The bells of Dresden’s Our Lady’s Church (Frauenkirche) tolled for several long minutes on Monday evening. The church was completely destroyed by Allied bombing of the city on February 13-14, 1945, before eventually being rebuilt during the 1990s.
On Monday evening thousands of people formed a human chain that extended for several kilometers around the church. Hand in hand, they prayed in commemoration of the 25,000 civilians who died there 72 years ago.
“We are here to remember the Dresden tragedy and to look towards the future, to make clear our rejection of war both now and in the future,” explained Konrad Schmidt, a young father who participated along with his two daughters.
February 13 is a significant date for the capital of Saxony, which decided to give an international dimension to its commemorations for the first time this year.
This set in motion an unexpected polemic.
As part of the event, a work of art entitled Monument was erected a few meters from the Frauenkirche and a statue of Martin Luther. Comprised of three buses standing side by side on their ends, it resembles a genuine barricade from the streets of Aleppo.
“How dare you install a symbol of the Islamic State here?” complains a 50-year-old German.
“You misunderstand, sir,” responds the German-Syrian artist, Manaf Halbouni, “It is not a symbol of the Islamic State but an anti-war symbol.”
For years the commemoration of the bombing of Dresden has been polemical. The local extreme right commemorates the date, insisting on the martyr status of the city while omitting reference to the dark side of the Second World War.
Mayor, Dirk Hilbert, simply sticks to the facts.
“Dresden was an important site for arms production, the repression of Jews and forced labor,” he notes. “It was also a bastion of the Nazi Party, which should not be forgotten.”
As a result of these comments and his backing for the Aleppo sculpture, Hilbert has received a series of death threats. Last week, a group of 80 people protested at the opening ceremony for the work, describing it as “degenerate art”, a term once used by the Nazis.
Simultaneously, the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party, criticized the city mayor for doing a “180° somersault concerning the political memorial for the city”.
The incident also reveals the extreme polarization of this eastern German city of 525,000 inhabitants. In effect, it was here on the border of the Elbe that the xenophobic movement Pegida (European Patriots against Islamization of the West) was born. Each Monday, the movement now occupies the square in front of the city’s opera house.
The AfD also has representatives on the municipal council and is credited by several opinion polls to secure 25% of the vote. As a result, Dresden’s image has suffered leading to a drop in tourism in 2015.
“East Germany urgently needs workers,” says Joachim Ragnitz from the IFO Research Center in Dresden.
“Foreigners are the only ones in a position to respond. But what foreigner will want to come and live in Dresden, the birthplace of Pegida?”
In a bid to improve this poor image, the city highlights its strong economic performance, the attractions of its universities and its innovation hubs.
Dresden also promotes its cultural activities, including the installation of the Monument sculpture.
“Dresden is a colorful and varied city that is open to the world,” says Hans Müller-Steinhagen, the organizer of the human chain protest.
“Let us show that the feelings of hatred do not belong here,” he adds.
Among the people gathered before the church, there was also a strong desire to respond to extremist views.
“There are many committed people in Dresden but they do not speak up as much as this extreme right minority who shout the whole time and create problems,” says Konrad Schmidt.
Meanwhile, in front of the Frauenkirche, Manaf Halbouni, the young German-Syrian artist, is pleased with the debate that is now underway.
“People are starting to talk. They are discussing their views,” he says. “It’s a good start.”
Source: La Croix International
By: Delphine Nerbollier
16 February 2017