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Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany
Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany.
Church in Saxony.
It is stunning. The church dates back to the 11th century and
was repeatedly rebuilt as the congregation grew, culminating
at the end of the 15th century in a Gothic structure. That building
was eventually replaced by an octagonal edifice topped by four
corner towers and crowned by a circular dome with a stone lantern,
the work of the Saxon court's master carpenter Georg Bähr.
Bähr's church was begun in 1726 and completed in 1743.
It survived Prussian shelling in the 19th century but was burnt
out in February 1945 during the British and American firebombing
of Dresden. Although the bombs bounced off the dome, the woodwork
inside caught fire, which caused the stone dome to crack and
fall in. Lost in this collapse were all the original artworks
and decorations of the church, as well as the Silbermann organ
played by J.S. Bach. The communist government of the GDR left
the ruins as they were, an evocative ruin for them, made famous
by a photo of the shattered building with a statue of Martin
Luther blown off his pedestal. In 1993 reconstruction began,
and the building was re-consecrated in 2005. Materials which
survived the bombing were incorporated into the new church,
the most obvious being the blackened sandstone of the exterior.
The toppled statue of Luther was set aright. From the outside,
the church is a giant sandstone dome, centrally planned, with
no nave, chancel or transepts. Inside, the church floor is surrounded
by multi-storied galleries and the dome interior is extravagantly
painted in pink, gold and blue. Much of the interior decoration
had to be reconstructed from black-and-white photos and some
guesswork. The ecclesiastical east contains a reconstruction
of the old altar, and towering above that the blue and gilt
organ case. Clear windows let in the light. The plan is actually
very simple, and once you are inside you can pretty much see
the whole interior.
There are daily services here, Lutheran and ecumenical. The
church's clergy pursue a mission of reconciliation and outreach,
with particular acknowledgement of Coventry Cathedral and its
Cross of Nails. The chapel in the crypt is a centre of ecumenical
outreach with appropriately modern decor. The more traditional
Lutheran services with organist and choir are held in the upper
Dresden, from medieval times a city of artisans and craftsmen
and called the Florence of the North, was ruthlessly firebombed
by British and American forces on the night of Shrove Tuesday,
13 February 1945, on the pretext that it was a major rail and
communications centre. In fact the city had no military significance,
and debate rages even to this day over whether the attack constituted
a war crime. Ironically the Allied bombers ignored the city's
only conceivable military target, its railroad yards. The author
Kurt Vonnegut was in Dresden that night, and years later memorialised
the atrocity in his famous anti-war novel Slaughterhouse
Five. The church sits in the Dredner Altmarkt, the large
rectangular marketplace that had been the heart of the town
since Dresden's foundation. Many of the historical buildings
nearby are still undergoing reconstruction or repair. The Hofkapelle
is nearby, an opera house turned Catholic church where 18th
century court music underwent significant development. Also
in the area can be found such masterpieces of Baroque architecture
as the opera house and the Zwinger Palace, a museum noted for
its collection of paintings by Rubens, Canaletto and Raphael,
among others, as well as weapons, armor, porcelain, clocks and
scientific instruments (all of which were safely evacuated some
time before the bombing). There is clearly gradual but growing
prosperity in the city, to judge from the architectural renewal
but also the designer labels to be seen on the locals.
An unnamed young Lutheran pastor in black robes and white bands
took the service. There was also an organist, likewise unnamed.
The date & time:
10 September 2007, 6.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Evening prayer with organ music.
How full was the building?
The lower church was absolutely packed to capacity. Some of
the galleries were also full and I was glad I had come early.
The newly rebuilt church must exert a strong fascination for
Germans and for tourists.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, they did not. There were ushers at the doors, but their
task seemed to be to superintend the very large crowd of worshippers
rather than to welcome them.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very much so. Every "platz" or place had been given by an individual benefactor, although I forget the name of mine. The pews were modern, polished light pine and were very nice to sit on.
How would you describe the pre-service
Lively to say the least. Servers or vergers handed out the order
of service while people found seats (a difficult task in so
full a building). Many were taking photos in spite of the signs
prohibiting this (I took a few myself, I must confess).
What were the exact opening words of the
This was a service in which the organ music was proclaimed to
be as important as the spoken or sung word, so strictly speaking
the service opened with Johann Sebastian Bach's Prelude
and Fugue in C Major.
What books did the congregation use during the
An order of service with the prayers and Heiliglied
(sacred song) printed on it, in both English and German.
What musical instruments
A brand new pipe organ by the Strasbourg firm of Daniel Kern,
noted for the restoration and reconstruction of many classic
organs in Germany, France and the United States. The new instrument
was placed inside a replica of the original case designed by
Bähr, but the organ itself does not replicate precisely
the original Silbermann specifications. It contains all the
stops that were on the stoplist of the Silbermann organ, plus
a fourth manual of additional stops in the symphonic 19th century
style characteristic of French organs. Whether or not it succeeds
is a divisive issue among German and international organists,
and the decision not to recreate the original Silbermann organ
was hugely controversial and has prompted great debate.
Did anything distract
The curtains. The upper galleries are windowed in with curtains
behind them. This seemed so domestic but also so unnecessary.
Why are there curtains inside a church? What was going on behind
them? Who was there? Why were they closed? These and other questions
occupied my mind as I gazed up at them.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Very restrained, contemplative and quiet. The only trace of
anything "high" were the genuflections that accompanied the
minister's final blessing. There were a few prayers, a few congregational
responses, and a hymn sung with reasonable gusto. Otherwise
most of the very short (15 minute) service was given over to
the organ music. We were treated to some very impressive Bach.
Exactly how long was the
There was none.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
A moment of silence was provided for. Normally I find the moments
"where silence may be kept" to be quite forced and often uncomfortable,
but not here. A large church, packed to the rafters, achieved
a few moments of complete tranquility, all the more poignant
given the violent events of this building's history. Another
magical moment for me was finding the memorial to Heinrich Schütz,
the great Saxon composer and my favourite, who had been buried
in the medieval Frauenkirche in 1672. It was lovely to see that
in all the destruction and renewal he has not been forgotten.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The service segued immediately into a lecture on the church's
history, delivered with great enthusiasm by an elderly gentleman.
This would doubtless have been fascinating had I understood
more than one word in six. As it was, I felt rather trapped.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Eventually I plucked up the courage to make a highly conspicuous
exit in the middle of the lecture (which everyone else seemed
to be enjoying hugely). I blundered through the body of the
church to reach the exit, sending people flying as I struggled
to escape. I probably looked more desperate than lost.
How would you describe the after-service
None was on offer.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 Except it was very special so I wouldn't spoil it by
coming too often. I'd also like to come to a longer service
to judge fully, as what we were presented with was in many respects
an organ recital in the presence of a gowned minister.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The thunderous, jubilant music of J.S. Bach and the memorial
to his great predecessor Schütz.
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