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).

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Heskey's aim has improved since the end of his English football career

Long after his career in English football has ended, Emile Heskey's impotency in front of goal remains an object of ridicule.

Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam