Construction chronicle

Important stages of reconstruction

On February 20, 1992, the Dresden City Council gave its approval for the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche. On July 21, 1992, the approval planning was submitted to the building supervision office. The Stiftung Frauenkirche Dresden e. V. became operational on October 1, 1992.

Scaffolding erected during GDR times to secure the northwest corner tower was used to map the exterior facade. At the same time, construction work took place to secure it against falling stones.

The Architekten- und Ingenieurgemeinschaft GmbH IPRO Dresden was commissioned with the overall planning for the reconstruction, with the exception of the civil engineering work, with which the Ingenieurgemeinschaft Dr. Jäger / Prof. Wenzel was commissioned for the overall project. Prof. Jörg Peter was appointed as test engineer.

To ensure that the Frauenkirche could be rebuilt as planned using as many original components as possible, the ruins could not simply be cleared away. Rather, it had to be archaeologically sifted and debris removed.

This was begun on January 4, 1993. For better orientation and documentation, the mountain of rubble was first divided into plan squares. Before the finds were carefully removed, they were marked and numbered. All data, such as dimensions, location of the find, a brief description with a sketch of the find, and neighboring finds helped in the subsequent preliminary identification. In order to check this later and correct it if necessary, photogrammetric evaluation of digital images of the finds was carried out.

After only 17 months, the 22,000 m³ mountain of rubble had been removed. 8,390 facade stones and stones of the inner wall and ceiling surfaces as well as 91,500 rear wall stones could be recovered. In addition to the stone finds, a large number of other objects were recorded, including several burial tablets from the former lower church. The unexpected discovery of the badly damaged tower cross with its knob on June 1, 1993, caused particular joy.

After the completion of the archaeological debris removal, the actual reconstruction started with a first stone laying. (Since it was a reconstruction, one did not speak of a laying of the foundation stone). The representatives of the donors, State Bishop Volker Kreß, Minister President Prof. Kurt Biedenkopf and Lord Mayor Dr. Herbert Wagner were present. A cassette was placed behind the first stone to be moved - an old stone as the lowest stone of the right-hand door jamb at Entrance A. The stone was then placed in the wall of the church. This ceremonial act on May 27, 1994 cannot be called the laying of the foundation stone. The foundation stone - laid on August 26, 1726 - still lies in its place in the foundation of the choir annex.

Subsequently, concrete construction work began with the reconstruction of the southeastern section of the wall between the choir annex and Entrance A. The first phase of the reconstruction took place in the choir annex. Here, trials and variations were made, mortar mixtures and technologies were tested, and a multitude of important experiences were gained.

In 1995, the most important task was initially the construction of the exterior building. The new building houses on 1,300 m² the functional rooms required for the usage requirements of our time, such as checkrooms for visitors, WC facilities, artists' dressing rooms, recreation rooms, technical rooms for ventilation, electrical and emergency power supply and a transformer station. The reinforced concrete structure, which was built as a "white tank", encloses the church building in a U-shape from south to east to north and nestles against George Bähr's foundations with a movement joint. The survey and restoration of the foundation masonry was thus made possible at the same time.

Another important task was the restoration of the historic cellars. The old structure was stripped back and rebuilt to the extent that it could support the new building. Existing masonry was grouted, cracks were bridged by setting pins, large building components were braced together by anchors, and the visible surfaces of the walls were repaired in areas of severe fire damage. In the main basement, a reinforced concrete floor, ducts for hot-air heating and ventilation, and for laying cables were constructed. A groundwater relief system was installed. Thus, all preparations for the vault construction were made.

Also in 1995, another trial section was built in the area of Entrance C. In the meantime, a weather protection roof guaranteed protection from sun and rain. Negative experiences with the tower crane during the first trial lot necessitated the search for a better solution for the relocation work. This was found with the use of an overhead crane with trolley. Nevertheless, the transport processes were still too time-consuming. However, further improvements were still to be found.

The (actually second) trial lot 1 was completed in March 1996. A first keystone had been moved, a first entrance portal - Portal C - had been created. For the first time it was possible to guess what was still to come. The essential foundations had been laid in the shortest possible time, in a quality that had not been thought possible, and within the specified budget.

On May 23, 1996, the keystone of the main cellar vault was laid. It was a difficult road to get there. Particularly in the transom areas and the areas of the crossing passages, true works of art in the form of work stones had to be replaced or reinserted. Here, no surface was parallel, no angle was right-angled, and visible surfaces were mostly curved in three dimensions. These stones were made exclusively on site and often required multiple reworking. In addition, the outer, three-meter-wide area of the main cellar vault of the western barrel, which had not collapsed, had to be included. Only after this was it possible to continue working with the standard layer bond. Prefabricated vaulting blocks in three basic shapes were laid in Gothic bond (two runners, one truss, in alternation) on a falsework.

The inauguration of the rebuilt cellar of the Frauenkirche as a lower church on August 26, 1996 by the regional bishop Volker Kreß was a memorable day. The massive, black-modern altar stone, which still allows many interpretations today, was impressive.

The following construction phase (Lot 2) was started in August 1996. All those involved were extremely committed to the task: in the month of November alone, 15 m³ of sandstone were processed every day - this corresponds to a quantity of approx. 45 pallets or four trucks. The logistical effort for transport, handling, intermediate storage and lifting processes was considerable.

With the onset of winter, everyone had to adjust to new conditions. The setting process of the lime-trass mortar requires a minimum temperature of +5° C. The entire building was enclosed with tarpaulins and heaters directed at the masonry were installed. The bricks or plots for the back-up masonry were stored in preheating tents at a temperature of approx. +12°C. While work on other construction sites came to a standstill due to the weather, the Frauenkirche Foundation was able to secure jobs in this way.

The exterior masonry grows to over 15 meters. Completion of construction lot 2 was scheduled for April 11, 1997. The section was completed on schedule with the relocation of the window ledge above entrance G. Approx. 2,100 m³ of sandstone were moved, and the exterior walls were completed to a height of 8.10 meters.

In the next construction phase, Lot 3, the exterior masonry was to be built to a height of 16.40 m. The next step was the construction of a new building. A total of approx. 2,700 m³ of sandstone had to be moved or bricked up, approx. 270 t of steel structure for the galleries had to be assembled, tie rods had to be installed, the elevator shaft in stair tower G had to be constructed and all media had to be led from the central offices in the outer structure to the first floor of the church building.

From August 6 to 8, 1997, the weather protection roof was raised by 10.50 m for the first time. This was preceded by extensive considerations. Conventional dismantling and reassembly of the weather protection roof at the new height was too time-consuming. A new technology had to be found. The task initially raised more questions than answers. There were no precedents for lifting an unstable structure such as the weather protection roof. But a solution was found: The lifting of the approx. 270-ton load was done hydraulically in 5-cm increments up to a height of approx. 24.50 meters. This method was further improved during later lifting operations.

One of the outstanding achievements was the construction of the inner piers, which began on July 15, 1997. Each of the eight slender piers has to bear a load of approx. 1,800 t. The highest demands were therefore placed on the material, fabrication and erection. Because of its particularly high quality, only sandstone from the so-called "white bench" of the Wehlen quarry was used for the construction of the inner piers.

The church grows to the height of the large church windows. The advancing stone construction made it necessary to lift the weather protection roof again in 1998. With the experiences of the first lifting and technical as well as organizational improvements, the third roof position was reached with a height of approx. 35 m after a three-day lifting process on July 23, 1998. For the first time, the two standing parts of the ruins, the northwest corner tower and the choir annex, were also roofed.

After the lifting, the stone construction could be continued again. The piers were to be carried out up to the arch bases (18.37 m). The displacement of the stoop arches of the main church windows (20.26 m) began. The exterior masonry, the spierames, the staircases and the interior masonry reached the height corresponding to the window sills. The last arches between the piers and the spierames were bricked and tie rods were inserted.

The last remaining debris of the west gable in front of the main entrance D was cleared. This was preceded by a decision of the foundation board to include this west gable in the archaeological reconstruction as well. In the same year, the lowest three layers of the area could be moved and already gave an idea of the effect this large coherent piece in the middle of the Neustein area will have.

With the completion of construction lot 3N on March 31, 1999, the exterior walls, spire frames and staircases had "grown" to 24.30 m, the steel structure of the five galleries had been assembled and the piers built to 18.37 m. The Frauenkirche Foundation was pleased to note that, contrary to planning (completion by the end of 1999), the work progressed more quickly thanks to everyone's high level of commitment.

The next construction phase, Building Lot 4, began in April 1999 with scaffolding and carpentry work. A roofed lacing floor was erected in front of the west side, on which the formwork for the arches between the inner piers was assembled.

By raising the interior piers to a height of 21.40 m, the conditions were created for building the arches between the piers and the arches to the spar frames. Four arches descend from each pier. The highest demands were placed on the stone designers. Layer height, joint overlaps and the geometric shape of the stone had to harmonize with each other. The spatial representation with the computer was a great help. The carpenters created true works of art with the formwork for the arches. An arch formwork was created, supported on steel girders between the piers, which was warped in itself because it connected to conically diverging lines of the piers.

The structure was not to grow as quickly this year and the next, as the cubic meters of sandstone per linear meter increased and complicated formwork had to support the freshly moved arches and vaults.

Completion up to the main cornice. The outstanding event of the year 2000 was the handing over of the new tower cross. On February 13, the 55th anniversary of the destruction of Dresden, the gift, financed with British money and made by British hands, was handed over by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent.

Work on the facade continued in 2000 with the relocation of the main cornice, beginning at 24.30 m and ending at 26.40 m, with its pediment triangles above the main entrances and the round arches in the area of the corner towers. This was followed by the five attic courses above the main cornice. Thus, the exterior wall reached a height of about 28.3 meters. The rear masonry was performed to the same height in all areas.

Carpenters built formwork for the vaults between the interior piers and exterior walls. They form the upper finish of the church interior. The smaller brick ridge vaults above the choir singing galleries were the first to be bricked. This was followed by the coffered vaults in the area of entrances B, D and F. A prerequisite for this was the completion of the risalit arches above the oval windows behind the gable triangles.

The lower cornice was completed as a base, so to speak, for the inner dome, above the church interior. The construction of its masonry was started in the same year. From May 8 to 11, 2000, the weather protection roof was raised for the third time - now to a height of about 45 meters.

By Spring 2001, work on the stone structure had progressed to such an extent that the geometrical separation of the individual building parts was clearly visible from the scaffolding level below the canopy: The inner dome above the church room separates from the stonework ring that will carry the main dome and rises towards the upper compression ring. The stonework ring, on the other hand, rises vertically and will form the outer façade with the first layer of the tambour cornice ring at a height of 37.5 m. Alongside this the staircase towers rise to the heavens like spires, the only difference being there are four of them.

After months of working in two shifts, the last stone of the upper compression ring could be placed on 29th July 2001. The inner dome with its circular 6 m opening was thereby completed as the connection between church room and main dome room. This beautiful part of the building is a perfect piece of sandstone work and separates into load-bearing ribs and intermediate stonework in the upper section, which unfortunately will not be visible later on. The underside will be plastered and the top will be covered by an inserted ceiling. All that will remain visible are the ashlars of the upper and lower compression ring.  

It took a lot of technical finesse to return the ‘butterfly’ to its original place. This big compound of original stones had been lying on the north side since the beginning of the rebuilding process, rotated by 180° just as it had been on the mound of rubble. The curved projections of the staircase spire made it look like a butterfly. After restoration, this big part 35 was lifted on top of the staircase tower G on 10th August 2001.  

The concave dome batter also posed a few problems. It gives the dome its unique bell shape and is thus the point where the geometrical form of the square changes into a circle. This section had suffered repeated damage due to penetrating rain water. The penetrating water thus had to be diverted into ducts covered by plates on the main cornice in future. The cover plates of the dome batter thus had to be laid on masonry dowels. A spray seal was applied before assembly that channels off any water that penetrates through the cover plates.

The big roof dormers were built, the staircase towers were raised to a height of approximately 43 m and work on the ‘stone bell’ was continued after laying the last cover plate and completing the dome batter in February 2002. The big dormer windows of the dome were reached in Autumn. The main dome started to deviate from the perpendicular and incline inwards there. Two of the main dome's six tension rings were installed. The first round of the ramp between the inner and outer shell of the dome leading up to the platform under the lantern was completed. The stone construction reached a height of approximately 51 m at the end of the year.  

In 2002 the canopy had to be raised twice to provide enough space for the quickly growing church building. The canopy was first raised from 45 to 57 m on 24th / 25th April. It had been shortened beforehand and could now be laid on steel supports anchored in the main cornice. This meant that the scaffolding in front of the façade was not required any more and could be dismantled. The 12th September was a great day: The Frauenkirche shed its covers on the south, west and north side and proudly presented a view of its façade up to a height of approximately 38 m. The canopy was raised for the sixth time on 5th / 6th November to reach its final height of 68 m with position 6.   

The flood catastrophe in August also took its toll in the Frauenkirche. Deadlines and schedules were jeopardised. The groundwater rose steadily and also penetrated the Lower Church. It was only thanks to help from many sides, and particularly from Technisches Hilfswerk Eisenach (disaster control team), that extensive damage to the Frauenkirche could be prevented.  

A mock-up section was created in the interior of the church building over the entire height of a pier and the adjoining areas to get an impression of the future interior design and fixtures. The most diverse trades worked together in a minimum of space. The decorative mock-up was particularly important for finally determining the colour schemes and finishes. Pier F and the adjoining parapet elements of the gallery were decorated by different companies. Furthermore, the representation of the Apostle John was created on an area of the inner dome above pier F.

The year 2003 was marked by the completion of the main stone dome. After the stone work on the inner and outer shell and spiral ramp had been finished and the last ties placed in position, the keystone of the compression ring could be laid at a height of 60 m on May 23, 2003. The scaffolding was removed on completion of the laying work for the staircase turrets and jointing work. The main dome that made this church so famous was now visible both from inside and outside. The installation of a new canopy was the prerequisite for the construction of the lantern which began on September 1 and reached a height of 77.20 m by Christmas.   

The arrival, consecration and installation of the eight bells, only one of which originally came from the old Frauenkirche, were another outstanding event in this year. Many people will never forget the day at the beginning of May when the bells were received with a procession through the city, welcomed and consecrated. The peal of bells rang out for the first time on the eve of Whitsun (June 7). 40,000 people gathered in the streets and squares around the Frauenkirche to listen.  

The pace and complexity of the work in the church's interior had clearly increased. A wide variety of trades worked with each other and in succession. Stone masons and layers were laying sandstone steps and plates. Metal workers were building stairs, ladders, gratings, window grilles and handrails. Joiners were building the parapets of the galleries in an unparalleled quality and installing noise-insulation shutters in front of the spire chamber windows. Plasterers were applying undercoats and final coats of plaster to sandstone, wood and dry-wall constructions. Dry construction workers were covering the tension ring, shafts for risers and building single plank walls. Window builders were inserting the glazed steel windows in the dome batter and main dome areas. Stucco workers were attaching decorations to the capitals of the inner piers, parapets of the galleries and inner dome. Painters had begun to decorate the interior. Restorers were working on the altar. The lateral arcatures were laid to the sacristy, baptistery and confessional boxes in the choir. Electricians were completing their lighting, power supply, measuring and control installations. Heating and ventilation fitters were preparing the interim winter heating system together with the final installation. Sanitary fitters were installing supply and return lines for toilet and kitchen areas and fire extinguishing equipment.

Interior building work continued at a high pace. The glazing was being fitted beside the work that had already begun and joiners were building stairs, flooring, pews as well as inner doors and windows. The colourful interior decorations were going smoothly. A custom-built rotary platform was used for the architectural paintings in the individual sections of the inner dome. The Dresden painter Christoph Wetzel interpreted the works of Giovanni-Battista Grones under difficult building site conditions. The four evangelists and the Christian virtues of belief, love, hope and mercy proclaim God's word and will. Another highlight of the reconstruction was the completion of the filigree wood carvings and the colourful decoration of the organ gallery and organ front in the inner church room.  

The stone structure of the Frauenkirche was completed by laying the stones of the lantern cornice at a height of 78 m on April 13, 2004. Work then concentrated on preparing the attachment of the lantern roof with its spire cross. The roof framework had been prefabricated by the apprentice training centre of Berufsförderungswerk Bau Sachsen e.V., assembled and then clad in metal on the building site. The cupola and spire cross were erected with a special crane in the course of a church service on June 22, 2004. Around 60,000 people on the spot and 8 million viewers in front of their TV’s witnessed and celebrated the occasion.  

The outer shape of the church building was restored to its original glory through the removal of the final external scaffolding on July 30, 2004. The acceptance certificate for the last contract section was then signed as had already been agreed in the contract dated March 31, 1999.

Another ten months until the church can be handed over to the public through a solemn consecration on October 30, 2005. All of the building work had to be completed and all technical installations adjusted and tested by this date.  

February 1 was a first highlight. The viewing platform in the lantern was ready and opened to the public. Between 900 and 1,700 visitors enjoy the splendid view over Dresden and the landscape of the Elbe valley every day. Following the concentration on stone work over the past years, attention now turned to the artistic decoration of the interior.

The outstanding workmanship and craftsmanship of painters, restorers, gilders and artists have created a cheerful and harmonious church room which invites visitors to listen to the spoken word and music. The work on the destroyed altar could also be finished after years of discussions on the ‘right’ solution.  Following completion of the paintings on the inner dome by Christoph Wetzel, the rotary platform could be removed and left space for the installation of the pews and organ. Between May and September, the master organ builder Kern from Straßburg installed and intoned the large organ.  

The nave was finally completed on September 20. The photos for the publications on the occasion of the consecration could be now taken.