Today marks the 65th anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden in the closing months of the Second World War. In the years that followed Dresden became a symbol of the horrors of war, but also a sign of reconciliation through its links with Coventry in Britain. In the 1980s in the GDR, the anniversary of the fire bombings became a focus for independent peace activists, with a tradition of peace prayers that began, at the time of the Swords into Ploughshares patch and the call for a civilian alternative to military service. In 1982, a group of peace activists called for a silent march through Dresden to mark the anniversary. Fearing trouble with the authorities, the Protestant church organized a peace forum at the Kreuzkirche, a once barock decorated church that was rebuilt after 1945 with no attempt to hide the scars of the bombing. More than 5000 people packed the church for the forum of and then walked to the ruins of the Frauenkirche to place burning candles amid the rubble of the destoryed church. In the years that followed, 13 February became a fixed date for peace prayers. In 1984, while a student in Berlin I attended the peace prayers which were addressed by Colin Semper, the then provost of Coventry Cathedral. Two years later, the anniversary of the fire bombing was the occasion for the Dresden ecumenical groups, the Stadtökumenekreis, to launch the idea of an Ecumenical Assembly for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. The first session of the assembly took place in Dresden to coincide with the anniversary at which more than 10000 submissions were received from throughout the GDR on issues of justice, peace and creation. The assembly culminated in April 1988 in Dresden with a series of 12 texts calling for changes in the GDR and at the global level.
In recent years, however, the 13 February anniversary in Dresden has become known for other - and less happy - reasons through Neo Nazi demonstrations. East German bishops have called for people to join peace prayers and a human chain in Dresden to counter right-wing extremism. Yesterday a German-wide association "Church for democracy and against rightwing extremism" was founded stating that "racist, anti-Semitic and anti-democratic standpoints are not reconciliable with Christian faith".