A timeless space

George Bähr's interior of the Frauenkirche is a timeless space.The master builder created a church room that, apart from an altar, a pulpit, a baptismal font, an organ and the seats, does without any additional furnishings. It is merely designed space, designed material, designed surfaces in varying shapes, colors and light.

by architect Thomas Gottschlich

As Martin Struck correctly described it in 2004, there is no separate human organ for the perception of space as there is for hearing or seeing. Rather, each person has images from his or her own experience at his or her disposal, which are assembled into spatial impressions on the basis of the decisive factor of light. The same applies to spatial experience. Without experiencing by walking, sitting or standing, perceiving limitations and extensions as well as the actual acoustics of the room, we cannot fully understand dimensions. Consequently, there is no unified conception of how space in general, or in particular this Frauenkirche space, is to be conceived. Thus I begin to describe it.

A coexistence of closeness and expanse

A novel feature of the ground plan arrangement of the Baroque Frauenkirche above the Greek cross is the vaulting of the interior and above it the main dome over the entire congregational space. The small building area available to George Bähr tipped the scales in favor of the central building form, which was considered the ideal form in the Renaissance period due to its design unity and tranquility. The churches that are always mentioned in connection with the Frauenkirche and were built at about the same time, but with different vault constructions, have seating and vault arrangements based on the Latin cross entirely in the sense of the Baroque style of construction, which was oriented toward movement.

Here in the Frauenkirche, the congregation arranges itself on five to six levels, one above the other. The pastor stands in the reading pulpit, which is advanced from the altar and elevated relative to the nave.There are only a few places from which the visitor cannot see the pastor. In this unique setting, the clergy in the pulpit takes a clear step towards the congregation, and the congregation forms around his word. If the pastor exercises his office at the altar, he withdraws from it again a little in favor of his conversation with God. Closeness and expansiveness emerge.

The same applies to the galleries. They are an integral spatial component of the interior. The higher they are arranged, the more they recede between the pillars and form their own, also acoustic spaces, partly with their own vault and with unmistakable views into the inner dome and the church space.

If one looks up from the nave, the congregation frames the way up into the brightness. Looking down from the galleries, the space widens and the central space takes on new and deeper dimensions. The main windows in particular play a significant role here. Almost the same size, the windows in the secondary axes distribute just as much light, only laterally and indirectly, so that the main window axes appear even brighter. In addition, depending on the time of day and season, brightness and darkness adjust and change the perception.

On the horizontal axis from Entrance D to the altar, the liturgical furnishing program develops, leading from the entrance to the congregation room via the reading pulpit and the baptismal font to the highlight in terms of design and content, the altar and organ prospect. Word and music have recently been placed on an equal footing. When the word comes forth, the music rests. If the music speaks, the word recedes. Or both come out audibly together, into the room and towards the congregation. Or both are silent and let the altar/organ prospect become a quiet place of contemplation. Here, different tasks are artistically combined in one place and dissolve familiar perspectives and divisions.

Rooms of light

If one looks along the vertical axis into the inner dome, through it into the main dome and up to the lantern roof, one sees spaces that are initially still defined by the images of the evangelists reminiscent of the Gothic predecessor church. No longer plastic, but illusionistic, the colored surface is carried up to the inner neck of the lantern. Quickly, however, new spaces emerge from light, spaces towards the light, spaces of thought that spring from one's own perception. This space does not prescribe a certain way of perception. Yours can unfold, each time anew and each time differently.

The quiet movement in the room, which is oriented towards tranquility and uniformity, is supported by the colorfulness. Earthy colors are used in the interior. The rising of the pillars is stopped and brought into harmony by the repetitive design of the gallery parapets. In the horizontal development of colors, gold appears very cautiously from the choir screen to the altar as the highest color value in the interior. Likewise, in the vertical development, gold begins to increase from the rosettes to the inner dome pressure ring. Only there, then, where the highest is also found in the liturgical sense, at the altar/organ prospect and in the depictions of the evangelists.

Into this restored historical colorfulness, the community of those involved in the reconstruction has woven the leitmotif for the reconstruction of the then regional bishop: "Showing the healed wound" and has allowed deeper views. On the altar and on the few stucco remains in the sanctuary, historical conditions have been partially preserved up to the painting or gold version and have been conserved and integrated into the surrounding new version. With good eyes or at second glance, when approaching closer, one can recognize them. Thus, the history of this place is vividly linked to the present and secured for all time, without limiting the desired liturgical statement.

Let us listen around. The Frauenkirche is a central space that resonates very directly with the music presented. All it takes is a few singing voices in the sanctuary or a lower-pitched solo instrument, and the nuanced listening space unfolds. In the other case, with many musicians, the space wants to be understood in order to become a sonically convincing resonating body as well.

Built secureness

The Frauenkirche can be entered through seven portals. Bähr made the church accessible from all sides except the eastern one. An open house, a place of gathering, contemplation and reflection on the essential, a meeting place with God and with oneself. George Bähr's Frauenkirche is built security, is built togetherness. Even if the church is not fully occupied or you are alone here in the church room, the feeling of sitting lost in a large room does not exist here.

This church building, which was courageously constructed from regional sandstone, was not built primarily as a contemporary expression of the self-image of its client - the council of the city of Dresden - or in accordance with the determining liturgical concept of the Protestant church at that time, but it was built as a house of God for the people of the congregation outside the former city walls, which in the meantime had become too large. As a space where the congregation could gather and hear spiritual word and music.

In the Frauenkirche there is silence and expanse, closeness and distance, light and dark, visible and invisible, tangible as well as imperceptible, light and shadow, limited spaces and expanding spaces. All aspects of being are present built. The interior of the Frauenkirche then and now is a timeless space.


The text was written on the occasion of a commemorative event for the 350th birthday of George Bähr.