The Dresden Trust - David

Woodhead tells how Britain

helped pay for restoration

after  the bombing

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These now really are

Testing Times for Europe -

Greece - QE - Swiss franc


Populist paranoia punctured

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Surrey in Europe

Newsletter of the Surrey branch of the European Movement - Winter 2015


To many of us in the European Movement the great and unique achievement of the European Union is to have replaced centuries of armed conflict in our continent with a pan-European system within which differences between nations are settled through discussion, not by force of arms.

The “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” to which the Treaty of Rome aspires is, of course, achievable not only by the actions of governments but also by Burke’s ‘little platoons’. One such is the Dresden Trust, whose work is inspired by the need for reconciliation between Britain and the German city whose destruction in 1945 is still one of the most controversial aspects of Britain’s conduct of World War II.

For many generations of educated British people, the name Dresden represented one of the pinnacles of European culture. Known as ‘the Florence of the Elbe’, it has excelled in architecture, music, art and the sciences; thanks to Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony 1694-1733 (also, by invitation, King August II of Poland) and his successors, it is the home of one of the greatest art collections in the world (and was the place where porcelain was first produced outside China).

Richard Strauss famously said ‘Christianity had to be invented to make possible the Isenheim altar, the Sistine Madonna, the Missa Solemnis and Parsifal. Dresden is home to one of these and hears two of them at regular intervals: three out of four is pretty good. But on 13-15 February 1945 the baroque heart of this gem of western civilisation was mercilessly destroyed and tens of thousands of civilians burnt alive in the firestorm ignited by allied bombing.

After German unification in 1990 a call went out to the world from leading Dresden citizens: ‘help us rebuild our once beautiful city’. And there was an immediate response, not only from within Germany but from the UK, France, the US and elsewhere. Here, the challenge was taken up by the Dresden Trust, founded in 1993 by Dr Alan Russell, among other distinctions a former European Commission and Foreign Office official.

Its first task was to help with the rebuilding of Dresden’s iconic Frauenkirche (the Protestant Church of our Lady), whose famous outline had dominated the city’s skyline for 200 years, by raising the money in the UK to re-create the 9-metre golden orb and cross which had stood atop the cupola of the great stone dome. More than £1 million was raised and the orb and cross were made in London by master craftsman Alan Smith, whose father had been a bomber pilot on one of those fateful raids which had destroyed Dresden.

The orb and cross were handed over in Dresden on the 55th anniversary of the raid in 2000 by the Duke of Kent, the Trust’s royal patron. At that time the Frauenkirche was still under construction, but four years later the orb and cross were raised 100 metres to be placed on the dome’s cupola where they stand as a symbol of enduring Anglo-German friendship – and restore a key feature of the city skyline painted in the 1740s by Bellotto (nephew of Canaletto).

Since then the Trust has sought to fulfil its mission of furthering reconciliation through  educational and cultural initiatives, memorials and visits. These include, for example, a memorial plinth in the Kreuzkirche to commemorate the priests and choirboys who died there in 1945, a garden of mainly English roses in the centre of Dresden, a British-German Friendship Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield, Staffordshire.

My own priority since 2000 has been to encourage personal contacts between young  people in Britain and Germany. And so I founded the Dresden Scholars’ Scheme which has enabled about 300 boys and girls from schools in Dresden and elsewhere in Saxony to attend independent schools in Great Britain. They continue to come, in most cases for a full academic year, thanks to generous scholarships provided by the schools which, over the years, have offered between 40 and 80 places per year. And lifelong friendships are made as a result.

The Trust’s work continues by contributing to the development of a ‘green area’ with trees and benches in Dresden’s Neumarkt, so that its citizens and tourists can relax and enjoy their magnificently reconstructed city, and by cultural exchanges including exhibitions highlighting the twinning of Dresden and Coventry. In February 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the devastating raid, the Duke of Kent will be presented with the Dresden Peace Prize (previous recipients of which include Mikhail Gorbachev and Daniel Barenboim) in recognition of his long association with the Dresden Trust.

After 20 years the Trust decided that a definitive account of its work should be produced. The result is A Trust for Our Times: The Story of the Dresden Trust which, in 230 pages, describes in detail the concerns and idealism which motivated the Trust’s supporters and explains how the Trust established its profile in order to raise funds and publicise its achievements. In eighteen short chapters – interspersed with individual comments by British and German participants – the book tells a remarkable and inspiring story of a major effort by many people in both countries to create lasting reconciliation between them and revive the historic bonds between the UK and Dresden/Saxony.

The book can be obtained by sending a cheque for £15.00 (£12.00 + £3.00 p&p) payable to The Dresden Trust to: Select Office Services (marked Dresden Trust Book), Forum House, Stirling Road, Chichester PO19 7DN (telephone 01243 787932,

e-mail For more information about the Trust, see its website at

David Woodhead

Trustee & former Vice-Chairman,



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