Dresden extends its olive branch to royalty

Fifty years after Allied aircraft razed the city, reconciliation is in the air, writes Steve Crawshaw in Bonn

The last time British royalty came to Dresden - in 1992 - things did not go well. Angry locals pelted the Queen with eggs.

This time, the city fathers hope it will be friendlier. When the Duke of Kent attends a series of ceremonies in Dresden on Monday, the desire for reconciliation will be explicit, on both sides.

Monday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the nightmare of Dresden, on 13 February 1945. At least 35,000 died in a single night, after RAF Lancasters dropped thousands of tonnes of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city.

A firestorm devoured the "Florence on the Elbe". Within a few hours, the city was reduced to ruins and rubble. Thirty times as many died in a single night in Dresden as in the famous German raids on Coventry. The German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann wrote, at the time: "Whoever has forgotten how to cry will learn again, when he sees the destruction of Dresden." The raids had little or no strategic value. The Russians were already close to Berlin, and the fate of Nazi Germany was sealed. Indeed, the Yalta conference had already, a few days earlier, planned the carve-up of Europe, after Hitler was out of the way.

The targets in Dresden were overwhelmingly civilian. The casualty figures were especially high, because of the thousands of civilians, fleeing the Soviet advance, who had crowded into the city.

In subsequent decades, there was much bitterness in Dresden, and the constant question: ``Why?" Then and now, there has been no satisfactory answer. Theoretically, Hitler's defeat was not yet certain. Some subsequently defended the raids on an eye-for-an-eye principle: Hitler's crimes were incomparably great - so why should the Allies feel constrained to fight a "just" war?

That was part of the implicit logic behind the erection of the statue to Bomber Harris, responsible for the raids. The statue was unveiled in London by the Queen Mother in 1992. The Queen visited Dresden just a few months later; hence, the eggs. But the bitterness of that time has partly given way to a determination to look to the future, not the past. The mayor of Dresden emphasises that the catastrophe was a direct result of the evil spirits that Germany itself had unleashed.

Threatened demonstrations by the extreme left (against commemorating the raids) and the extreme right (against the raids themselves) both seem unlikely to get far. The city has banned all demonstrations which are "likely to be violent", saying: "Dresden is working for reconciliation."

The Bishop of Coventry is to lead the service of international reconciliation on Monday night, which will be attended by the Duke of Kent and the German president, Roman Herzog. Crucially, too, the series of official events organised for the Dresden anniversary includes no fewer than 17 exhibitions, lectures, films and meetings on Auschwitz.

For 40 years, the Communist authorities used the Anglo-American attacks (the Americans bombed Dresden, a few hours after the RAF Lancasters had gone home) as a stick to beat the imperialists with. Now, that style of politicking is over.

As the Suddetsche Zeitung noted yesterday: "A narrow tightrope is being walked, with the attempt to commemorate the occasion jointly with the former enemy." Olive branches are sprouting, all over.

The nostra culpa signals from Germany are being met by equally conciliatory signals from London. In 1992, the Queen Mother made an implicitly bullish speech, in which she did not even refer to the civilian casualties; her daughter did little to put things right when she visited Dresden.

This time, by contrast, the never-say-sorry Queen Mother has been metaphorically locked away. Instead, the Duke of Kent, as the Queen's emissary, will announce that the cross on the Frauenkirche - Dresden's much-loved central church, which is to be rebuilt, from public donations - will be funded by a specially created British charity, the Dresden Trust.

The Queen has made it known that she has donated to it. In an equally unprecedented move, the British government has made a £50,000 donation to the charity.

The Dresden Trust, 3 Western Road, Littlehampton, West Sussex BN17 5NP. (tel 0903 723137).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower