Dresden (written by M.G)
For half a day, our study group had the opportunity to experience and see some of the sites that Dresden has to offer. The group was split into two with the graduate students went with Günther, while the undergraduates went with his colleague Stephen. We were visited many sites for such a short time. There was, for example, a former Prussian palace (the Zwinger), which like almost the entire center city was bombed in February of 1945, but since then it has undergone some reconstruction and has been converted into a museum. Also, our groups had the chance to see the Church of Our Lady, the city’s main landmark before the war, which was also a victim of the Allied air raid of 1945. For decades, the Communist authorities of Dresden left the ruins (more like a pile of rubble) as a memorial and reminder of the destruction of the war. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it rebuilt to its former glory, paid for by donations from Germanys and countries, especially from the former Allied Powers, the United States and Great Britain. According to the guides, an estimated 100 million Euros were donated from private contributors.
In addition, we saw Dresden’s famous Semper Opera House, locations were located on Theatre Platz. The Theatre Platz was renamed the Adolf Hitler Platz during the Nazi period, but after the war the square was returned to its original name.
On another note, we visited the Altmarkt, which was currently hosting its spring celebration. The market offered many traditional German foods, drinks, gifts and more. Heading north across the street was another place of cultural significance – the Palace of Culture, which houses the Dresden Philharmonic.
The Dresden Philharmonic showcases some of the best musical talent Europe has to offer, but in a communist-are building that clashes starkly with the reconstructed baroque facades that have been reconstructed all around it in the past 20 years. To top off our short visit to Dresden, we headed to St. Petersburgerstrasse, which was once home to a very large synagogue in Dresden. The original synagogue was destroyed beyond repair on The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) on November 9-10, 1938, and later completely removed by the Nazis, but another synagogue and a memorial have been erected only in the past decade. A few stones from the original structure have been built into the wall that connects the new synagogue and the new Jewish Cultural Center. The empty space between the two new structures bookends the place where the old synagogue once stood, creating a void to indicate what was lost.
Dresden (written by M.S.A.)
The southeastern German city of Dresden has a varied history. As in other cities, there was a great deal of support for the Nazis during the Third Reich. The main synagogue was desecrated and destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht in 1938, similar to what happened elsewhere in Germany. However, the recent historical event most often associated specifically with Dresden occurred on February 13-14, 1945. On that date, American and Royal Air Force planes dropped numerous bombs on Dresden causing what is known today as a firestorm. By the end of the raid almost all of Dresden was in ruins. Perhaps 26,000 people were killed; the death toll was so high that the bodies had to be brought to a square in the city, thrown into a massive pile, and set on fire so that disease could be controlled. For me, personally, the only thing I knew about Dresden was only of the firebombing in 1945. I was very surprised that the city had a rich history that went all the way back to the 16th century and earlier. Under the city there is a fortress that was used to store cannons and soldiers could bring the cannons to an opening, which was above the Elbe River and used to protect the city. Some of us were able to visit the fortress, now buried under the “new city,” in the little free time after lunch.
The city itself (above the fortress) is rich in examples of examples of Baroque architecture, although almost all of it was reconstructed after the war, especially in the 20 years since German reunification. We visited a church known as the Church of Our Lady, the city’s signature landmark, which was completely destroyed during the firebombing of Dresden. The church was restored and rebuilt between 1995 and 2005, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
Another Baroque church we visited is known as the Church of the Cross, where reformers and dissidents in Communist East Germany held meetings discussing the future of East Germany in the late 1980s. On the outside of the church, there is a plaque put up by the Protestant congregation in 1988 (i.e. before the fall of the Berlin Wall) declaring the Christians’ “shame and mourning” for the major loss of Dresden’s Jewish community. In 1933 there were 4,675 Jews in Dresden and by 1945 there were only 70. 90% to 95% of the community was lost. The plaque goes on to say that the Christians of the congregation are filled with regret for having done nothing to help their brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith.
For me, the trip to Dresden was an eye opening experience. I knew that there were few Germans who resisted the Nazis, but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone take responsibility for their (non-)actions. I hope to one day come back to Dresden and see what other secrets it holds.