Sunday 31 Oct 2005
Day 3 of our Dresden visit started early, because at 10am there was the Reformation service in the Frauenkirche. This was the third of the three major church services held as part of the inaugration of the church destroyed some 60 years previously and now fully rebuilt. I had been given official press access to the Reformation Service, and it was written on my press ID card. I set off with fellow journalist and architectural historian Matthew Hyde and we took the number 3 tram into Dresden.
One of the joys of Dresden is catching sight of the Frauenkirche on the skyline as you take the tram into town. It is a radiant and glorious feature, like a long-lost and recently re-acquired antique that's now the centrepiece of your living room. On a marvellously sunny day like today it looks especially wonderful.
Getting off at Synogoge we walked quickly to the entrance of the Frauenkirche, clutching our press IDs and were waved past by the volunteer helpers in their red Frauenkirche scarves. Unfortunately on reaching the steps we were disappointed to be told that we should have obtained tickets. I don't recall any mention of this in the documentation we'd received. We would have to apply at the shop round the corner, we were told. We rushed there only to find it didn't open till 10am, the time service would start.
It seemed lines of communication had somewhere been crossed, and the famed Germanic organisational efficiency was proving to be a bit of a cliche. All organisers of events seeking publicity should of course remember the golden rule:
Do not alienate the press as they are the ones who will provide a lasting record of the event.
We decided to walk around to Entrance C, and sure enough, we were admitted without question, but at the top of the second flight of stairs we were again stopped in our tracks by a youthful volunteer helper, also wearing the red Frauenkirche neckscarf. Sheepishly he looked at our press IDs, and seeing we had no ticket, took a deep breath, averted his eyes and told us we would not be admitted under any circumstances.
Again I thought of that golden rule of event organisation:
Do not refuse entry to accredited members of the media, especially those who have come a long way to document the event for you
'When I write about this in my NewsBlog, you're going to be famous' I thought, looking at the teenage volunteer helper, who was only doing his job.
We went one flight of steps higher and breathed a sigh of relief when we were allowed to stand at the back pew. Here we we were high up in the church, looking at the altar. The choir and ministers, dressed in Lutheran style black gowns, were gathering on the altar way down below.
The service commenced with marvellous choral singing to the accompaniment of the gleaming and awe-inspiring Frauenkirche organ, played by a seemingly miniscule figure sitting in the organ-player's niche about half way up the gigantic instrument. The acoustics were remarkable, with just the right amount of echo coming back from the loftier regions of the church.
Musicians filed onto the altar and struck up a piece by J S Bach. Soloists sang to the music, with the choir providing the full backup. This was original authentic German classical music at its best, performed in a wholly appropriate setting, the church where JS Bach himself made music. Again the heavenly acoustics seemed to soften and enhance the music in a way you can only experience by being there. No stereo or hi-fi can capture it.
The service continued, some sections spoken and some sung. The minister gave a lengthy though fitting sermon, focusing mainly on the significance of the Frauenkirche as a place of worship. The service continued as before up till the distribution of the communion, when members of the congregation made their way to the altar to receive the bread and wine. Even from the highest balconies, people filed down the stairs and joined a never ending stream of communicants.
The choir had filed up the stairs and into the uppermost balcony in the dome area. They sang a familiar choral refrain which really did sound like it was coming from heaven.
At this point I took the opportunity to move around the building, discreetly taking photos. During the service some people had been using flash photography, which is both intrusive and unnecessary. With a steady hold on the camera, or a faster speed, no flash is needed. Flashes were being fired all the time by people in various parts of the church, including someone on the balcony just above.
Nevertheless, despite my press ID and discreet manner, I was told by another volunteer that it was forbidden to take photos inside the Frauenkirche.
Due to the large number of people, the distribution of the communion was taking ages, so I decided to make my exit as I had to be back at the accommodation in time for our departure on an unusual excursion.
After walking across the square, taking some more photos of the exterior of the Frauenkirche, I went for my final visit to the wonderful Press Centre in the Palace of Culture. There I met some of the MDR producers I'd spoken to at the Pulverturm event on Saturday night. I took my final free lunch, courtesy of the wonderfully generous Dresdner Bank who also gave me a goodie bag and souvenir Frauenkirche watch. I made my way back via the number 3 tram to our apartment in the Wilder Mann district of Dresden, where we were ready to depart on a day trip with a difference.
Though I didn't stay till the end, the Reformation Service in the Frauenkirche was an unforgettable experience, which I now think of every time I go into a church. It was a privilege to be there and, whatever about the problems getting in, I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to be there.
Read about our surreal trip in a camper van over the mountains to the city of Most in the Czech Republic.