Like no other building in the city, the Frauenkirche encapsulates both the splendour and the suffering of Dresden. This 18th-century architectural masterpiece in the heart of a flourishing metropolis was gutted by fire as a result of the bombing raid on Dresden during the night of 15th February 1945. Reduced to a mound of rubble, it was left for half a century as a memorial to the civilian casualties and to the destruction of the city. But the ruin was also a rallying point for opponents of injustice in the post-war era, serving as a monument against tyranny and barbarism throughout the world. Coventry and Rotterdam, Stalingrad and Warsaw – there are so many geographic names that are synonymous with suffering.
The latest to go on this list is Aleppo. Residents of that city in Syria built a barricade of buses to afford protection from sniper fire. The Damascus-born artist Manaf Halbouni has now placed three buses – likewise balanced on their ends – on the square in front of the Frauenkirche to represent the suffering of the civilian population in the war. This art installation is a stark reminder that the peace we enjoy here and now is once again under threat. He chose this particular site for his monument to reinforce the message that – especially in a city such as Dresden – we must never forget.
It was the citizens of Dresden who actively campaigned for the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche. Donations came in from all around the world, enabling this magnificent building to be rebuilt and, at the same time, creating a new symbol, a symbol of reconciliation. For the next few weeks, this monument to reconciliation is the backdrop to another monument reminding us of the devastating consequences of conflict. Some will see it as a thorn in our flesh and a sort of reproach, but it is also an opportunity to enter into dialogue, to work for reconciliation in time of war as well as in our fragile peace.