Today we visited Dresden – not so much a Luther site but a place of significant historical significance for Lutherans in Germany and also related to World War II, the Holocaust and what has happened since and I discovered today what is happening now.
The first time I visited Dresden in 2003 or so our guide told us, “Some would say Dresden is the most beautiful city in Germany,” and it is sometimes called the Florence of Germany. One of the striking features is der Furstenweg” – the March. It’s a huge long wall depicting all the Wettin rulers of Saxony including Frederick the Wise marching across history and is made of Meissen china.
My favorite place in Dresden is die Frauenkirche – considered by many the Protestant Cathedral of Germany. It was destroyed in the fire-bombing of Dresden (which happened on my birthday in 1945) – done apparently in retaliation for the destruction of Coventry early in the war since there were no military targets in Dresden. Tens of thousands died – many just incinerated without a trace because of the incredible heat. Many ran to the church for shelter thinking it would be safe but the doors and walls couldn’t keep the heat out. Miraculously – or so it seemed – the next day the church was still standing, but the supports that held the structure up were all damaged and weakened in the fire and within a day it collapsed.
Communist East Germany left it in ruins both as their comment on the uselessness of religion and a reminder of the horrors of the war Hitler had led them into and of what their enemies the British and Americans had done to them.
But 44 years later when the Berlin Wall and then East Germany fell the people of Dresden said that if the Wall could come down they could rebuild their church. And so they did – without government aid. Painstakingly, using computer and x-ray technology they used as much of the rubble as they could in the rebuilding. They even found the twisted and mangled tower cross that had been lost under the ruins since those terrible first days.
The final step in the construction was to place a new tower cross on the pinnacle of dome which they did with a cross given as a gift and prayer for peace from the people of Coventry, England.
The church today is a wonder because of the mixture of darkened and damaged stones with the new; the mangled tower cross that stands now in the nave and the beauty of the rococo architecture (if you like rococo architecture of course). It is also a tremendously moving place, and dedicated to the cause of peace and reconciliation.
Dr. Timothy Wengert brought us to a place in Dresden I had not visited before – the Kreuzkirche (the Cross Church). It was likewise destroyed in the fire bombing of Dresden but has been rebuilt differently – some of the old is there but most is simple and plain. They also have a Coventry Cross of Nails. Crosses made of Nails sent from the ruins of the Conventry Cathedral to those who make a commitment to the work of peace and reconciliation.
But the most striking thing was a plaque on the outside wall that was a statement of regret and repentance and a prayer for forgiveness and “shalom” for the silence and complicity of the Christians in Dresden during the Holocaust. Over 4000 Jewish people lived in Dresden before WWII. Only 70 were left at the end.
As we waited in the town square around die Frauenkirche more and more police vans drove in (into a completely pedestrian area). Inside were 100s of heavily armed and garbed police who began to fill the space around the square.
They were preparing for a demonstration in favor of the anti immigrant right wing extremist Marie Le Pen in the French presidential election to be held the next day. Luckily we were due to leave just as the demonstration was about to start so we did not get caught up in what was potentially a dangerous and volatile situation, but it was a striking reminder that the issues peace; reconciliation; tearing down the walls between us and them; and reaching out to the neighbor in need that die Frauenkirche and die Kreuzkirche are dedicated to are not things of past.