Dresden church consecrated

The painstakingly restored baroque church and its spectacular dome, originally built in 1743, is a symbol both of the wartime suffering of German civilians and of reconciliation between former enemies.

The service of consecration was the culmination of an 11-year, 180 million euro (A$290 million) project that saw the church reborn after lying in ruins for almost half a century.

The Dresden Bishop Jochen Bohl said in a sermon: “A deep wound that has bled for so long can be healed. From hate and evil a community of reconciliation can grow, which makes peace possible.”

At least 35,000 people perished in the British and US bombing of the eastern city on February 13-14, 1945, less than three months before the end of the war.

The Protestant church was hit and finally collapsed two days after the first wave of bombing.

Throughout the communist era of East Germany, the remains were left where they had fallen as a ghostly reminder of the Allied attack.

Only when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 were plans made to raise the Frauenkirche from the rubble and reconstruction began in 1994.

The consecration was an emotional moment for Katarina Koenig, 78, who recalled seeing the “sky lit up red” the night the bombers came.

“I was working in what we called civilian service in a small town outside Dresden, but when I heard about the attacks I rushed home. From my village you could see smoke rising from the city for days,” she said.

“In communist times, we never believed we would see the Frauenkirche again.”

Funding controversy

Although two-thirds of the funding for the reconstruction came from donations, German President Horst Koehler acknowledged in his speech that there was considerable opposition in the immediate post-reunification period to committing any state funds to the Frauenkirche project.

“Did eastern Germany not need roads, roofs and factories more than an expensive church? But a group of residents said Dresden needed more. And now we can see that those people were right,” Mr Koehler said.

Lifelong Dresden resident Herbert Rummel, 67, one of the 60,000 people watching the service on giant TV screens outside the church, said the Frauenkirche’s worth could not be measured only in financial terms.

“I was not near the church on the night of the bombings, but many people had taken shelter nearby. They were never seen again,” he said.

“So to see the church back to its former glory is important to me in so many ways. And it fills me with joy to know that so many countries donated to the reconstruction.”

British donations

The Duke of Kent, who spearheaded a British campaign to raise 1.5 million euros, represented the royal family at the service.

And Queen Elizabeth II had sent Koehler a letter expressing her happiness at the church’s rebirth.

In a symbolic gesture, Britain, which sent the first wave of bombers to level the city, donated the golden cross and orb that sits atop the dome.

Outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel, the conservative leader who will succeed him, were among the 1,700 people who attended the consecration service.

The rebuilding project has involved more than 200 specialist builders and craftsmen.

The only original wall left standing after the bombing has been incorporated into the rebuilt structure, although it has been left blackened in stark contrast to the honey-coloured sandstone around it.

The Frauenkirche has regained its place as the jewel in the crown of the city once dubbed “Florence on the Elbe” for its artistic riches.

The trustees of the church say they hope it will also become a beacon in the fight against far-right extremism, which is gaining a foothold among unemployed, disaffected youths in eastern Germany.

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