;

“The stone which the builders at first rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the Lord’s doing.  It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it.”  
The organ’s deep, rich tones filled the church in perfect harmony with the ethereal ambience.  Light from the sun played everywhere like a dancing Putti playing with the sun.  It glittered through windows creating still new patterns, intermingling pink, white, gold and blue.  An aura of great reverence and peace suffused and spiraled throughout the circular cathedral.

The angelic voices, from the Kreuzchor, boys  choir, sounded from the highest loft spilled down like voices from heaven, their opening hymn: “Praise the Lord the mighty King of Honor” by Johann Sebastian 

Intercessions commenced:  “Let us thank God for the gift of reconciliation.  Let us thank God for the friendship of former enemies.  Let us thank God for healing old wounds. For all of those who support the overcoming of war, racism, and violence.  For all those we have joined together through the belief and the hope of a more human world...
Let us pray for all those who worry about the future, those who work for justice and solidarity in the world.  For all those who ask for faith and sense in our times”

As Bishop Bohl stood before the congregation to offer words of gratitude to all who contributed time, energy, money and dedication to the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche, rays of sunshine, as though on cue, spotlighted a group of donors, who had made this dream become a reality.  Amongst them was the silver-haired, bowed head, of Friends of Dresden founder, and Nobel Laureate, in Medicine; from New York, Dr. Günter Blobel.  Seated in a pew near the front of the church with his wife, Laura, next to Allen Russell and his wife representing the British Trust.  Blobel appeared to be deep in thought. Like many others in the congregation, the transportation back to those horrifying days was inevitable.  Perhaps he was remembering the day when, as a nine-year old refugee fleeing from the Red Army with his family, he came through Dresden -- how entranced he was by the city and the historic edifice of the Frauenkirche. Days later, from a distance, he had seen the sky for many miles lit up by the firebombing.  After the war, the Blobel family, traveling by horse-drawn cart, trying to find their way home to Silesia, passed through the rubble of Dresden. Seeing what was left of the once proud Frauenkirche, he vowed that one day,” if he lived to be an adult”, he would try to help Dresden. Little did he know that he would win a Nobel Prize and be able to make a huge donation to the re-construction. 
Rich in symbolism, the Frauenkirche, for Blobel, as perhaps for many more, is a distinct marker along the journey of life.

In his appreciation remarks, the Bishop included the British Trust, the Duke of Kent and more.  When he mentioned the construction workers who had worked on the site, I thought of my visit four year ago when the church was only half complete.  Accompanied by a site manager, I ascended to the top level in a construction elevator wearing a hard hat. The air was pungent with the sweet smell of sawdust. Workers were busy carrying sheets of plywood for the construction of an ever-escalating inner scaffold. When I remarked how happy everyone appeared, smiling and whistling, a young construction worker told me he enjoyed coming to work every day. “I would rather be here than anywhere else… Working here I am helping to build something with great spiritual meaning that will last for centuries.” 

During the reconstruction of this architectural masterpiece, it served as the central light of inspiration for many artists, sculptors and idealists -- a light that will be carried forward from generation to generation. The noble Frauenkirche had stood 200 years before the firebombing of WWII. Even afterwards it stood, trembling for two entire days, before imploding on itself. It now stands as a strong pillar, a beacon to the world, a place of solace, hope and reconciliation. Words from the last hymn written by John F, Ellerton in 1870, was sung by the Kruezchor;

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren, ‘neath the Western sky
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
So be it Lord; thy throne shall never
Like earth’s proud empires pass away;
Thy kingdom stands and grows forever
Till all thy creatures own thy sway.