God's Grace: A New Beginning in the Midst of the Scars of History

By Kaessmann, Margot | The Ecumenical Review, July 2005 | Go to article overview

God's Grace: A New Beginning in the Midst of the Scars of History


Kaessmann, Margot, The Ecumenical Review


Reformation day, 30 October 2005, marks the official reopening of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden. For me, as for many Germans, this is a sign of the grace of God. Built between 1726 and 1743, the church was a monument of Lutheran baroque architecture. As Germany's largest Protestant church, it was a landmark in the city that is called the "Florence on the river Elbe." Less than three months before the end of the Second World War, on the night of 13 February 1945, Dresden was destroyed by the bombs of the British Royal Air Force. An enormous firestorm demolished almost the entire city; even the river afforded no safety. More than 40,000 people died, many of them women, children, wounded people and refugees. The cupola of the Frauenkirche resisted the bombing, but the sandstone structure could not cope with the more than 1,000-degree heat, and it imploded after two days. Yet there was a miracle, as well. Some 300 people, mainly women and children who had taken refuge in the church and stayed there until the morning of 14 February, all survived.

During the time of the German Democratic Republic the ruins of the church stood as a mute reminder of German guilt, a call to engage for peace and to resist war. I vividly remember a peace vigil there organized in the context of the World Council of Churches' conciliar process for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. You could already feel that times were changing, and the ecumenical movement was encouraging many in the churches to stand up for peace and justice. So this ruin was one of the places where the cry for freedom and democracy was clearly heard. The cry "no violence" was taken from the churches onto the streets of Dresden and Leipzig and East Berlin. The non-violent reunification of Germany in 1989 was a consequence.

In 1992 the city of Dresden agreed to rebuild the Frauenkirche. Many felt that this was a mistake, and that the ruins should remain as a reminder of the scars as well as the guilt. But, all over the world, many more people gave money for the restoration. And so it happened faster than anyone might have imagined. On 22 June 2004 a new cross was planted on the church's cupola--as a gift of the British people! You can still see old stones in the new building: scars of history, scars of life. …

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