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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Sixteen: Dresden

Neumarkt, Dresden 
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Neumarkt, Dresden. Luther stands sternly, protectively, in front of the Frauenkirche, opened in 2004 and built from the pile of rubble left by the Allied bombing raids of February 1945. The darker stones are part of the original
Michael Palin - New EuropeThe associations with that apocalyptic night of 13 and 14 February 1945 are everywhere. Not so much in people's eyes or the way they talk to you, but in the fabric of the city. The great feats of rebuilding that characterise Dresden cannot be understood without first understanding the scale of the destruction. In the wide space of the Neumarkt the nineteenth-century city is being recreated, punctiliously, rows of housing as well as public buildings. There's been controversy over the plans, some complaining that they're building a Disney World, a facade of old Dresden; a cloak for covering state-of-the-art modern interiors. In a temporary hut on the site a display charts progress. The black and white photographs taken shortly after the Allied raid are a revelation. The Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady, is reduced to two or three tottering strips of wall. The rest is rubble.

Yet, when I step out into the Neumarkt again, there it is, as big and confident as ever. What's more, the few walls left standing can still be seen. The black stones are what was left, the pale stone is new. In an extraordinary feat of restoration every single scrap of rubble was marked and sorted and, if possible, put back in its original position. Forty-five per cent of the new Frauenkirche was at one time part of the old and the reconstructed walls carry a dome weighing 13,000 tons.

The work on the Frauenkirche was not authorised until the early 1990s, after the fall of the GDR, who didn't care much about churches. Its reconstruction, completed in 2004 at a cost of 132 million euros, is seen as a symbol of reconciliation. Much money and support has come from the countries who carried out the raid in the first place, and the 20 foot-high globe and gold cross that crowns the dome was made by the son of one of the British bomber pilots, something which Felix, my young guide to the church, tells me was particularly appreciated by the people of Dresden.

Felix, studying at the University of Technology here, is understandably more keen to talk about the Dresden of his generation, the city that has risen from the ashes. '"Silicon Saxony", we call it,' he tells me proudly, as we take in the dizzying panorama from 225 feet up on the dome of the Frauenkirche, 'more than 760 companies. We're the centre of micro-electronics in Europe.'

He points enthusiastically out towards a green sward of public park.

'The Grosser Garten. Bigger than Monaco!'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Sixteen: Dresden
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Dresden
  • Book page no: 269

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