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German city celebrates crowning of rebuilt church

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DRESDEN, Germany — The city of Dresden crowned its rebuilt Frauenkirche with a British-made gilded orb and cross Tuesday, a landmark step in the restoration of the famed 18th century church that was destroyed by Allied firebombing in 1945.

Tens of thousands of people watched as a crane raised the 29-ton cross and cupola to the top of the 250-foot dome of the Church of Our Lady.

Speakers said the restoration as a continuing sign of post-World War II reconciliation between Germany and Britain, whose planes flew in the Anglo-American raid that destroyed the church and killed about 35,000 people.

Speaking in German at the ceremony, Britain's Duke of Kent called the event "a project that joins people who were once enemies in a strong and lasting friendship."

The church's "destruction in that inferno that afflicted Dresden in February 1945 was a tragedy," he said. "Its reconstruction is a great achievement, and it fills me with pride to be able to give a little help."

Lutheran Bishop Volker Kress, a survivor of the Dresden firebombing, said "it's a very moving moment for me to experience this event."

The orb and cross are replicas of the ones that graced the church and the Dresden skyline until the Feb. 13-14 raid. The orb and cross were commissioned by the Dresden Trust, a British group.

The Duke presented the replica to the city in 2000, on the 55th anniversary of the raid. It was officially unveiled in December 1998 and toured English cities damaged by German attacks during World War II before being sent to Dresden.

East Germany's communist rulers had left the church in ruins, viewing it as a reminder of the horrors of war.

After German reunification, work on clearing away the rubble began in 1994. The $158 million renovation is being financed largely by private donors.