Dresden Church Reopened After World War II Destruction

When the Allies bombed Dresden, Germany, during World War II, much of the city was left in ruins. The Church of Our Lady — a grand baroque building — fell after burning. Now, 60 years later, the famous church has been rebuilt and a national celebration was held this weekend.

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Sixty years ago, the German city of Dresden was destroyed. Many civilians were killed during the Allied bombings of World War II. The city's Church of Our Lady was also destroyed during the attacks, and the ruins have remained as a symbol of German suffering during the war. Now that 18th century church has been rebuilt, and a national celebration was held over the weekend, as NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Dresden.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

It's a celebration many Germans thought would never come, but the reconstruction of the Church of Our Lady, or Frauenkirche as it's known in German, is complete, and tens of thousands of Germans have packed into the town's Old Square to help commemorate the event. Standing in front of the impressive 270-foot domed cathedral, the Reverend Stephan Fritz gives the opening blessing.

Reverend STEPHAN FRITZ: (German spoken)

MARTIN: `It's the greeting of the resurrected,' he says. `It's a greeting of people that connects all cultures and languages.'

Rev. FRITZ: Peace be with you. (German spoken)

MARTIN: `That's the message from the Frauenkirche today into the city, our land and into the world.'

(Soundbite of church bells)

MARTIN: In February 1945, the final months of World War II, Allied forces dropped waves of firebombs on Dresden, killing at least 35,000 people and turning the city's majestic 18th century Lutheran Cathedral into rubble. Over the next 40 years, the church remained in ruins, a haunting reminder of Germany's past and the emotional and cultural paralysis of the Communist era. Speaking to the crowd during yesterday's consecration ceremony, President Horst Kohler described the reconstruction project as a collective rebirth.

President HORST KOHLER: (Through Translator) The rebuilding of the Frauenkirche is a single expression of the good that lives deep within people and the people's movement and that waits to be awakened, and the Frauenkirche awoke these powers up for the first time.

MARTIN: It was only after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 that a movement began to rebuild the Dresden cathedral. Five years later, backed by state money from the newly reunited German government and an international fund-raising campaign, reconstruction began. The total cost of the project was close to $220 million and employed dozens of architects, masons and stone cutters. The cathedral has been rebuilt in the baroque style of its original construction, and the exterior is a mosaic of old black stones from the ruins and new white sandstones. Bruno Resthouse(ph) came here on a bus from Lower Saxony to see the renovation. He was just a child during the war, but he remembers the horrors of the war clearly.

Mr. BRUNO RESTHOUSE: (German spoken)

MARTIN: `You didn't dare go outside the house,' he says. `They shot people working in fields. They attacked trains.' He fights back tears as he recounts memories he says never go away. Seventy-eight-year-old Ruth Kazinski(ph) was going to her job as a switchboard operator in Dresden on the day of the bombings.

Ms. RUTH KAZINSKI: (Through Translator) I was sitting in a train. We had to leave the train and had to look for shelter and crawl into a cellar. When we looked around the corner, we could see the sky. This is an experience you keep forever, but at one point, you just have to make a cut. The conciliation that happened today by this consecration, this is what we really wanted to experience.

MARTIN: Jochen Bohl is the bishop of Saxony of the Lutheran Church and one of the leaders of the reconstruction process.

Bishop JOCHEN BOHL (Saxony): The war is a wound in our collective conscience. Now it's about 60 years after the war and Frauenkirche is a real sign, a manifestation that this wound is closed now.

MARTIN: The day of music and prayers ended with an inaugural church service inside the cathedral with organ music and several international guest speakers. Bishop Colin Benenetts of Coventry, England, gave the sermon, during which he recalled the horrors of 60 years ago.

Bishop COLIN BENENETTS (Coventry, England): (German spoken)

MARTIN: `The destruction of the Krauenkirche was part of the planned and horrible devastation of life and culture,' he says, `a part of the madness of a world war. It makes no sense to look for the guilty today. We and our families were all involved in this madness and also its victims.' The bishop described Frauenkirche as a reminder of the collective responsibility for the atrocities during the war, but more importantly, it's a symbol of Germany's healing and the collective promise of peace.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Dresden.

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