Dresden, Germany, may be the perfect city. This cultural metropolis cut in half by the Elbe River is rich with German history and enchanting Baroque architecture. Dresden teems with stunning natural scenery, with the region rooted in 850 years of vineyards and fine winemaking.
Most could spend a whole week admiring the Old Town; the Royal Palace, the iconic Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady), the Semperoper opera and the Zwinger Palace. The treasured museums in Dresden are in a class of their own.
Starting in Theaterplatz, you’ll be surrounded by mammoth buildings from Germany’s past. The Zwinger, a magnificent sandstone palace built in 1709 during the reign of Augustus the Strong, hosted events for Saxon nobility and houses a plethora of various museums.
One of the Zwinger’s particularly noteworthy museums is the Semper Gallery, which contains some of the world's most significant paintings. These iconic paintings, dating from the Baroque to the Renaissance era, even include the Sistine Madonna by Raphael.
Another highlight is the Zwinger’s porcelain collection – consisting of porcelain made world-famous from the nearby town of Meissen, which claims to have one of the largest ceramicscollections in the world.
While you walk from the Zwinger to the city center, stop to enjoy the largest porcelain artwork in the world, called “Duke’s Procession.” The painted mural depicting Saxon rulers on horseback stretches a football field’s length and contains 24,000 porcelain tiles.
As you keep wandering the cobblestone streets, you’ll see a diverse blend of new and old –with vibrant hues of blue, pink and green on the storefronts dotting the alleyways and cityscape.These numerous bustling shops, restaurants and bars converge in Neumarkt Platz, with the Frauenkirche standing tall as the centerpiece.
Although a difficult story to tell, one would be remiss not to mention Dresden’s somber history during World War II. Near the end of the war in 1945, the British and American air forces dropped around 6,500 tons of explosives in multiple bombing raids on the city of Dresden. The controversial attack completely leveled the city and killed about 25,000 civilians. The city lay in utter ruin until some historic institutions began reconstructing the “old" Dresden. The Zwinger, the Opera House and a few churches were recreated, with the rest of the city rebuilt in modern styles.
One of the churches left untouched was the severely damaged Frauenkirche, still standing in the city center. An empty shell of itself, the remaining rubble served as a grim reminder of war’s destruction.
For 45 years, the remaining stones lay as they fell, until the call for reconstruction grew louder as part of the “Appeal from Dresden.” Many Dresden citizens felt it was important to remember the past, but the majority felt the rubble was an eyesore. It was time to move on.
Hearing of Dresden’s limited budget, donors from around the world flooded the city with money and assisted with the church’s rebuild. The first stone was laid in 1994 and the global project completed in 2005. About a third of the church’s new structure retained the original dark stones that had lay among the ruins; the rest, a new, light-colored sandstone. The church symbolized a confluence of the past and present.
"The Frauenkirche was more than a church, it was a symbol of the downfall of a city,” said German historian Arnulf Baring. "I think it is a good thing that Germans, wherever possible, regain part of their old cities, so they know that we come from somewhere.”
When I met with Grit Jandura, the press officer for the Frauenkirche Foundation, she smiled warmly and invited me to come inside the church with her. As we walked into the crowded sanctuary, I smelled incense and saw dozens of lit candles, with a line of people waiting to light their own.
As we moved through the pews, I looked up at the glittering gold and white altar, furnished with an organ on top. My eyes then drifted straight up to the ceiling, and I was left speechless. The church opened up into a painted bell-shaped dome, made with 12,300 tons of sandstone. The dome’s meticulously painted murals depicted Mark the Evangelist, and the dome is reminiscent of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. No ordinary church, the Frauenkirche is a marvel of engineering excellence and a spiritual experience.
The color palette of the church immediately fosters a sense of uplifting spirituality in any visitor: blue for faith, green for hope and red for love were purposely chosen to make visitors feel welcome. Compared to the darker gothic churches of Europe, the Frauenkirche is brightly lit and carries a friendly atmosphere.
Come at noon and listen to the divine melodies played by organist Samuel Kummer, who has been with the church since its reopening. It has been calculated that Kummer has climbed the stairs to the organ so many times that it equates to scaling Mount Everest eight times!
When asked about playing the organ for the church, Kummer replied, “I love to improvise and work in different styles. I play Bach and love his music. Sometimes, I think he should send us new pieces (of music) from heaven.”
It’s clear that the employees draw inspiration from the church and its history. They are brought together by the Frauenkirche’s message of world peace and reconciliation.
Jandura said, “We want people to feel welcome, but we also have a message. Spread to the world ‘Peace be with you.’ We want people to take this idea out into their lives to make the world a more peaceful place, bit by bit.”
Although it could easily serve as a reminder of a painful period in Dresden’s past, the city’s residents have turned the Frauenkirche into a symbol of love and welcoming, one which epitomizes the city’s character as a whole.
Written by Matt Shiffler