What is very interesting from an architectural point of view in Germany today and since re-unification in 1989 is the amount of reconstruction in various cities in what was once East Germany also known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR) under communist rule. From 1946 to 1989 the Communist government of the GDR did very little to preserve and protect historical monuments, palaces and the architecture of Germany prior to 1939. In many cases like the city of Leipzig in Saxony, where Bach spent most of his life working and where he is buried in the famous St-Thomas Church, the Communist authorities rebuilt the city in modern realist style and simply destroying buildings they did not like because they belonged to a part of history they simply wanted to erase.
Cities like Dresden the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony which was fire bombed by the Allies twice on 14 and 15 February 1945 and totally destroyed was not rebuilt but left in ruins, some modern buildings were built by the authorities but are ugly and soulless. Potsdam the Capital of Royal Prussia and the State of Brandenburg was equally re-modelled and rebuilt with little care for history. It is as if for the communists the past had no meaning or they had no past, only a future along a Soviet vision of the world.
We visited Dresden several times in the last 25 years and each time to our astonishment we saw more and more building resurrected, the Federal Government of Germany in an elaborate program sought to rebuild the historical past in an effort to reunify the country and its people and recreate a Germany dating to a time prior to the horrors of the Nazi dictatorship.
Here are some photos of Dresden taken in the last 12 months.
The old historical centre with its art museum and academy, we walked in this area along the river Elba.
On the left of the picture the 93 meter high dome of the Frauenkirchen (Lutheran Cathedral) and on the right the distinctive lemon grate glass dome of the Art academy with its gold leaf angel of victory. All of these buildings had to be rebuilt in some case from scratch only rubble was left in 1945. The art collection in Dresden including the celebrated Meissen Porcelain collection is well worth the visit.
This famous panorama was painted by Canaletto in the 18th century
However inside the building you will find this look of undressed and stark reminder of the destruction of war. It is done deliberately so that people will not forget what was lost.
Some buildings were more protected from the war and the February 1945 fire bombing like the treasury rooms of the Royal Palace because the windows had steel shutters. But that was not the case for other buildings all around.
The rebuilding of the Old city of Dresden has been extensive and I often wonder if the memory of what happened is not somewhat erased by this re-birth of all the old buildings including the street scapes.
Dresden was the capital of the princely Wettin family who are relatives of the British royals, the family name Wettin was considered by the British government in 1917 when it was suggested to King George V that he change the German family name of Saxe-Cobourg Gotha to Wettin, in the end the name Windsor was chosen to hide the german origins of the British royals. Dresden is also linked to the French King Louis XVI whose mother was Maria-Josepha of Saxony. Louis spoke fluent German something that is not widely known.
Potsdam which is a suburb of Berlin in Brandenburg was the royal capital of the Hohenzollern dynasty. The city had many canals and was extensively built by the Kings of Prussia in an elegant baroque and rococo Italianate style. A city of palaces and gardens but also of military monuments. Under King Frederick Wilhelm I, it became known for its garrison of soldiers, his son Frederick II the Great continued this tradition but also favoured the arts and progressive policies like general education for all and the abolition of the death penalty.
I visited Potsdan several times in the last 22 years. Currently the Garnison Church is being rebuilt with funds from the private sector and the Lutheran Church.
City Palace Potsdam rebuilt today as the seat of the Parliament of Brandenburg
The GarnisonKirche of Potsdam as it will look in a few years with its tower at 57 meters in height.
Potsdam has seen enormous rehabilitation work in the last 20 years and the old communist era buildings are being demolished and replaced by historical buildings brought back from oblivion. Including street scapes and gardens from the 18th century. Work that will require many more years to complete, employing an army of stone cutters, artists, painters, historians and archivists. In all cases voluminous archives of paintings and drawings, architectural design of the time and photography help in the re-building effort.
Berlin is another example of massive re-creation of the city as it was before 1930 and more along the lines of the 18th century in the age of enlightenment. Mixed in new modern buildings that blend in but also offer a contrast to the older architecture.
In the case of Berlin entire neighbourhoods and city squares have been rebuilt in what was the Eastern Sector of the City, in some cases street lighting of the 1920’s was re-created to replace the communist rusting lamplights made of aluminium. The wall is gone, don’t go look for it, and small touristic sections are left but are a poor reminder looking insignificant. In Berlin the City Council, the Government of Brandenburg and the Federal Government with the Parliament have all worked together to remake the image of Berlin as a unified city, dedicated to the ideals of the 18th and 19th century like the Humboldt brothers, Wilhelm and Alexander, proponents of Liberal Classicism ideals.