THE WAR WAS NOT kind to Dresden: the bombers of the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Force rained destruction on the Saxon capital, reducing much of the city to piles of rubble, and killing thousands upon thousands of innocent women and children in the process. One of the few buildings to survive the cataclysmic and morally reprehensible bombing campaign was the old garrison, which after the war was turned into a military museum.
Poland, whose unprovoked invasion by the Nazis sparked the Second World War, is exacting a curious revenge on neighbouring Germany, however. Daniel Libeskind, the controversial Polish starchitect, is building a monstrous addition to the Dresden Military History Museum that may not be a crime against humanity, but is undoubtedly a crime against architecture.
Libeskind’s addition to the museum takes the form of a jarring triangle, pointing in the direction from which the British and American bombers came to attack the city. “It is something like a lantern, a signal, a beacon that evokes the city itself,” Libeskind told the press. “It creates a question mark about the continuity of history and what it means. It gives people a point of reflection.”
Libeskind’s addition does not in fact include any significant increase in functioning exhibition space or working areas. It is more of a middle finger to the city.
“I cannot decide whether Libeskind has been brilliant or utterly appalling,” writes Simon Heffer of the Daily Telegraph. “I suspect he is the latter, though the mock-ups on his website of how the finished product will look are rather incredible: and there is a poetic justice about taking the only undamaged building from that night and allowing it to share in the proceeds of destruction in this way.”
The estimated cost of the project is €48,000,000, funded by the Federal Republic of Germany, which has chosen this institution to be the official military history museum of the country.
Up to this point, Dresden had become known for its commendable progress in rebuilding the historic structures destroyed during the war and left as rubble during the Communist period. The completion of the Frauenkirche (above, the Lutheran church of Our Lady) has been particularly applauded. But Libeskind attacks this progress, claiming that “sentimentality is not a foundation on which you can build a new city.” One is tempted to point out that Dresden is not a new city, having its origins in the late twelfth century, in a region that had been settled by the Linear Pottery tribes around 7500 B.C., but one suspects anything more than five minutes old is of little interest to Mr. Libeskind.
Rebuilding is not a policy of forgetting or ignoring the past but trying to recover it and safeguard it for future generations. While the Libeskinds of this world have no concept of relating to the past other than insulting it or erasing it, I hope cities the world over will, like Dresden, pursue a policy of coming to terms with the past instead.