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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Dresden ruins finally restored

By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent in Dresden

Gold orb and cross in front of Dresden's Frauenkirche
British craftsmen have helped restore the Dresden monument
The reconstruction of Dresden's famous cathedral is set to be crowned on Tuesday by a British-built cross.

The 21ft (6.4m) gold cross sat uneasily in bright morning sunshine on the pavement alongside the Frauenkirche cathedral in central Dresden.

Nearby, a huge crane waited to lift it into place on top of the church dome, for the crowning moment of a reconciliation process that has lasted nearly 60 years - and is not entirely over yet.

The Frauenkirche is the symbol of the bombing of Dresden, a huge British attack in 1945 that killed 35,000 people in a ferocious firestorm.

It was the most controversial raid of the war in Europe, with critics claiming the city had no military significance - and some even saying it was a war crime.

Now, a British charity called the Dresden Trust has collected donations from the general public in Britain to pay for some of the reconstruction costs of the cathedral.

The fact that it's come from the hearts, and indeed the bank balances of ordinary British people gives it an extraordinary significance
Dresden Trust chairman Alan Russell
"It's a very important symbol of German-British reconciliation," says Dresden Trust chairman Alan Russell.

"The fact that it's come from the hearts, and indeed the bank balances of ordinary British people gives it an extraordinary significance."

Left as symbol

The cross and orb that tops the Frauenkirche was even crafted by a British goldsmith whose father took part in the raid in February 1945.

Alan Smith has said his father, Frank, had always thought the attack was "morally wrong".

The Frauenkirche itself initially survived the bombing, only to subsequently collapse in a cloud of soot. The authorities of communist East Germany then left the ruins as a symbol of British aggression.

But when the Cold War propaganda battle ended, a plan was hatched to rebuild the church.

The ruins of Dresden's Frauenkirche
The Frauenkirche remained in ruins throughout the Cold War
It had been a masterpiece of baroque architecture, dominating the city's skyline since its completion in 1743, and rebuilding it was not easy.

"We have some old plans and some black-and-white pictures from the 1930s and 1940s, but we can only be sure of 60% of the interior," says chief architect Thomas Gottschlicht.

"The other 40% we built on the basis of what we found. We analysed every bit of remaining rubble. Every old stone was a sample for us."

The latest 3D computer technology was allied with the painstaking search through the remains to come up with the design. It is as authentic as possible, and also includes whatever original pieces of the building remained.

"I've been working on this project for more than seven years, others have been here for a decade. It's very unusual," says Mr Gottschlicht.

'Spiritual significance'

The reborn Frauenkirche can also be seen from Karl Hoch's balcony, looking across the river Elbe from the very edge of Dresden. Mr Hoch was the last man to photograph it as it collapsed to its foundations, and recalls seeing it after the British raid.

Its rebuilding is especially important to me because the Frauenkirche was a meeting point for Christians who opposed Hitler
Dresden resident Karl Hoch
"I was so excited to see it still standing, I called out to my mother," he says. "But an hour later it was gone."

Mr Hoch says the church always had a special place in the life of the city.

"Its rebuilding is especially important to me because the Frauenkirche was a meeting point for Christians who opposed Hitler. It's always had a special spiritual significance."

The cathedral will be finally inaugurated in October. For now, scaffolding still partly covers its fine sandstone towers.

The locals are glad to see it back. "It's a symbol for the rebuilding of Germany," says one man admiring the structure.

"It shows that the old animosities are behind us," adds a local woman.

They may well be, but the old controversies are not. Asked if the bombing of Dresden was a war crime, the woman does not hesitate.

"Yes it was. The war was more or less over. They should not have done it."

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