Towns and regions

The Reconstruction of Dresden’s Frauenkirche

The Frauenkirche, Dresden’s emblematic architectural structure, was destroyed by an allied bomb strike in 1945. After German reunification, a citizen’s action group led the initiative to rebuild the church. All the original stones recovered intact from the ruins of the old church were used in the new construction. Twelve years were spent in Dresden putting together what could be called the world’s biggest puzzle.
One of Europe’s most fascinating examples of religious architecture has now been resurrected.

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Author: Ralf Jesse
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In the night of the 13th to the 14th of February, 1945, a massive bombardment destroyed the old town section of Dresden. The world famous Frauenkirche - the symbol of Dresden and one of Europe’s the most important religious structures - was among the victims of the bombing. The church collapsed leaving a mound of rubble 14 meters high; the total mass of which measured more than 20,000 cubic meters. Only two small sections of the church were left standing: part of a staircase and a structure in front of the altar.

The original Frauenkirche was built from 1726 to 1743, financed almost entirely by donations from Dresden’s Protestant citizenry. The contractor was the city council, although King August, who had converted to Catholicism in a power-political move enabling him to become king of Poland, did insist on putting his official stamp of approval to the construction plans. The council’s master of carpentry, George Bähr, was in charge of the building project. He had to work over his construction plans for four years before the first stone of the church could be laid.

The Frauenkirche’s dome construction in particular was something unique in architectural history. It - as the rest of the church - was made of "Posaer" sandstone and weighed 12,200 tons. Up until then, wood or copper were typically used for dome constructions. George Bähr succeeded here in creating a masterpiece of statistical engineering. The tremendous weight of the dome, famed as the "stone bell", was borne by eight pillars - a feat of engineering astounding even today.

Another special feature of the church was the opulent baroque altar made by Johann Christian Feige according to George Bähr’s designs. On sorting through the rubble of the church ruins more than 2,000 individual fragments of the altar were recovered.

In a painstaking process over several years, these were pieced back together resulting in the reconstruction of nearly 80 % of the original altar. The missing pieces of the puzzle were then reproduced and fitted by local Dresden sculptors. The restoration of the altar expresses the work ethic applied to the whole project: carefully and with the utmost respect, still-intact pieces of the historic building were recovered and re-integrated into the new structure. The destruction was to remain visible, yet the church should nonetheless be restored to all her former glory.

With this in mind, great emphasis was placed on an archaeological approach to sifting the rubble, and to the reconstruction itself. 44% of the stones used in the masonry of the new building were recovered from the ruins of the old church. The original position of the stones in the first structure was ascertained using software developed especially for the purpose with special measurement and mapping functions, and with the help of the original architectural plans and those from the various renovations carried out in the 30’s and 40’s. Each individual surviving stone was carefully restored by stone masons. The Dresden engineering firm Ipro was responsible for the work on the construction plans.

The task of sorting through the ruins began in 1992. The foundation stone of the reconstruction was laid in 1994. Before that the basement vaults had been cleared and the church’s foundations refurbished. In the course of this work George Bähr’s grave was discovered. He had died in 1738, five years before the completion of his most significant construction project, and was later laid to rest in the Frauenkirche. During construction 300 cubic meters of sandstone were added to the building monthly. The site was covered with a tent so that work could continue throughout the winter.

A significant portion of the reconstruction was financed by donations. Shortly after German reunification a citizen’s initiative raised a call-to-action - the "call from Dresden" - to gather funds for the project. More than half of the 256 million DM pricetag on the construction was raised through donations. The Dresden Trust - the Friends of the Reconstruction in Great Britain - earned kudos for its support of the project: It financed the pinnacle cross that now once again adorns the church dome and, in addition, collected funds for the masonry work. The church interior is also due to be completed in time for the official opening ceremony on October 31, 2005, "Reformation Day".
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2004
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