A STORY OF DÉTENTE IN DRESDEN, GERMANY
Alan Smith stood among the locals of Dresden in the reconstructed Neumarkt, looking with the crowd towards the Frauenkirche with its wondrous dome topped by a golden cross gleaming in the dusk sky. The dignitaries were filing into the building, German mainly but also religious leaders from far and wide and many British, like him.
The crowd stood in hushed excitement. Tomorrow was Reformation Day for those that followed the Protestant faith, more importantly for the children it was Hallowe’en, and many were already dressed in costume. Alan was not religious, but he felt the weight and significance of the moment, and all that the church building represented. Today was about the Frauenkirche. It stood, lit grandly, the Baroque designs of George Bähr finally reclaiming their place in the city skyline, where the dome had stood for two hundred years until February 1945.
The church had withstood the Allied bombings for two days and nights, offering shelter to those unable to flee the inferno. In the end it was not the aerial bombardment that had destroyed the building, but the heat from over half a million incendiaries that fell on Dresden. Some say the temperature reached 1,000 degrees. Witnesses saw the pillars holding up the dome glow red before they exploded, the walls fell and the dome collapsed and vanished, yet another symbol marking the pointless destruction of war.
One of those pilots for the Royal Air Force dropping bombs on the civilians and the public buildings and residential houses below had been Alan Smith’s father. Alan had never heard his father talk about the bombing of Dresden. Like many he didn’t talk about his experience of war. He was following orders of course, but how could he live with the knowledge that he had contributed towards killing so many? He was a gentle, kind man, with that typical British fortitude and dry sense of humour.
The rubble of the church became a memorial as the Communist shadow fell over East Germany. The altar and chancel remained standing, overlooking the ruins. When locals returned to the devastated city they salvaged pieces of stone, numbering them carefully to be used in rebuilding. But for 45 years nothing happened. The heap of stone stood as a reminder, commemorations were held there each year in February to mark the anniversary of the bombing and the 25,000 dead.
Later it became a symbol of peace and reconciliation, a monument in the reunification of Germany. Then came the decision to rebuild at last, and now over ten years later the church was to be reconsecrated and opened to the public once more. Atop the dome sat the golden orb and cross, built by Grant MacDonald Silversmiths of London, crafted by the hands of Alan Smith, son of the RAF bomber.
He looked at the sea of faces around him. Some would be relatives of those that his father had killed, and yet here they all stood together. Reconciliation had taken a long time, but in the shadow of the Frauenkirche, with his own small contribution to the rebuilding overlooking them all, Alan felt hope that the shared values of humanity could overcome anything.
Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.
Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today it’s a fictional scene based on historical facts from Dresden in Germany – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.
Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.
NB. A Londoner named Alan Smith did indeed craft the golden orb for the rebuilt church, and his father did take part in the bombing of Dresden. Beyond that the scene he is presented in here is fictional.
For a full list of stories and places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.
After a heavy few days of war and conflict, tomorrow will be something a little more uplifting!
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