February 2017

Greetings from Dresden!

For the first time really since we've been here, we had a "real" winter this year. Lots of cold days, and lots of snow so we could get some good sledding in with Oliver! We enjoyed the winter - and as you can see in the video below, downtown Dresden looks beautiful in the snow! - but we are also not *too* sad that things are thawing out now :-)

Papa Rocco bringing Ollie to school.

And here's the sled parking at Ollie's school!

Speaking of downtown Dresden, just last week, February 13th marked the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of the city in WWII. If you want to know a little bit more about that, you can read our blog post from several years ago. This year, the events around the anniversary were a bit different than usual. For one, it was the first time that one of us has gone downtown on the night of the 13th to participate in the "human chain." After a small ceremony with a few speeches, people fan out around downtown, even across two bridges over the river, and form a chain that circles the area downtown that was completely destroyed in the bombing. At 7:00pm, all the church bells ring, the people join hands, and there are about 10 minutes of silence in remembrance of the night. We've heard the church bells before, and we knew about the human chain, but being there in person was a completely different and meaningful experience. It's so hard to imagine what it might have been like to be there, but in certain moments, the weight of that history really does come alive! Later in the evening - when the church bells ring again to mark what was the actual start of the raid - Elyse and I were reflecting on how the people in our building must have been hiding in our basement at that exact time 72 years ago. We live about 2 miles from the very center of downtown, and our building itself survived, but the bombing did extend out to our neighborhood, and many of the buildings right next door to us were destroyed.

The section of the chain where I was standing.

Candles lit in the center of downtown, in the square by the Church of Our Lady.

The second thing that was very different about this year, was the presence of two temporary exhibits in downtown Dresden, coinciding with the anniversary of the bombing, both of them having to do with the ongoing refugee crisis. The first was right in the center of it all, in front of the Church of Our Lady. Three huge buses were stood on end, a sculpture recreating a scene from Aleppo, where civilians erected three burned out buses as a barricade against sniper fire. The sculpture itself was done by a Syrian-German artist who currently lives in Dresden.

The Dresden installation, called "Monument," on the left. On the right, the inspiration, an image from the civil war in Syria.

The buses were certainly an imposing sight, and a sober reminder of the ongoing conflict in Syria, but for me, the second exhibit was even more moving. On the square outside the Dresden Opera house, Semperoper, 90 large print photographs were laid out in a big circle. On those photos, were images of the graves of refugees who had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Most of those graves are located on the Sicilian Island of Lampedusa. In 2016 alone, more than 5000 people drowned trying to make their way across the sea and into Europe. The exhibit is meant to be a reminder of the human cost of wars, and also as a way to honor the Sicilian people who - for over 20 years - have had to face such an influx of refugees, and in the face of so much sadness and death, have even at times opened up their own family graves to those who have lost their lives at sea.

The "Lampedusa 361" exhibit.

These installations were very controversial for Dresden - for taking away the focus on the bombing remembrance, or for having a too left-leaning/liberal perspective, for example. We can certainly understand that some would feel hurt, that these things overshadowed the history of Dresden, especially for those who lost someone in the bombing or lived through it. But, we also completely understand why the artists and the city decided to show these exhibits precisely at the time of the bombing anniversary. It's exactly the time when people remember that, even though Dresden is rebuilt and doing well now, it was not always that way. This city and its people have also seen the tremendous cost of war and conflict. We are doing ok here now, but other places in the world are most definitely not.

The entire topic of refugees is, of course, a very current and *very* hot-button issue in American politics right now as well. While we don't necessarily shy away from getting political in other contexts, or in face to face conversation, that's not the point of this post! We just wanted to share about what we've been seeing here in Dresden this month, and most importantly to just say THANK YOU! to everyone who has given to support our work with refugees here! You've been very generous the past few years, in fact, so generous that we still have money left to use specifically for refugees. Elyse is continuing to do a few projects with her mommies/ladies group, like knit blankets for refugee babies and distribute them in the hospital. Ryan is also still giving music lessons in one of the camps in town, and is working with the director to keep finding ways to best use the money we have to support these families and individuals who are in such need.

Thank you, God bless, and until next time!

- The Dillons