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60 years of friendship with Dresden

Sixty years ago a formal link was established between the cities of Coventry and Dresden. It built upon the remarkable work, which began soon after the war, of young people sent from Coventry Cathedral to reconstruct the Diakonissen Hospital in Dresden and the young people who came to Coventry from Dresden’s Churches to repair the crypt of the Cathedral ruins. To mark the 60th Anniversary, the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth joined the Lord Mayor of Coventry, Councillor John Blundell, in an official delegation to Dresden.

Both Coventry and Dresden suffered a common fate during World War II; just over four years after Coventry was bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1940, the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces dropped more than 3900 tons of bombs on Dresden. Coventry and Dresden were both devastated by bombs, yet rather than turn to thoughts of anger and revenge, in the post-war years the two cities sought reconciliation and friendship. This led to a formal link being established in 1959.

As part of the visit Bishop Christopher presented a Cross of Nails to the Busmannkapelle. The Busmannkapelle was a side chapel of the Sophienkirche (Saint Sophia’s Church). Along with the church, the Busmnakapelle was heavily damaged in the bombing and subsequently destroyed by the Communist City Council under the direct orders of the State. The Busmankapelle was rebuilt as a memorial for the Sophienkirche and a call for an end to war and destruction in the world. Bishop Christopher and the team from Coventry were glad to present a Cross of Nails to the Busmankapelle, a further sign of the friendship between the two cities and their common commitment to peace and reconciliation.

During his time in Dresden, Bishop Christopher also carried out a number of engagements. He attended the award ceremony of the Dresden Peace Prize which was awarded to Kim Phuc Phan Thi, known as ‘Napalm Girl’, for her work as an activist. He also viewed a new exhibition called ‘Condition Humanine’, which presents works from Coventry and Dresden artists themed on Human vulnerability, struggle and resilience. The Bishop attended a ‘human-chain’ event to commemorate the destruction of the city in 1945 and preached at the Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) at an Ecumencial Peace Service to mark the 60th Anniversary. The sermon can be read here.

Bishop Christopher’s sermon touched on Brexit, he said:

"My friends, you know that I come to you from a divided country where some want to leave the European Union, to divide from our neighbours and partners, some want to remain in the EU and honour the covenant we once made, and some are really not very sure what they want.

What does this Psalm of David [Psalm 34] mean for each of us as Europe – our shared continent – divides, as a covenant dissolves. How do ‘we seek peace and pursue it, hunt for it’, in these days?"

He went on to admit that:

"In the debates over recent months – indeed over many years – in my own country the question has almost always been what is best for us, rather than what is best for them, or what is best for us together?

We have asked, ‘will we be richer or poorer if we leave the EU?’, not, ‘will my European neighbor be richer or poorer if we leave the EU?’."

He proposed that:

"True and lasting peace comes as we speak up for what is good for the other person."

A personal link to Dresden

One member of the group who visited Dresden from Coventry was the Reverend Andy March, Vicar of St Christopher’s Church in Allesley Park. Andy has a personal connection to Dresden as his grandmother was from Dresden and she met his grandfather when he was working in the city as a teacher. Andy has written a book about the experiences of his grandparents called ‘Dreams of Dresden’. Andy read extracts from the book to an audience and was interviewed afterwards. He also took part in a commemorative pilgrimage around Dresden to mark the anniversary of the bombing of the city.

‘Dreams of Dresden’ tells the story of Friederike (Rike) Luise Büttner-Wöbst (Andy’s grandmother) who was born in 1926 in the village of Langebruck, on the outskirts of Dresden. In the mid 1930’s, the Büttner- Wöbst family met and befriended Fred Clayton (Andy’s grandfather), a young Englishman from Liverpool and a Classics scholar from King’s College Cambridge. Fred taught English to young boys, including Rike’s older brothers. Fred left Germany in 1937 when his year teaching ended. After the war broke out, Fred wrote a novel, ‘The Cloven Pine’ under the pseudonym of Frank Clare. The novel served as a warning about the growing danger of Nazism.

Tragedy struck the Büttner-Wöbst family during the war, firstly when the oldest son, Götz was shot and killed during the invasion of Poland in 1939 and a year later when both the parents died, leaving the four remaining children orphans. Rike was working on a farm outside the city when the bombs struck Dresden in 1945, however many of her friends were killed.

Fred heard about the bombing of Dresden whilst working as a codebreaker in India. He immediately thought of the Büttner-Wöbst family and as soon as the war ended he wrote to them. Rike replied with the sad news of her family’s tragedy. As Rike and Fred exchanged correspondence they began to fall in love and Fred arranged for Rike to leave Dresden and come to England, where they were married.

To read more of the fascinating story of Fred and Rike, see Andy March’s blog which contains extracts from his book -