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When Reims Cathedral Burned

Lecture by Art Historian Prof. Dr. Thomas W. Gaehtgens on June 3, 2019, about the bombardment during the First World War and the consequences for Franco-German relations

№ 142/2019 from May 22, 2019

On June 3, 2019, art historian Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Thomas W. Gaehtgens will give a lecture at Freie Universität Berlin on the bombardment in the First World War of the Gothic cathedral of Reims. A national cultural monument, Reims Cathedral is where the French kings were crowned. In 1914 it was hit by German artillery and set on fire. The roof of the building and the north tower collapsed, windows broke, and the facade was badly damaged. In his lecture, Professor Gaehtgens will describe the history of the bombardment as well as the subsequent international “media war” regarding its significance and the difficult Franco-German relations during the following years. The reconstruction of the cathedral took more than two decades. The building is viewed as one of the most important locations in France as an embodiment of national identity. In the meantime, it is also regarded as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation. Before the lecture begins at the Art History Institute, there will be a screening of original film footage of the destruction of the Reims old town by German troops. Art historian Prof. Dr. Christian Freigang (Freie Universität Berlin) and monument conservator Prof. Dr. Gabriele Dolff-Bonekämper (Technische Universität Berlin) will moderate the event, which is being organized by the Center for French Studies at Freie Universität. The public is welcome to attend, and admission is free.

Thomas W. Gaehtgens’ research focuses on German-French art history of modern times. Now a professor emeritus, he taught at Freie Universität Berlin until 2006. Research trips took him to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, the J. Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Santa Monica, California, and the Collège de France in Paris. In Paris Thomas W. Gaehtgens founded the German Forum for Art History (Centre allemand de l'histoire de l'art), which is dedicated to German-French cultural relations. Until 2018 he was the long-standing director of the prestigious Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. He has received many international awards, including two honorary doctorates.

Time and Location

Screening of historic film footage of the destruction in Reims

  • June 3, 2019, at 4 p.m.
  • Freie Universität Berlin, Art History Institute, Lecture Hall A, Koserstraße 20, 14195 Berlin

Lecture, to be given in German: Die Beschießung der Kathedrale von Reims im Ersten Weltkrieg und ihre Folgen für das deutsch-französische Verhältnis

  • June 3, 2019, at 6 p.m.
  • Freie Universität Berlin, Art History Institute, Lecture Hall B, Koserstraße 20, 14195 Berlin

Further Information


Marie Fleury-Wullschleger, Center for French Studies and Institute of Romance Languages and Literatures, Freie Universität Berlin, Email: marie.fleurywullschleger@fu-berlin.de