Er is not a beauty, not yet anyway. The tower of the upper church in Bad Frankenhausen looks greyish and battered. The Time.news names April 25, 1382 as the date on which the Church of Our Lady on the Mountain was completed. The main tower had four small side towers. What nobody knew at the time: According to geologists, the entire Kyffhäuser mountain range, to which Bad Frankenhausen belongs, has holes like Swiss cheese.

The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa was already there in 1382: beautiful and admired even then. When it began to tip over in 1185, twelve years after the foundation stone was laid and during the construction of the third floor, work was stopped for 100 years. The last four floors were then erected with a lower angle of inclination in order to compensate for the incline, which is currently 3.97 degrees and an overhang of 3.90 meters.

Nowadays, leaning towers are fascinating. In Abu Dhabi they deliberately built the Capital Gate Tower at an angle of 160 meters and an angle of inclination of 18 degrees.

The Capital Gate Tower in Abu Dhabi is intentionally built askew

Those: pa / prisma / Raga Jose Fuste

The people of Frankenhausen, on the other hand, found the tilt of their tower strange at the time. However, it was not considered a sign from God. On the contrary: the local countess attributed them to the consequences of the Thirty Years’ War – in order to receive tax breaks. “Rejected” was the answer in 1640.

Almost 400 years later, when it was time for renovation funds for the umpteenth time, the refusal sounded like this: “We are not investing in leaning towers,” said Thuringia’s building minister, Christian Carius.

Bad Frankenhausen saved the church from demolition

But the people of Bad Frankenhaus didn’t give up over the centuries and even resisted demolition several times. The roof of the church was removed, after which there were only open-air services in the 1960s and 1970s before the complete closure by the building authorities was ordered in 1984 due to the danger of collapse.

The tower stands on layers of water-soluble gypsum, so lowering it was only logical. No expert could determine the exact tipping point, but they calculated six centimeters more overhang per year and found that the tower would not collapse until at least 2014.

A letter to the colleagues in Pisa with a request for cooperation in terms of know-how was answered with a form letter somewhat arrogantly, in any case negatively. In 2011, a city council resolution changed ownership: the city bought the church from the church – for one euro.

Illuminated at night, the leaning tower of the church “Unsere Lieben Frauen am Berge” comes into its own

Source: pa / dpa / Martin Schutt

For the previous owners, the church was a hopeless case for renovation, for the people of Bad Frankenhausen it was an affair of the heart. Especially for Bärbel Köllen, city councilor until 2019 and now chairwoman of the Oberkirche association.

For years, the 80-year-old campaigned for the preservation of the unique monument, despite all the adversities. Mayor Matthias Strejc, who even gave his Leaning Tower the trademark ® , shared her feverish excitement: “Bärbel, you have to experience the reopening as chairman!”

“We did, did, fought! Everything!” Bärbel Köllen remembers. But in vain, it seemed. Until the hoped-for miracle came: “The member of the Bundestag responsible for the region put the upper church on the list of buildings of national importance, which was accompanied by 703,000 euros in funding for stabilization. The Church was saved!”

Tourists from Pisa admire the Leaning Tower

Entering the tower and nave is still forbidden – apart from a small fenced off area – but around 200,000 guests a year still come to the town of 10,000 to admire the tower of the upper church. Among them are tourists from Pisa who “want to see the even leaner tower,” says Bärbel Köllen.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is particularly earthquake-proof

It is crooked and that is exactly why it is one of the biggest tourist magnets in Europe. One might think that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not entirely secure. But it is precisely his inclination that turns out to be his greatest strength.

Source: WELT/ Christin Brauer

But visitors also come from far away. “We even had a couple from Australia who had included our upper church tower as a sight on their trip to Europe!” Architecture professors and students also travel to Bad Frankenhausen for a site visit. The tilt can be seen from everywhere with the naked eye, but for an impressive photo it is best from the south, from Bornstraße.

The city guide confidently speaks of the “leaning tower in the world”. “Officially,” says Bärbel Köllen, “but we don’t say that.” Because in East Friesland there is a 27-meter-high church tower, which the “Guinness Book of Records” lists as the most unintentionally inclined tower in the world: Suurhusen has an inclination of 5.19 degrees , the upper church only 4.93.

The “Guinness Book of Records” lists the church tower in Suurhusen as the most accidentally tilted tower in the world

Quelle: pa/Udo Bernhart

Due to its height, however, the Frankenhausen tower with a 4.60 meter overhang from the perpendicular is clearly more slate than the East Frisian tower with 2.47 meters. And so “The Leaning Tower® of Bad Frankenhausen” is called “the tallest leaning church tower in the world” on the official website.

“Now,” says the committed Bärbel Köllen, “we have developed a tourist concept and announced an architectural competition.” An office from Berlin will restore the nave, with lots of glass so that the historic foundation walls can be seen.

Even the upper church tower should be accessible again by 2023. Then you can admire the sloping monument not only from the outside, but also from above. You can tell Bärbel Köllen’s great joy. As hopeless as their fight for the tallest leaning tower in the world seemed in the meantime – in the end it was worth it.

Information desk: bad-frankenhausen.de; oberkirchturm.de; thueringen-entdecken.de

Bad Frankenhausen in Thuringia

Source: Infographic WORLD

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This article was first published in March 2021.

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