Finally I had some time to read George Packer’s entire New Yorker article (pdf file) on Dresden, titled “Embers.” It is an informative and well-written piece that combines a nuanced overview of the historical events with insight into German discussions about how best to remember the past in the architecture and cityscapes of the present. Anybody who has visited Berlin will probably agree with Packer’s comparison:
“There is a striking contrast between the post-1989 reconstructions of Dresden and Berlin, whose new architecture often has the quality of what Bertolt Brecht called Verfremdung, or the V-effect–estrangement, distancing. Berlin makes little attempt to hide the worst decades in German history. […] Berlin can seem an overly earnest therapy patient in its insistence on showing visitors the full array of its crime scenes and self-inflicted wounds. […] There is no V-effect in Dresden. The city still sees itself as an ornament of European high culture, and it has gone to great lengths to remove signs of tarnish.”
Packer does a good job of distilling the diverging sentiments held by locals about how to remember the war and how to rebuild the city. For instance, I did not know about some of the efforts in Dresden at establishing a critical layer of memory, ranging from labels on park benches that say “For Aryans only!” to metal cylinders with historical information buried all over the city.
Here’s a picture of the renovated Frauenkirche and the square as it presented itself in May of 2009: