The reconstruction of the Lutheran Frauenkirche [Church of Our Lady], possibly Dresden's best-known landmark, is remarkable. The church was designed in the 1720s by George Bähr, a self-made master of Geman Baroque architecture, and was completed just after the Semperoper in 1743. Its almost square plan, its tall dome with no internal support, and a circular interior with the altar in full view of all the congregation, were all radical features at the time. Its structure famously survived the Allied firebombing in February 1945, towards the end of WWII, but collapsed dramatically on the morning of 15th February.
It remained a pile of rubble for 45 years, throughout the Communist era, becoming first a centre for the annual peace meetings to commemorate the bombing, then a focus for protests during the Wende, the peaceful revolution that led to the end of Communist rule. Reconstruction work finally began in 1993, after a long period of international fundraising, and was completed in 2005, the church being reconsecrated on the 30th October of that year. The light interior is a superb mix of ornate Baroque and beautiful pastel plasterwork, very pinky and delicate.
During the reconstruction it was decided (among much controversy) not to make a replica of the Gottfried Silbermann organ, completed in 1736, which had already been modified considerably from its original design. Instead, a new instrument was built by Daniel Kern of Strasbourg, generally using traditional designs and materials, and reproducing Silbermann's original specification, but also with enhancements to allow the proper and easier performance of later music.
I walked to the Frauenkirche almost as soon as I arrived in Dresden. Sitting for a while in a nearby cafe I was somewhat concerned to see a 'No Cameras' sign by the door of the church. I came back later for my proper visit. The church was crowded with visitors; everyone was thoughtful and respectful. Many were taking photos, and I also took some sneaky ones. From time to time someone was told off for doing so, even in one case I noticed by another visitor. I could understand it if the authorities said 'No Flash', as most places do, but I just don't understand a total ban. In practice they mostly seemed to turn a blind eye to photographers provided they were discrete and kept the flash turned off.
From my diary that day: "I sat around in various places in the church for a while, thinking it all through, as someone who grew up in London just after the war; it's quite moving, though not as much as I'd expected, perhaps because of that rather aggressive photo ban which had niggled me. It's as if they want to keep it all to themselves. There are posters round the city advertising a film or exhibition on the theme of "come and see what Dresden looked like before the Allies bombed it". It's heartbreaking to see how much damage was done during the war, and not just in Dresden; but having said that, I grew up in London and saw what Hitler did to us, but we don't keep banging on about it. There should be reconciliation, not sly digs all the time." There, that's my rant!
The Frauenkirche is difficult to photograph properly outside, at least until they finish rebuilding the Neumarkt, except from much too close up. The sky was grey for my visit, and the light as flat as a pancake, which was not very helpful. In front of the church is the restored black 1885 statue of Martin Luther, by Adolf Donndorf, whose work I also found in Bonn and Weimar.