Saturday, December 03, 2005

I am a camera - Dresden


In July 1960, Dmitri Shostakovich visited Dresden, which was then in the communist German Democratic Republic, to write the score for a film, 'Five Days, Five Nights'. This was the first time he had seen the devastation caused by the Allied bombing raids on February 14th 1945. The experience directly inspired his Eighth String Quartet, Op 110, which was written in just three days, and dedicated to the victims of fascism and war. The quartet became a musical symbol of the devastated city.

In the same way the rubble of the beautiful Frauenkirche (above), which was consecrated in 1734 and collapsed two days after the 1945 attacks, became a visual symbol of the ruined 'Florence on the Elbe.' The cathedral's famous organ by Gottfried Silbermann was also totally destroyed. It had been played by Johann Sebastian Bach in a recital in December 1736. The acoustics of the cathedral were said to have inspired passages in Wagner's Parsifal, and he conducted the first performance of his Biblical scene Das Liebesmahl der Apostel, Op. 69 there in 1843.

But a miracle has taken place. The Frauenkirche has risen like a phoenix from the ashes after sixty years, and the meticulously rebuilt cathedral with its restored Silbermann organ was re-consecrated in October. Last week we made a pilgrimage from Berlin through the former DDR to the restored cathedral. Here are some of my photos. Feast your eyes for this is truly a miracle.

Exterior of the restored Frauenkirche, taken from the left of the statue of Martin Luther seen in the top photo. 8400 outer facade pieces, and 87,000 internal masonry blocks recovered from the ruin were mapped onto a computer, and re-used where possible in their original locations in the rebuilding. The recovered stones can be seen as black blocks in the new facade. Photo - On An Overgrown Path

Above is the beautifully rebuilt interior of the dome. Below is the restored altar originally created by the Dresden sculptor Johann Christian Feige the Elder, and recreated from more than two thousand pieces of rubble. Above it is the magnificently restored Silbermann organ which has already been captured on CD. Photos - On An Overgrown Path


Anyone who doubts the ability of our culture to regenerate itself should make this pilgrimage.

The three colour pictures were taken by me on an 'old-school' Nikon F50 on 25th November 2005 (by an extraordinary coincidence 300 years to the exact day that the Silbermann organ was originally dedicated). The interior shots were hand-held using 200 ASA film. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Image owners - if you do not want your picture used on this site please contact me and it will be replaced
Now take An Overgrown Path to Dresden Requiem for eleven young victims

8 comments:

bernard said...

Indeed visiting Dresden is a must.

Clive D said...

Excellent pix....

Mr Duffy said...

Speaking of "Recycling Shostakovich and Beethoven", I fuond Naidin's reply very interesting. And there's a video recording of the Debussy Quartet playing live the Shostakovich 9th, I think in Lyon.

Hucbald said...

Spec-freaking-tacular. What an inspiring post.

Andrew said...

The brilliance of the photos scarcely does justice to the building. The week after your post, I was there as a member of the Bach Choir from London, who sang Handel's Messiah to two packed and enthusiastic houses. The whole event was full of the symbolism of reconciliation: the golden cross which crowns the restored church was given by well-wishers in the UK and made by the son of one of the wartime pilots. And singing with us, at her request, was a brave lady whose mother sang in the choir there in 1944 and died in the raid. Some parts of the text were very hard to sing, such was the emotion we all felt. Truly a wonderful experience, and part of the whole miracle of the place.

Pliable said...

Quote from Squadron Leader Peter de Wesselow, master bomber for the first RAF attack on Dresden on 13 Feb 1945.

"In general, you saw a light on the ground, which was the fires - but mainly you saw a glowing light in the smoke. Then searchlights above and ack-ack around you. There was always a weird feeling of unreality in Bomber Command. You were living in, say, Cambridgeshire or Norfolk; you were thinking of friends, pubs, girls, even intellectual pursuits. Then you were launched for eight hours into a different world at 20,000 feet over Germany.

Dresden was one experience among many for us. At briefing, we were told it was a communications centre for the Russian Front. I think we knew, and were told, that it was to help, and still more impress, the Russians with the powere of Bomber Command. Yalta had just occured. It was deep in, deeper than Berlin, so there was smaller chance of survival. I wished it had been Cologne or even the Ruhr.

The target was lit up a long way ahead, but nothing very special. The weather was good. My main memory is of coming down for a better view. I couldn't identify the aiming point, which must be why I came down to 5,000 feet - just above the blast range of our 4000lb bombs. I can still see one picture distinctly: there was a platz flanked by a fine building, and some gabled houses suggestive of south Germany. There was a mass of smoke (to the east?) and an industrial area (to the west?) clear of smoke. The city was distinctly lit up. I saw people in the streets, I saw a dog rush across a road - and felt sorry for it (is that absurd?). I was busy, keeping the bombing from going away from the main line and allowing for creep back.

The uniqueness of Dresden for me was coming down, because it needed it. I had a good aircraft, there seemed to be no opposition. So coming down, I saw much more; it was more intimate. All these raids were pretty horrifying though.

We went to Dresden with the usual sinking feeling of personal fear, suppresed by busying ourselves with our technical tasks, in the usual ignorance of why our masters chose this target and briefed on the matter only so far as was relevant to destroying what they wanted to destroy."


From The Devil's Tinderbox - Dresden 1945 by Alexander McKee (Souvenir Press ISBN 0285635476)

Simon Trezise said...

They're lovely pictures. I visited in 2004 when the Frauenkirche was in the final stages of completion, but I didn't see the interior. Is the organ an exact --or as exact as they can get it -- reproduction of the original that the Allies destroyed?

Pliable said...

Simon, thanks for those kind words. And yes, the original Silbermann organ which Bach, among others, played has been recreated in loving detail.

What a triumph of workmanship, and what a tragedy that the original organ, the Frauenkirche, and the rest of the centre of Dresden, and so many innocent lives, were needlessly destroyed.