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 Post subject: Re: Dresden
PostPosted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 2:01 am 
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I've been to Lubeck, and I remember the preserved church bell, broken, right where it had fallen down during the bombing. But I did not know much of the history...

You will be so much more perceptive, Nin. I await your preceptions.

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 Post subject: Re: Dresden
PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2016 10:25 am 
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I’m sorry it took me so long after returning from holidays, but today is the first day with bad/mixed weather, so before that I spent my days outdoors…

Last week, we spent three days in Dresden and while of course this is by far not enough to capture the feeling of a city, it gave me a lot to think about and I thought of this thread.

Before moving to Switzerland, I have always lived in cities which had been heavily bombed during WWII. I was born in Frankfurt which had a huge airport. When we moved away from there in 1978, the opera had still not been reconstructed and there was a whole debate about it: if it should be reconstructed – but then the inner plans were lost – or dynamited and something new rebuilt at its place. (It ahs since then been rebuilt from a ruin but with an entirely new interior).
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Frankfurt 1945 - I was born there in 1970.

We moved to Essen which had been a centre of coal and mining and of the war industry. Essen is not a city with a century long history, so somehow, the bombing was less “visible” than in Frankfurt: there was no medieval city centre to be rebuilt…

But in my family, nobody had experienced life in a bombed city. My father as a child lived in the country side and was 7 when the War ended. My mother was only two, but her family fled from today’s Poland through Germany to Denmark where she spent five years in a refugee camp before coming to Germany in 1950. A ship that crossed the Baltic sea just in front of them was sunk by bombers and it was pure chance that they were on that one, my grandmother had five children and there had not been enough places on the precedent ship left…

Anyway, I disgress…

So, what makes Dresden different from those two cities (and most of the other German cities, which have more or less all their commemorative ruin somewhere…).
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Bodies on the Market place a few days after the bombing.

Somehow, Frankfurt or Essen, where I lived or Berlin or Munich which I visited were logical targets: big cities with important industries or airports. It was not “good” to bomb them, but it made sense. Dresden, however is not that huge and it has little to no industry. And it was a very, very beautiful city, home of the Kings of Saxony for centuries, with several palaces and a baroque centre. But of course, preserving art and beauty is not a priority in war, I get that. Hitler had ordered to destroy Paris when the Germans left (luckily the city commander disobeyed a direct order from Hitler… good man…) Dresden was filled with refugees like my mother. People without shelter, who were burned in the streets.

But I think the biggest difference comes from what happened after the bombings: I grew up in Western Germany. All in all, cities were rebuilt quickly and while Matthias still remembers debris and ruins, I don’t. And then, well the cities had been bombed by the Allies, but the Allies were not the bad guys. (I have more or less grown up with the Anti-German idea: that Germany deserved to be bombed which Beutlin described earlier in this thread and I think it is not by chance that almost all my close family left Germany sooner or later).

But Dresden was in Eastern Germany. It remained in ruins for looooong years. My mother went there in the 1980s under GDR government and she told that the burned trees were still standing black in the streets. Most of the rebuilding took place after the unification, in the 1990 and 2000. It is still not entirely done. Yes, some parts were rebuilt by the communists but by far not all. And the whole rethoric was different (and it still is in the places where the old commemorative plates are placed: in Eastern Germany, the Allies were not the good guys who had no choice but to bomb you to reason. Although, the texts also say that the horror which had spread from Germany all over the world, had come back to its origin.
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Same place as in the first picture, our hotel in the background . The stature has been taken down, I don't know when. The stone bench reminding the burning is not visible when there is a market on the place.

At the centre of the place in front of our hotel thousands of bodies had been burned after the bombing. There is no monument whatsoever. I passed the place several times before seeing that beside the huge stone bench in the centre of the place was a remembrance text. Maybe it was not necessary. The whole city with its blackened buildings and ruins was a reminder. But it is no more. Now, it is beautiful. The reconstruction of the most important church has just been finished a few years ago. It has been done faithfully with techniques from the baroque, it is beautiful – but like many “old” places in Germany, there is something fake about it. It’s too clean to be old. The floor is not used and worn out like in old churches. From the outside, some stones are black. Those are the few original ones. Very few. The 17th century church beside our hotel was rebuilt differently: outside looks old, but the inside is in rough concrete. Over the years, I have seen several places reconstructed like this: made to look entire from the outside, but once you enter, you see it is not really old, it is repaired or even modern. It reminds me of traumatised persons: there is a wound, but at first you don’t see it.
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Reconstructed main church today with a few back stones and entirely reconstructed place around it.

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The same church in 1990, 45 years after bombings
Maybe the change has come too quickly to the city or maybe the change of narrative has not worked: Dresden has very huge problem with the extreme right. It’s the centre of the Pegida movement in Germany. Regularly, it's in the news for right wing attacks and demonstrations. Neo-Nazis are common. And of course I wonder: how can a city which has suffered so much become xenophobic?

Reunification has not been easy for Eastern Germans which might not be easy to understand on first glance: Dresden was destroyed, for years, for decades it was ugly half in ruins… and now it is shining: should people not be happy? But: it has been destroyed by foreigners, by people whom the East Germans never knew. And it has been reconstructed finally not by their own strength but by the money from the West. There is something humiliating about it: forty years of GDR and ruins which nobody ever comes to see – or so little. Yet, people leived here and worked. Twenty years of capitalism and you have a small baroque wonderland - and many tourists. It must feel like your city was taken from you, again.

Many people in the East are nostalgic of the GDR, we even have a word for that : Ostalgie: nostalgia of the east. Dresden is the centre of that. Many people are left behind and they dream of that past behind that iron curtain, where life was not free but secure. Where they knew what would come and when. Where you could not buy a car or travel to Italy, but had a job and an apartment. Where your city was not rebuilt all at once, but very slowly, but when it was, it was by you. Many people lost their jobs – rightly, GDR industry was an environement disaster. And they still can’t travel to Italy or buy a car – because now they are poor. People are proud of their dialect, which is considered as one of the ugliest in the rest of Germany. They yearn for an identity which is not an identity of losers. They lost WWII. They lost the Cold War.

So, walking through this city, there are so many contrasts: an old town of stunning beauty with baroque buildings like I have never seen before. Exhibitions of the treasury of the kings of Saxony with pieces of porcelain unique in the entire world (the First European porcelain was made close by in Meissen which we visited too). Huge shopping malls – all filled with international brands. And a bit further, socialist constructions, buildings like shoe boxes, like in all post-soviet cities. The contrast hurts the eye and the mind.

The German army has a military museum in Dresden. It belongs to the army. But the exhibition holds quite a pacifist message: War is suffering. At the very end of the exhibition in the annexe built by Daniel Liebeskind in the triangular form in which the bombers flew in over Dresden you have a terrace with a view over the city. Almost as if you were flying over it in one of the bombing planes. It was cold on the day we visited and it rained and you see the baroque buildings shining ahead and a city which looks normal, alive, healed. Inside, the exhibition shows part of the market place with traces of the bombing, removed only in 2006 for the new museum. And it shows other bombings, done by the Germans: Rotterdam and Vielnus. The pictures of the ruins could be any city. The Dresden of yesterday is the Alep of today. It looks healed but the scars run so deep that two generations later they still hurt.

When I went out of there, I needed to eat something, something very sweet, very caloric, very unhealthy, very comforting.

I don't know what else to say. Maybe it's not war that destroys all. It's mainly what you do and say after war.

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Go there!

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 Post subject: Re: Dresden
PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2016 10:51 am 
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Nin, I feel like making your post into an inspirational poster. So insightful...

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 Post subject: Re: Dresden
PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2016 11:00 am 
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Thanks Nin, that's really interesting. I think that the ongoing differences between former East and West Germany are not widely understood in the English-speaking world.

One of the things I find particularly tragic about Dresden is that within weeks of the bombing the city was captured by the Soviets. And like all German civilians who fell into the hands of the Red Army, the survivors in Dresden suffered appallingly. For example (apologies for linking to the Daily Mail, but what I do know of the Red Army's conduct in Germany I have no reason to doubt it): "In the house next to ours, Soviet troops went in and pulled the women on to the street, had their mattresses pulled out and raped the women...The men had to watch, and then the men were shot."

Incidentally, I recently read Ian Kershaw's The End about the final year of Nazi Germany. I learned that the Allies only really started the mass terror bombing of German cities in late 1944, after the advance on the Western Front stalled and the July 20 plot against Hitler failed. The book also made it clear that, no matter how bad I already thought the Red Army and Soviet Government was as far as the treatment of German civilians went, they were actually worse.


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 Post subject: Re: Dresden
PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2016 11:05 am 
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That was fascinating to read - thanks, Nin!

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 Post subject: Re: Dresden
PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2016 11:58 pm 
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Thank you for your insightful reflections Nin. The underlying psychology is the hardest to understand for those who are outside it - the invisible wounds, as you say.

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 Post subject: Re: Dresden
PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 6:41 am 
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That was powerful, Nin. Thank you. If I ever get to see Dresden, I will know to learn about what happened there first, to see it in the context of its history. When I visited Europe as a child, the wall was still up, so it wasn't possible. And at that age, I couldn't have begun to understand it.

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