Eggs and chilly silence greet the Queen in Dresden

John Eisenhammer
Thursday 22 October 1992 23:02
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THE QUEEN prayed for reconciliation in Dresden yesterday. But the people wanted much more than this historic gesture: an apology for the fire storm that destroyed the city after an RAF raid on the night of 13 February 1945.

It was not the two eggs lobbed at the Queen as she entered the Kreuzkirche in Dresden, nor even the boos and whistles coming from a small band of protesters, that captured the mood, but rather the heavy chill and mistrustful silence that hung over most of the 5,000-strong crowd.

'Why has she not laid a wreath, knelt down like Willy Brandt did at the Warsaw Ghetto?' asked an old man holding aloft a banner made up of an outsize photograph of the bombed city.

Insided the church, whose sombre walls of bare grey cement were left as testimony to the destruction, the Bishop of Dresden, Johannes Hempel, and the Bishop of its twin city, Coventry, Simon Barrington-Ward, led the service of forgiveness and reconciliation.

'This reconciliation must not lead to self-satisfaction with what has been done. Reconciliation is always for today. It calls for the sharing of forgiving love with others near and far beginning in our bitterly conflict-ridden Europe,' said the Bishop of Coventry.

The Duke of Edinburgh read in German the first verses of the Beatitudes; Kurt Biedenkopf, Prime Minister of Saxony, read the rest in English. The Queen sat silent throughout her 80 minutes in Dresden, not even mouthing the words of the Lord's Prayer.

Outside in the crowd, the singing of the choirs of the Kreuzkirche and Coventry Cathedral broadcast over the square was punctuated by shouts of 'Weg mit Harris' - get rid of the Bomber Harris statue in London.

The city authorities had been keen for the Queen to lay a wreath at the Frauenkirche, whose ruins stand in the centre of Dresden. Instead, her motorcade drove past on the way to the Kreuzkirche.

Few in the crowd had much sympathy for the protesters - a motley mixture of punks and well-dressed right-wing students. By the time the Queen got to Leipzig the temperature had almost dropped to freezing. But the crowd radiated warmth - bursting into clapping and whooping as soon as her dark green hat appeared among the throng of security guards.

It was a tale of two cities and two histories - the sombre uncertainty of Dresden, the open enthusiasm of Leipzig, which had not suffered nearly as much from the bombing.

'How can the people of Dresden expect the Queen to apologise; make her responsible for what Germany began?' asked Andreas Muller. A good 15,000 people stood cheering, with not a protest banner in sight. The Queen looked relieved. Dresden and the painful task of reconciliation were already hours away.

(Photograph omitted)

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