Church destroyed in Dresden inferno rises from the ashes

By Tony Paterson

Tens of thousands took part in a moving and symbolic ceremony marking the formal re-consecration of Dresden’s painstakingly rebuilt Church of our Lady yesterday (Sunday) - 60 years after the Baroque masterpiece was destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War.

The event, which marked the completion of a Euros 180 million ($217 million) restoration project funded by donors from across the globe, was attended by Dresdeners with tears in their eyes and dignitaries from Germany, Britain and the United States.

As the bells of the gleaming sandstone church rang out across the city yesterday, Jochen Bohl, the Bishop of Saxony described the building as a symbol of "peace and forgiveness ... A deep wound that has bled for so long has been healed. Our hearts and senses are moved by gratitude and great joy," he added.

Edith Weise, a Dresden resident who was married in the church in 1943 and who donated part of her pension to the reconstruction effort was among a crowd of an estimated 100,000 onlookers yesterday. "It is a wonderful church," she said as she looked up at the building’s honey-coloured dome topped by a golden orb and cross. "It brings tears to my eyes to see it again," she added.

Germany’s President Horst Koehler paid tribute to the people of Dresden who launched a campaign to rebuild the church shortly after German reunification in 1990 when few thought such a feat possible. "What has been achieved here in Dresden, is an encouragement to Germany as a whole at a time when many people have cares and fear for the future," he said.

The Church of our Lady or Frauenkirche was regarded as the finest building in a city renowned before the Second World War as "Florence on the Elbe." On the night of February 13 1945 the building was hit by firebombs during one of the most devastating and controversial Allied air raids of the Second World War.

An estimated 35,000 people were killed in the attack, which turned one of Europe’s most beautiful cities into a raging inferno.

The church burned for two days before it finally succumbed to the heat and collapsed in a heap of rubble - disappearing form the city’s skyline after over 200 years. Its charred remains were left untouched during the Cold War. East Germany’s Communist authorities used the site for propaganda purposes and classed it as a symbol of "Anglo-American aggression."

Hundreds of architects, art historians and civil engineers took 16 years to complete the rebuilding effort. Each remaining stone of the church had to be identified, photographed and then digitalised on a vast computerised mock up, before being reused in the new building.

Yesterday’s ceremony was also intended as a symbol of reconciliation between Britain and Germany. The debate over whether the bombing of Dresden was morally justified has not ended in Germany.

Several historians maintain that the attack was of no military significance. The issue has also been taken up by far-right German parties, which insist that the bombing was a war crime for which the British should apologise.

The Duke of Kent who represented Britain at yesterday’s ceremony said he was "overcome by the beauty" of the rebuilt church.

"It was destroyed by the violence of war. Today it stands for reconciliation between former enemies," he added.

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