Visiting Dresden is like walking around inside a ghost.
At the beginning of 1945, Dresden was a center of communications in Germany. It was a thriving manufacturing center, and a cultural Mecca for modern and classical art, music, culture, and even science.
On February 13, 1945, the city was destroyed almost entirely. Dresden had become home to hundreds of thousands of refugees and retreating German troops. British and American forces bombed the city in three waves. Explosives damaged the buildings in the town’s center, exposing the buildings’ wooden framework. That was followed by incendiaries to burn the buildings to the ground, giving the retreating German troops less places to hide.
Many feel that the bombing was ill planned and unnecessary, because the bombings missed strategic military and manufacturing targets – instead destroying 99% of the city’s center, killing mostly women and children.
The famous science fiction author, Kurt Vonnegut was there. He was a prisoner of war, having been captured by German soldiers earlier in the war, and his most famous novel, Slaughter House Five, centers around the bombing of Dresden. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is also a POW, being held captive in a slaughterhouse in Dresden during the bombing.
Here’s the ghosty part, though. The city’s center has been rebuilt, but not rebuilt in a ‘bigger and better’ World Trade Center sort of way. It’s been rebuilt to look pretty much exactly as it was on February 12th, 1945.
It took decades, and there are parts of the city that are still not quite finished more than 60 years after the fact, but the majority of it is there. The Zwinger Palace was almost completely destroyed, but by 1963 it looked good as new. The Semper Opera House took almost 40 years to rebuild, reopening in 1985, but it looks just the same as it did when it was first built in 1841. The Frauenkriche, a beautiful Lutheran church, first built in the 1700s, was leveled in the bombing. The rubble sat there for decades as a memorial and a reminder, but when Germany reunified in the 1990s reconstruction began. The Frauenkriche reopened in 2005.
For centuries Dresden was a beautiful, thriving city. In one day it was gone. Now, it’s back. It looks just like it did before. I don’t know if that’s perseverance or survival or what. All I know is that it’s ghosty.
Anyone from our Germany 2007 trip that has any memories, pictures, or stories about our time in Dresden, please feel free to share.
Anyone who went to Hiroshima in 2012 or Pompeii in 2009, maybe you can share any comparisons you have.
Anyone else, we’d love to hear about your travels, experiences, and thoughts too. We love comments.