DRESDEN, GERMANY - In the shadow of Dresden’s spectacular Church of Our Lady, three adjacent buses stand on their ends, winched upright to point skyward, their rusting chassis revealed to the curious visitors below. Flowers, candles and messages in German and Arabic surround the concrete foundations.
The artwork was inspired by the siege of Aleppo in Syria, where rebel fighters used three upturned buses as a barricade against government snipers.
The installation by Syrian-German artist Manaf Halbouni has triggered a fierce debate on issues of remembrance and immigration in a city synonymous with Germany’s destruction in World War II, and its subsequent recovery. Dresden was almost entirely rebuilt from rubble, a replica of its former glory.
More than a million refugees have arrived in Germany since 2014, among them over 400,000 Syrians fleeing the civil war. The artist is playing on historical echoes, said the project’s curator Christiane Mennicke-Scwarz.
“For him it was a very moving experience to see the city of Dresden being rebuilt over years and years. All over the world, since centuries, people have been fleeing circumstances of war and violence. So for him the place here, and also the timing with February 13, is a sign for hope,” said the curator.
February 13 marked the 72nd anniversary of the destruction of Dresden in 1945, when Allied bombing raids killed around 25,000 people, mostly civilians.
The rebuilt city is now a stronghold of the far right. Soren Oltersdorf, of the youth branch of the Alternative for Germany party, said the monument has caused offense.
“It is simply here as a provocation for the people of Dresden. It pushes the memory of the victims of the bombing of Dresden into the background and overshadows the remembrance of that day.”
Banners were hung on the buses last week denouncing city authorities. Local residents offered mixed feelings on the project.
“I would rather see the money they used for this used more effectively on refugees, than to build this thing here,” one local man told VOA.
Another said city authorities “should focus on those that died in 1945 here in Dresden. And this is another war. It's also terrible, ongoing, but this is not the right place for that.”
Patrick Irma helps to run a local support group offering legal and practical help to refugees. He said there are clear parallels between Dresden in 1945 and modern day Aleppo.
“Dresden was bombed, a lot of German refugees were here in this city, and now we forget everything? We should be happy that there is something like a protection shield in front of our city. I’m always wondering why that we forgot history.”
The artist said he did not intend the monument to be a political symbol. Nonetheless it has triggered a fierce debate about Dresden’s past - and Germany’s future, as it copes with the influx of refugees.