COMPUTER TOUR OFFERS PREVIEW OF GERMAN CHURCH RESTORATION

* As workers in Dresden, Germany, lay the first stones to rebuild a Baroque church destroyed in World War II, computer scientists here are creating a 3-D version of what the finished project will look like.

Using a virtual-reality headset, viewers can see the blue doors of the church open to a view of the ornate ivory-and-gold altar and the organ that Johann Sebastian Bach played. Light coming through the Protestant church's clear windows illuminates paintings of the apostles in the inner dome, which virtual tourists can observe more closely by pushing a button to ``fly'' up there.

International Business Machines Germany hired the scientists at North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute (RTI) to help create the virtual-reality model in order to generate money to rebuild the actual Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, says Robert Haak, special-projects manager for IBM Germany.

The rebuilding is expected to cost about $150 million. The Foundation to Rebuild the Frauenkirche, a private group mainly of Dresden residents, has been working since the late 1980s to generate support for the reconstruction. All but 10 percent of the money comes from private donations.

IBM Germany offered its help in 1989, providing money, equipment, and consultants, and workers last year began clearing rubble from the site. They expect to complete the project by 2006, the 800th anniversary of the city of Dresden, Mr. Haak says.

The original church took about 16 years to build and was completed in 1742. The church survived the Allied bombing that destroyed much of Dresden in February 1945, but it was destroyed in the firestorm that followed.

Gerhard Weinberg, a professor specializing in World War II history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says rebuilding the church has political and social significance for eastern Germany.

``It's the general sense of rebuilding religious life in a society in which religious life was tolerated but discouraged by the Communist regime for decades,'' he says.

In creating the virtual-reality model, computer scientists found the church's interior to be one of the most complex virtual worlds ever constructed, says Dale Rowe, director of RTI's Center for Digital Systems.

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