After almost a week in Berlin, we left the city in a southwesterly direction in order to reach our next destination: Dresden.
Called “Florence at the Elbe” at a time when Berlin was still a somewhat sleepy Prussian town, the Dresden of the 20th century became known as symbol for the brutality of the “Luftkrieg,” the air raids on German cities. Kurt Vonnegut’s book “Slaughterhouse Five” describes the horrors of Dresden at the end of WW II in stark terms.
While groups of Neo-nazis still use the bombing of Dresden as counterargument when Germany’s murderous responsibility for the Holocaust is discussed, the city has successfully shaken off its reputation of a haven for right-wing sentiments. Recently, thousands of Dresdener’s participated in a massive sit-in on the streets of Dresden that forced a large group of neo-nazis to abandon their planned march through Dresden’s downtown.
In many ways, Dresden has joined other German cities in the commemoration of WW II. What differs is the approach. In Berlin, for instance, many of the memorials are abstract and/or ambivalent. Often, the Berlin memorials highlight absences (of people, i.e. the murdered Jews) and gaps (of an architectural nature). In Dresden, most of the gaps have been filled by high-tech renovations and restorations of pre-1945 architecture. The reconstructed Frauenkirche, THE symbol for Dresden’s spectacular recovery, is a case in point. In 1945, the church had collapsed after a two-day long fire. The GDR-government let grass grow on the blackened heap of sandstone. After the Wende in 1989, renovation began with the help of donations from all over the globe. Today, the Frauenkirche and the houses on the surrounding square stand as if nothing ever happened. There are moments, when the pastel colors of the patrician houses look too good to be true. Or, as one member of our group put it, sometimes it feels a bit Disney-esque.