The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden (Germany) burnt down two days after the bombing of the city on 13 February 1945. In 1990 after the fall of the wall and the communist regime in the GDR some people had the idea to rebuild the church.

The idea became reality: On 30 October 2005 the church was consecreted – with more than 100.000 people outside joining the 1.700 in the church.

The city of Dresden in the south-eastern part of Germany is sometimes called “Florence of the Elbe” – to put into words the Italian feeling that this city radiates. The city had its good times and, like many others around the world, has seen bad times. During World War II it was heavily bombed.

The “Frauenkirche” (Church of Our Lady) resisted the bombs, but caught fire two days later and imploded. As a ruin the dead church survived socialism in midst the town.

Since its destruction many citizens had the feeling that something is missing: The dome of the Frauenkirche has been a landmark since 1743, a part of the baroque skyline that was (as we would say today in a marketing jargon) an USP – something that makes the city unique. Canaletto, as the Italian painter Bernado Belloto used to call himself, made this view immortal.

On the other hand: The ruin of the imploded church was somehow remarkable as well. A memorial against war and the self-defeating destructions that every war brings to the people.

As all over eastern Europe the communist regimes broke down in 1989/1990, freedom gave old ideas room to flourish. One of those was to rebuild the Frauenkirche.

Oh, that’s impossible! There is no Christian community that could fill this church with religious life! It is to expensive! We don’t need churches that nobody misses – there is so much else to do!

But you do need crazy thinkers to open the minds! There was a group of nine intellectuals, artists, scientists who met at the end of socialism and formulated the “Call from Dresden”, a memorandum to rebuild the church.

1990. When I visited Dresden for the first time just eight months after the fall of the Berlin wall, which signalized the end of communism in the German (not so) Democratic Republic, I had many new impressions. This land, the other part of Germany, was somehow strange to me. One of the unforgettable things was a mountain of debris in the middle of the city: The remains of the Frauenkirche, with grass and even trees growing on them. People walked by and didn’t notice this as special…

1992. On 13 February I visited the ruin again. This is the day when the city of Dresden has been bombed and destroyed. People met at the ruin of the Frauenkirche, and they did this on their own without any pressure. They brought candles and flowers, and although it was a big crowd the place was completely silent. This was impressive, and many people kept saying: Let’s keep the ruins, as a memorial against war. Even the former Lutheran bishop Johannes Hempel was against rebuilding the church – in those days. 1994. The reconstruction of the church starts after a very intensive phase of clearing the site (archaeological rubble clearance the specialists call this…).

Those in favor of the reconstruction still were in the minority. Ludwig Güttler, a master classical trumpet player who lives in Dresden told me in a personal talk in the late 90ies: “90 percent of the people were against it, ten in favor – and the last figure is sugarcoated!” But the clearance and later the growing church changed the minds of the critics – and today nearly every Dresdner is pretending to always have been in favor…

Be that as it may: This construction site radiated fascination! A lot of clever marketing helped earning the money that was needed to rebuild this baroque church: A special watch was sold, there are friends of the Frauenkirche all over the world collecting money and donating generously. So the church grew – behind scaffolds that may not look so beautiful, but which prevented the construction workers from rain and snow and wind and the cold. They worked day and night, all year long – and they will not only finish this building in time but nearly a year in advance – an experience that hardly anybody has these days. 2000. The church is getting more and more impressive – but with 30 meters (approximately 98 feet) it’s only one third of the 90 meters (295 feet) that make the Frauenkirche the dominant building in the skyline over the Elbe river in Dresden.

The unpittoresque scaffolds were nonetheless an eye-catcher, including the transparent saying “Building bridges, living reconciliation”.

There have been many signs of reconciliation, and perhaps the most noteworthy story to tell is that of the pinnacle cross. It was crafted in England – and it was done by the son of one of the pilots that dropped the bombs over Dresden in February 1945. And even the money for this precious cross came from the British people – it was the Dresden Trust that financed it. Alan Smith, the the gold smith, has crafted his masterpiece “just to say sorry”. His contribution to the reconstruction was ready long before the cupola – and so it stood on the ground, visible in its impressive height of 8 meters (approximately 26 feet). The Duke of Kent presented the cross over in Dresden on 13 February – the 55th anniversary of the bombing.

2001. In August the “butterfly stone” – with its 95 tons (approximately 105 short tons) the by far heaviest undestroyed piece of the original Frauenkirche – came back on its original place in 35 meters height (114 feet). Every stone that had fallen down when the church imploded in February 1945 had been measured and its original place determined – with a little help of  modern computer technique that IBM sponsored. This is why you see 8,400 old original dark (nearly black) stones side by side with 400,000 light new sandstones. This special look where old meets new will vanish with time, as sandstone reacts to environmental influences and changes its color.

The re-fitting of the butterfly stone was one of the many challenges for the people on site. They had to combine old traditional craftsmanship with modern technologies – and more than once they admired George Bähr and his team who had build the original Frauenkirche 270 years ago.

2002. The scaffolds in the lower area of the construction site fall off – the Frauenkirche presents itself quasi bottom-less and can be seen in its emerging new form. The 38 meters (124 feet) of the lower building with the

scaffolds now hovering on top (and growing, because they are lifted with the continuing rise of the church) give an impressive picture of the future. This was the time when the construction workers realized that working on the site of the Frauenkirche may have something of a wonder: The building was raised faster than it was planned – and the costs nearly stayed at the forecasted figure of 179,000,000 Euro.

2003 nearly half this sum had been collected through fundraising. This is the year where the church bells arrive that give the town the most many-voiced peal of bells. The bells had to be made twice: During the process of moulding everything was fine, but when the bells had solidified the sound was less than perfect: There were too many ornaments (the original bells only had quotations from the bible). Dissonances not only with the first set of bells but with the organ, too. Should it be rebuild like  the original by the famous organ builder Gottfried Silbermann or should it have a modern character? Shall the organ be made in Saxony or elsewhere? People argued wherever possible – but today nobody is really angry with the decision to mandate the distinguished organ maker Daniel Kern in Strassbourg / Alsace.

Dresden, Teilansicht des zerstörten Stadtzentrums über die Elbe nach der Neustadt. In der Bildmitte der Neumarkt und die Ruine der Frauenkirche.

“We have reached the point of rebuilding that George Bähr saw when he died in 1738”, says Eberhard Burger, master builder of the reconstruction. Burger studied civil engineering in Dresden – on a street named after George Bähr, who designed the Frauenkirche and who was the first in Germany to go by the title of “Architect”.

Not only the “Baumeister” Eberhard Burger is thinking of his predecessor. Bricklayers, stonecutters and carpenters often bethink: “Here on this site we created things we never made before – and it was an experience to see how traditional ways of work help us solve the problems today!” And again he who says this is full of admiration. 2004. The scaffolds have been removed, and the characterizing dome of the church can be seen from many places in Dresden. Only a water drainage roof marks the shape of the lantern on top of the dome, which deserves its name now more than ever, because after nightfall it is lit from inside.
The exterior of the church is nearly ready – and it looks complete after 22 June. On this rainy and windy day the cross is being put on top of the lantern. With it the church reaches its height of 91 meters (298 feet) – and the skyline of Dresden has its familiar pre-1945 view back.

What normal tourists don’t see is the work inside the church – for safety reasons (and later probably public relations as well) nobody was allowed to go inside. Well, actually, hardly anybody… During my first visit inside in August 2002 there was not really much to see: One trial axis and some samples of the wooden interior. The main work was on top, where the two domes were set – for static reasons only new sandstones have been assembled.

Two domes? Yes, there are two. One on the inside, with paintings of the Evangelists and allegories of Christian virtues. Portrait artist Christoph Wetzel is the artist who painted the motives – and he also had to learn old techniques to master the problem: The few colors he used were mixed after old recipes with eggs and linseed oil. 35 meters (82 feet) high he painted, kneeling and standing and lying and cowering and sometimes even doing the splits on a special turning stand. And again the old question: How did they manage this in 1734, how difficult must it have been for the Venecian baroque painter Giovanni Battista Grone to paint the dome?

The inner cupola has an opening on top so you can see the outer dome. The 6,500-ton sandstone dome often is called “stone bell” because this is what it looks like. With a free span over 23,5 meters (77 feet) and only eight thin columns on its perimeter to bear the load, it was a visionary masterpiece of craftsmanship, developed by a single man who was just a carpenter: George Bähr.

The outer dome arches 20 meters above the inner cupola – a church above the church. And a way up to the lantern on top, which is one of the finest places to take a look at the world heritage of the Elbe in Dresden. But there’s not too much room up there on top of the church, so you may have to wait and queue.

This is perhaps the one and only point where George Bähr, the ingenious designer of the Frauenkirche, failed. He simply didn’t plan the merchandising of this exquisite place…

About the Author 

Ulrich van Stipriaan is a free lance journalist living in Dresden, Germany for the past 15 years. Born 54 years ago in a little village at the North Sea he started writing and taking pictures (as well as developing them) at school. Later he professionalized both writing as well as photography at the local newspaper. Ulrich runs a one-man-public-relations-agency in Dresden and writes articles for the “Feinschmecker” (the German gourmet magazine). He likes cooking and enjoys the wine that is needed to relish the meal. His friends say that he has humour, his wife calls him the “Frisian silent man” – whatever this combination means. His photoblog is at – and there are more pictures at You can send an e-mail to [email protected]



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