Lasting Consequences of Conflict – Luftangriffe auf Dresden

Die Kontrovers – Controversy

In August of 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing approximately 66,000 people and injuring approximately 66,000 more individuals. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing and injuring another estimated 64,000 people. Nearly 75 years later, the decision of the United States to use atomic weapons against Japan remains controversial. Since 1945, advocates of the use of atomic weapons maintained that the dropping of these bombs on Japan brought the Asian Theatre of WWII more quickly to an end. Alternatively, those against the use of atomic weapons argued that this decision was inhumane and unnecessary.

You may wonder why I am discussing Japan and the Asian Theatre of World War II in a blog about my travels and experiences in Germany. However, there is a connection. In Dresden, a different undertaking of the Allies during WWII remains controversial: die Luftangriffe auf Dresden, the Bombing of Dresden.

In 1945, five years after the conflict in Europe began, the war had completely absorbed the economies and populations of more than 50 independent nations. By February of the same year – as the last months of European conflict dragged on – Soviet forces had finally halted the German Army in Eastern Prussia as the combined Allied forces blocked the German Army’s invasion into the Ardennes forest in Belgium. Less than three months later, the European Theatre of WWII ended with the unconditional surrender of the German Army.

Despite the state of German forces in February 1945, the United States and Great Britain dropped more than 4,000 tons of explosives on the city of Dresden over a period of three days. As a result, over 75,000 dwelling places were destroyed. Though a few historic buildings – such as the Zwinger and Frauenkirche – were carefully rebuilt, most of the city was rebuilt with modern architectural style, leaving the city which had once been known as “the Florence of the Elbe” a very different place.

Dresden before and after the bombing campaign of 1945.

As with the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many now question whether such destruction was truly necessary at a time when Germany had already begun to fall into the hands of defeat. Allied forces argued that the attack was needed to disrupt important lines of communication which may have hindered the Soviet offensive in the east. As the seventh largest city in Germany at the time, it has also been argued that bombing Dresden may have been important to destroying German munitions. However, the evidence supporting this claim is somewhat lacking, leading many to question how strategically and militarily important Dresden truly was.

Three-quarters of a century later, the effects of this bombing campaign can still be seen today. After taking a tour of the Frauenkirche, and climbing to the top to get a beautiful view of Dresden, the impact of war upon the city was easily recognizable. Even in the Altstadt portion of the city, most buildings have clearly been built within the last century. Those historic buildings, which have been rebuilt to represent the baroque style with which they had first been imagined, clearly show the marks of destruction. Original stone, charred from the fire which blazed after the attacks, sits in the walls of these buildings, often surrounded by new, untarnished stone.

The Dresden Cathedral, which illustrates the “patchwork” of stone colors due to reconstruction.
Zwinger Museum in 2019 after years of reconstruction.

Despite this destruction and forced reconstruction, Dresden maintains a great amount of culture and historical value. In fact, from 2004 until the construction of the Waldschloesschen Bridge in 2009, Dresden held UNESCO World Heritage status for its riverscape along the Elbe. As a result, Dresden has provided an extremely interesting and meaningful place for me to study German language and culture.

Panoramic view of Dresden from the top of the Frauenkirche.

Mit Herzlichen Grüßen!

Nee and Nu?

Hallo aus Dresden! Herzlich Willkommen auf meinem Blog!

Hello from Dresden! Welcome to my blog!

It is hard to believe that I have now been in Germany for a little over two weeks! Since I left Ohio I have already visited three different countries, several amazing museums, and, of course, many delicious restaurants. After our first week of class, we already had our first – and last– long weekend. On June 10, we had no class as Germany observed Pfingstmontag, or Whit Monday, a holiday celebrating the day after Pentecost. Hoping to make the most of this time off, I hopped on a bus with a group of other Goethe Institut students and traveled about six hours south to Vienna, Austria. Between classes, travelling, and exploring Dresden, I have kept myself very busy!

This weekend, I decided to stay in Dresden, to have more time to get to know the city – and of course to give myself a little bit of a break! As a result, I have finally been able to reflect on the experiences I have had throughout my first couple of weeks in Germany.

When my sister and I were babies, my mom had the help of an Au pair from Germany – Dresden, to be more specific – for a few years to help take care of and raise us. Twenty years later, we are still in contact with her and her family, and consider them to be our own “German family.” After sharing with them that I would be studying in Dresden this summer, her parents so kindly offered to pick me up from the airport and to bring me to the room where I would be staying at the Goethe Institut. Though Michi, as we fondly call her, speaks fluent English, her parents do not. So, though the stress of having to figure out how to get from Berlin Tegel Airport to Dresden had thankfully been taken off of my shoulders, my somewhat lacking German-language skills made me a little bit nervous.

(from left to right) A picture of Michi, my sister, and me from when we were young.

For me, my first week in Dresden was a lot like my first week of college – a little bit nerve-wracking and very overwhelming. No matter how much preparation and research you do, you can never be fully prepared for such a new experience.

As I had only studied German for a few years before this summer, I expected to face a little bit of a language barrier. However, there were at least to words I expected to understand: “ja” (yes), and “nein” (no). I was wrong. Throughout Saxony – a Bundesland of which Dresden is the capital – many people speak using an Upper Saxon, or Sächsisch, dialect. Though there may be many different regional accents in the United States, for the most part, the whole country speaks only one dialect. However, within the German language, there are about seven different dialects, one of which is Sächsisch. In this dialect there are different words for “yes” and “no” – “nu” and “nee” respectively.

Having lived in Saxony their whole lives, Michi’s parents use the Sächsisch dialect in regular conversation, and often say “nee” and “nu.” To a non-native speaker, not only do these words sound very similar to each other, but they also both sound a lot like “nein.” I’m sure you can imagine my initial confusion. These words, which I had initially expected to heavily rely upon, had betrayed me. But, of course, after a few clumsy interactions, her parents clarified to me what these words actually meant. After only one hour in Germany I had already learned my first Sächsich German word!

Since landing in Berlin, I have learned so much about Dresden and East German culture – though my Sächsisch vocabulary hasn’t really expanded beyond nee and nu. I look forward to learning even more in my time remaining!

A picture of me at a vineyard with a beautiful view of Dresden behind me.

Tschüssi! Bis dann!

Friede sei mit Ihnen!

Grüßen aus München!

Greetings from Munich, each and all!

Time is certainly starting to fly for me here; however, I have already had a great many fruitful experiences in my brief time abroad.

So far, I have made several walks through the city, checking out whatever places look interesting to me. I’ve visited a number of absolutely beautiful churches here in Munich, and I’ve found a couple of neat bookstores, from one of which I bought a couple of German books. I’ve made a trip to Heidelberg to visit a Notre Dame professor who showed me around his city. I took a hike with the mother of my host family and their dog Stella around Andechs, a Benedictine monastery not far from Munich. Although not exactly German-related, I was even fortunate enough to catch Notre Dame’s Glee Club performing in a nearby church. I’m making use of everyday in the city and learning more about German and Germany with every step!

Here I am in Heidelberg!

One of my first priorities upon arriving in Munich was to find a Catholic church where I could attend a daily Mass that would fit my schedule. Fortunately, I was quick to find a beautiful church just a short walk from the S-Bahn stop at Karlsplatz. It also just so happens that St. Michaels Kirche is a Jesuit church, immediately a little comforting for me who attended a Jesuit high school and who has a number of friends and former teachers in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Here’s a picture that I took of the interior:

While I was comforted with that sort of familiarity, I was rather outstandingly not German at first in my not knowing the responses in Mass. I still grab a hymnal with most of the responses at the beginning of Mass, and at first, I was very clumsy with the way I would flip back and forth from response to psalm to hymn back to response, etc. I’ve memorized almost all the responses by now, but the one that made me the most nervous, the one that required me to pay very close attention to what fellow church-goers were saying to me, was what to say at the Sign of Peace. It was written nowhere in my Gotteslob hymnal, and everyone spotted me as the goofy American pretty darn quickly. So everyone just gave me a pitiful smile or mumbled softly as I shook a hand and likewise whispered some incomprehensible nonsense to hide my ignorance.

Finally, after shaking a number of hands and searching for the right words to say, I took a shot in the dark and gave the straight translation from English to German. After piecing together mumbled words and hoping that this phrase had not changed overseas–of course expecting to be horribly wrong and consequently embarrassed for making a silly mistake–however, I was pleased to be met with widened eyes and a hearty smile from a sweet lady when I hesitantly gave her a “Friede sei mit Ihnen.”

Indeed, a very simple saying, almost as quick as slang, but the formula for which is crucial to my partaking in the community around me. Since then my confidence in fully participating in the German Mass has increased in me the ability to speak more fluidly with locals and with my classmates. Just this simple colloquial phrase which almost every Catholic knows has done much to change the way I participate in and mentally approach German culture. Through this exchange, which is very familiar to me in English Masses, I have felt more welcome in Germany and more confident in my fitting in with the locals around me. Such a simple phrase has helped me become a little more German!

And so, I leave you with this as I embark on the next adventure in Germany:

Friede sei mit Ihnen!

P.S. German has even followed me out of Germany a bit. I took a quick trip to Rome on a long weekend, and when I turned around in Mass to give a Sign of Peace to the woman behind me, I was surprised to hear “Friede sei mit Ihnen!” I was overjoyed to be able to respond likewise.