On my second night in Dresden, I was wandering around Frauenkirche (Church of our Dear Women) in Dresden’s Old Town, looking for the famous Kunst-Cafe Antik which was recommended by many because of its unique ambiance. Of course in the tradition of my geographic ineptness, I got lost. I tried following An der Frauenckirche street but it disappeared into Munzgasse street and I didn’t know where else to go. I was already on my 4th loop, tired and hungry, having survived the day with only four pathetic pieces of sushi from a pseudo Japenese restaurant along Wilsdruffer street.
I was ready to give up and dive into the closest restaurant when I noticed a group of old people lining up in the entrance. The church closes at 4pm so I thought there must be a special event scheduled that night. I also saw young men in tuxedo, ushering those who are entering the church.
Near one of the doors I read the promotional poster that contained the words “konzert” and “gedenken”. I knew that it was a commemoration concert so I asked one of the lady usher how much the ticket was and if it’s still available. Apparently there were not so many enthusiasts that night and I was able to secure a ticket for €24 euros, momentarily forgetting my growling stomach.
The interior of Frauenkirche, like most old European churches, is grand, beautiful and impressive, but it’s very apparent that the building had been restored. It does not exude the Renaissance atmosphere that one would feel when entering one of the churches in Rome. The interior looks so polished like it had never seen war.
I was seated in the blind area near the stunning golden altar of Frauenkirche, where I could only see my fellow audience and look up to the balcony. But since hardly half of the church was filled, the people in my row decided to transfer to the front, myself included. Throughout the whole concert, I had a full front view of the orchestra.
Did I already mention that this is my first classical concert? You know where there is a conductor in tuxedo, a whole set of instrument players and a soprano, tenor and bass – all dressed elegantly?
Yes it was and I felt very lucky that it only cost me a fraction of what I would have paid in a normal classical concert.
When the orchestra began to play, I watched the audience around me. Most of them are old people, I was probably among the few who is younger than 30 years old. Surely most of them have lived through the war, some might even be children when the Allied Forces bombed Dresden to ashes in 1945.
The music grew more powerful, the tempo went faster and then it slowly faded into a sad harmony. It was beautiful, hair-rising sometimes. This is after all Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus for his wife Constanze.
Being the sentimental traveller that I am, I thought of the war and the faces around me. This orchestra is playing to remember a very tragic year in Dresden’s history – what could they be thinking?
Do they remember the sound of exploding bombs with every blow of the brass? Do they remember their tears with each pull of the violin?
Sitting safe inside a church that was pounded into pieces during the war, do they remember how they fled when the bombs dropped? And do they think of the mothers, fathers and siblings they could have lost that day when the music mellows down?
As the concert progressed, I thought of the war that I have not known. It made me feel like an outsider, an intruder even. I wouldn’t know how it is to be scampering for cover when the sky is raining fire from the enemies.
I do not share their pain. I do not know their pain. Reading Slaughterhouse-five is not enough for me to understand what the city went through.
I will never know the Dresden that these residents around me knew. Because the Dresden that I’ve seen is far from the Dresden that was almost obliterated in three days in February 1945.
Sometimes, I feel like travel is superficial.
Dresden was bombed by the Allied Forces from February 13-15, 1945. War is cruel.