It would be hard to find another location in Germany more appropriate for exploring the effects of conflict than Dresden’s Military History Museum.
The building itself was constructed between 1873 and 1877 as the arsenal for the 20,000 soldiers of the Saxon army stationed in Dresden. Not long after, it became a place where weapons were collected and displayed. On a tour of the modern museum, visitors will see exhibits ranging from medieval halberds and suits of armour to a V2 rocket.
It would also be hard to identify a city that more effectively conveys the cynical absurdity of war than the one in which the museum is located.
The air raids, in which large parts of the city were destroyed, continue to haunt Dresden, a collective trauma that is mentally reprocessed every February on the anniversary of the devastating attacks.
Debate on the subject arouses strong passions, for example the decision to rebuild the Frauenkirche from the gaping ruins that had so long stood as a monument to the destruction inflicted on the city in World War Two, and more recently (February – April 2017) the art installation on Neumarkt consisting of three buses standing on end and symbolising the victims of the Syrian civil war. Sometimes these discussions are conducted with ruthless frankness. When Mayor Dirk Hilbert remarked in his speech commemorating the 2016 anniversary that Dresden was not only a victim of war but also “not innocent as a city”, he received threats of such an alarming nature from the right-wing extremists who stage their march through the city centre each 13th February that he had to be put under police protection.
These discussions are also played out in the major cultural institutions such as the Semperoper, which has planned its 2017/18 season around the theme of ‘Brüchiger Frieden’ (the fragility of peace).
In Dresden, the experience of 20th century violence manifests itself expressly in aerial bombing. Maybe that is why the questions raised by war are discussed more intensively here than elsewhere.