The Frauenkirche church is a fascinating Lutheran church in Dresden, the capital city of Saxony, Germany. In 1945, Allied forces bombed Dresden city during World War II. The church withstood the attack for two days and nights, before giving in to the heat generated by the bombs. The dome and the pillars collapsed to the ground with nearly 6000 tons of stone penetrating the floor below. The church vanished from the skyline of Dresden city, and the huge pile of blackened stone lay in the city centre for the next 45 years. With Frauenkirche being one of the most significant churches in Germany, a decision to rebuild it on the same grounds was taken in 1994, and the church was rebuilt by 2005. After the end of WWII, residents started retrieving and numbering blocks of stone fragments for reconstruction purposes. These ruins were conserved as war memorials within the city of Dresden. The sentiments of people discouraged authorities from clearing the site to establish a car park. The residents finally expressed their interest in reconstructing the church during the last few months of WWII. The delay in decision-making exposed the ruined remains to decay, and it was in 1985 the leaders of Dresden finally agreed to reconstruction after the completion of Dresden Castle.
Construction began in 1992, with the original building plans being issued by the builder Georg Bähr. After 60 years of work, the church was finally opened for public use in 2005 in its complete Baroque beauty. 60 years of construction time is time worth doing a deeper introspection at the stages of the project.
1992: Creation of Basic Conditions
The Dresden city council granted Frauenkirche the approval for reconstruction on February 20, 1992. Construction and planning activities on the site were taken care of by The Architekten- und Ingenieurgemeinschaft GmbH IPRO and civil engineering work by Ingenieurgemeinschaft Dr Jäger / Prof. Wenzel.
Construction work and the erection of scaffoldings began simultaneously to secure the northwest corner tower against falling stones. This tower was used to map the exterior facade.
1993: The Archeological Derbis Removal
January: The destruction of the old church left mounds of rubble at the site. The new church was planned to be rebuilt with as many original materials as possible.
The ruins of the old church weren’t cleared away. They were archaeologically sifted and cleared off debris for reuse. The rubble was segregated into plan squares for ease of orientation and documentation. They were carefully marked, numbered, and then removed. A detailed documentation catalogue of every find with its description, dimension, and location, along with digital images, was prepared to make identification easier. This process went on for 17 months, after which the rubble mountain was cleared.
A total of 91,500 stones and burial tablets were recovered of which 8390 were facade stones, and the rest were stones of the inner walls and ceilings
1994: Reconstruction Begins
The first foundation stone was laid after clearing the site. The old foundation stone laid in 1726 was retained at its same place – the foundation of the choir annexe.
Following this, the first phase of construction work began with the choir annexe. Trial, error, and variation in construction technology were implemented at this stage.
1995:THE External Structure
The construction of the exterior building was a vital task initially. This building housed check rooms for visitors, WC facilities, artist dressing rooms, recreation rooms, technical rooms for ventilation, electrical and emergency power supply, and a transformer station.
The RCC building- the white tank was built against George Bahr’s foundations with a movement joint, thereby making survey and restoration of the foundation masonry possible.
Restoration of the cellar: The old building was rebuilt to the extent that it could support the new building. The existing masonry was inspected and repaired to prepare it for the vault construction. Another trial section was built at Entrance C. The tower crane had left some negative experiences in the first trial. This created the need for an overhead crane with a trolley. Transportation processes were time-consuming.
1996: THE First Entrance Portal
The first entrance portal was completed in March 1996. The foundations for the structure were laid in the highest quality and within the shortest time possible.
The same year, the keystone of the main cellar vault was laid. The stonework was a difficult process, especially in the transom areas with no parallel surfaces. Most surfaces were curved. Stones for these areas were made in situ due to the above specifications and needed rework. The main cellar vault of the western barrel of the old church was included, enabling the ease to continue work with the standard layer bond. Three shapes of precast vaulting blocks were laid in Gothic bond- two runners and a truss alternatively. The altar made of massive, black stone still impresses visitors.
As winter set in, construction work was frozen for a while due to the weather conditions.
1997: Weather Protection Roof.
Construction lot two was completed in April 1997. The exterior walls, 8.10 m in height, were built of sandstone, for which 2100 m3 of sandstone was moved. The construction of the new building and the elevator shaft in the stair tower was next. About 2700m3 of sandstone was moved, and steel structures were assembled with tie rod installation.
The weather protection roof was raised by 10.5m by lifting an approximately 270-ton load hydraulically to a height of 24.5m. This lifting technology was attempted for the first time in 1997 and was further improved during later operations.
The construction of the inner pier was considered an achievement during this year. A total of 8 piers had to withstand a load of 1800 tons. High-quality sandstone called white bench of Wehlen quarry was used for the purpose.
1998: Building Growth
The church building grew to the height of large windows. The weather protection roof was lifted again to 35m in July. With the height achieved, it was possible to roof the northwest corner tower and choir annexe.
The stone construction continued after lifting. The piers were carried to the arch bases, about 18.37m. The stoop arches of windows were built. The exterior and interior masonry, staircases, and spierames were built up to the sill height. Brickwork and tie rods were inserted for the last few arches between the piers and spierames.
1999: Inner Pillars
Lot 3 was completed with exterior walls, spire frames, and staircases at the height of 24.3m. Steel structures for the five galleries were being developed. The construction of Lot 4 began with scaffolding and carpentry work. The raised interior piers created needed conditions for arch construction between the piers and spar frames. Stone designers worked meticulously to bring out the layer height, joint overlaps, and geometric shapes to be in harmony with each other.
The structure grew quickly, and the usage of sandstone increased to create formwork that had to support arches and vaults.
2000: Exterior Walls
Facade work continued this year with the relocation of the main cornice that started at 24.30 m and ended at 26.40M with pediment triangles above the main entrances and round arches in corner towers. There were five attic courses above the main cornice, and this raised the height of the exterior wall to about 28.3m. The rear masonry was also built to the height of the building.
Formwork for the vaults between the interior piers and exterior walls was built. These vaults formed the upper portion of the church interior. Brickwork above the choir galleries was completed, followed by the coffered vaults in Entrance B, D, and F. Work for the lower cornice of the inner dome began.
2001: Inner Dome
The main dome and inner dome were two separate components. The main dome is built of stonework rings raised vertically to form the outer facade at the height of 37.5m. The inner dome separated the stonework ring that carried the main dome and raised towards the upper compression ring. This stonework ring is raised vertically to form the outer facade with the layer of tambour cornice ring at 37.5m.
The inner dome with a 6m circular opening was completed. The most beautiful part of this building was the piece of sandstone work that separated into load-bearing ribs and intermediate stonework in the upper section.
The huge compound of original stones on the North side was rotated by 180 degrees, just the way it was on the mound of rubble. The staircase spire and its curves made it appear like a butterfly, but this involved a lot of technical finesse. The concave dome had suffered repeated damage due to water penetration. This water was diverted into ducts on the main cornice. A sprayed seal was used to channel off the water that penetrated the cover plates.
2002: Rise Of The Chruch
The building was raised to a height of 51m. All the work for the completion of the dome was done. The dormer windows, six tension rings of the main dome, and the ramp between the inner and outer shell of the dome leading up to the platform below the lantern were completed. The scaffolding for the facade work was not needed anymore since the canopy of the building had raised to 57m. In September, the covers on the south, west, and north sides were removed, and the church proudly presented a view of its 38m facade for the first time.
A mock-up section of the church interior was made to get an impression of the future interior design and fixtures. The mock-up was particularly important in deciding the colour schemes and finishes.
The flood catastrophe that hit Dresden in August caused water penetration into the Lower Church. The disaster control team took measures to prevent the church from extensive damage.
2003: Stone Dome Completion
The main stone dome was completed after the stonework on the inner and outer shells, along with the spiral ramp. After removing the scaffolding, the main dome was visible from the inside and outside. The eight bells from the old Frauenkirche were put back. Metal grills, stucco work, electrical, HVAC and painting work had begun, and the church was close to its finishing stage.
2004: Restoration Of The Outer Contour
Interior building work continued quicker to get the church ready in the next year. Glazings were being fitted. Interior painting work continued with the help of a custom-built rotary platform for architectural painting in the dome. The filigree wood carvings and the colourful decor of the organ gallery were highlights of the reconstruction.
2005: Church Ready!
The church was finally handed over to the public through a solemn consecration on October 30, 2005. The extraordinary workmanship and craftsmanship of painters, restorers, and artists created a cheerful church room for visitors.
Frauenkirche Dresden Foundation. Construction chronicle[online]
Available at: https://www.frauenkirche-dresden.de/rebuilding-chronicle
Frauenkirche-Dresden. The Fraunkirche church[Photographs](Dresden, Germany)