Dusk is slowly falling over Münster and we are already excitedly walking back and forth in front of the Lamberti Church. Around 8:30 pm, the Türmerin begins her ascent into the tower of the church and we are allowed to accompany her.
With a cheerful “Are you my blind date?” Martje Saljé greets us in front of the wooden door she opens almost every day to begin her service.
A small symbol on the door shows us that this has always been the entrance for the doorman of Münster. The sandstone figure of the night watchman was fixed here in 2006.
On the way to the Türmerstube
So that Martje can start her service on time, we first climb the 300 steps up to the Türmerstube. The stairs are very narrow and spiral upwards. You can’t carry large bags up here and you mustn’t be claustrophobic either.
About halfway up, a short stop to catch our breath. We are standing in a room with a huge flagpole. This was purchased for the Catholic Day. On the walls we discover drawings of the church. On one drawing we can see how crooked the original tower, which was demolished in 1881, was. The current tower was completed in 1898 and is over 90 metres high.
The path continues up the narrow stairs to the next landing. From here you have a great view over Münster and Martje makes her first check to see if everything is OK. A very special bell hangs here, which is not used like the normal church bells – and does not belong to the church, but to the city. The so-called council bell is struck during the election of the mayor. Martje tells us that she has had to operate the huge and heavy clapper before. It must not have been easy to develop the right swing to make the bell sound good.
From here you can also see the iron baskets at the Lamberti Church very well. The bodies of the so-called leaders of the Anabaptist movement were placed in these three baskets. One of them was not a leader at all, but only the brother of Heinrich Krechting (the leader who escaped and lived as an Anabaptist until his old age). They were supposed to be a deterrent example for the population.
We don’t stay here long, because in the Türmerstube the Türmerin of Münster has to call the fire brigade of Münster on time, so that they know that she is on duty.
In the Türmerstube of the Lamberti Church
We arrive in a small and very cosy Türmerstube.
This is Martje’s workplace from Wednesday to Monday from 20:45 to 24:15. Tuesday is her day off. Why it is exactly Tuesday is no longer clear today – did enemies never attack on Tuesdays or was there less fire on Tuesdays than on other days? There is only conjecture.
There is a desk with a telephone and tablet, a cosy sitting area, many books and instruments. There is a radiator in a corner for the cold days. But there is no running water and no public toilet – you have to think about that before climbing the tower.
We will watch Martje at work over the next few hours and ask lots of questions. But before we start, we climb a wooden ladder and stand almost at the highest point of the church tower. Only one more steel staircase leads to the top – that’s where the kestrel lives.
While we enjoy the sunset, Martje’s service as the Türmerin of Münster begins. She fetches her horn and gets into position punctually at 9 pm. As soon as the bells have finished ringing, she toots 3×3 long tones towards the south, changes to the west and toots 3×3 tones again, and to the north she repeats the whole thing. After each signal, she waves cheerfully to the people in front of the church.
Then she has a break and we have time to ask our questions.
The Türmer or Turmwächter/Turmmbläser is a profession that has existed since around the 14th century. His job was to warn of danger from the highest tower in the city. This included not only approaching enemies but also fires.
To warn the inhabitants of the town, the watchmen used various tools: horns, flags, bells, lamps (in the dark)…
Most of the time the Türmer lived in his tower, then his task often included striking a bell to tell the time.
A purely Protestant tradition that has been carried out since the Reformation is the blowing of chorales from the tower. This is a kind of sermon during which the people on the street often sang along.
The profession of Türmer is still practised in some towns today. In addition to the Türmerin of Münster, there is, for example, a Türmerin in Bad Wimpfen, a Türmer family in Annaberg-Buchholz, a Türmer in Nördlingen, on the Michel in Hamburg, in Göttingen, in Bautzen, in Lübben and in Helmstedt.
In Krakow, we have already heard the turret on St. Mary’s Church blowing his trumpet signal. On almost all towers, the customs (instrument, call, compulsory presence…) and working conditions (voluntary, municipal, church, subordinate to the fire brigade…) are completely different.
Türmerin of Münster
While we’re talking about the history of the tower, it’s time for the next tolling. Every half hour, two beeps are sounded in three directions. This time Martje sounds the horn from the small, narrow walkway that leads once around the Türmerstube.
Back in the Türmerstube, we now want to learn all about Martje and her choice of profession.
Martje studied history and music. She plays a wide variety of instruments, some of which hang in the Türmerstube.
The job as Türmerin was officially advertised by the city of Münster and nationwide, and there were quite a few applicants for this exceptional position. She was able to assert herself and started her dream job in Münster on 1.1.2014.
When I asked her if she had been able to practise getting any sound out of the copper horn, she laughed and answered in the negative. Only the doorkeeper is allowed to toot the horn. It is only permitted to toot the horn on the hour and half hour and when there is danger or fire. Practising was not possible before and fortunately the tooting worked right from the first attempt.
Every hour on the hour, the Türmerin of Münster sounds a specific signal, which is prescribed. It is also prescribed that the signal is only sounded in three cardinal directions. Why one does not sound in the direction of the east has not been handed down, there are only many speculations. So at 9 p.m. 3×3 signal tones are sounded in 3 cardinal directions – that makes 9 tones (matching the time). At 10 p.m. 2×3 and 1×4 tones sound, at 11 p.m. 3×3 and 1×2 tones and at 12 p.m. 4×3 signal tones from the tower. Martje has only miscounted once so far, and the townspeople have noticed this and asked her about it. She has never missed her cue, always 2 minutes before her performance the alarm clock quacks like a duck. (Thanks for that, we thought of you the next day with every duck!)
In general, the people of Münster are very attentive. If Martje is ill or is substituted during her holiday, they notice this by the tutting. Her substitute apparently has to make the horn sound differently.
But the doorkeeper of Münster not only has the job of tooting the time signals, she also has to watch out for dangers. OK, it is certainly difficult to recognise enemies in this day and age. But watching out for possible fires is still very important today. For this, there is a direct line to the operations management of the Münster fire brigade. In the course of her service, Martje has already been able to alert firefighters to fires and even show them the way as a “tower pilot”.
In between the Signaltuten, Martje keeps busy with her own blog and reading books that fit the theme of Türmer/Türmerin and Münster/Münsterland. So if you have an insider tip, Martje is happy to hear about it.
Martje has found her dream job as a tower keeper. She loves climbing her tower, here the otherwise hectic life slows down, here she concentrates on the essentials and enjoys the view over her adopted hometown of Münster. I can understand her very well.
Time flies for us in the tower room. We have learned so much and are immersed in an exciting world.
Before the end of the tour, we descend the narrow spiral staircase and stand on the Prinzipalmarkt. Now we want to hear the tooting of the horn from the street. Here it sounds very muffled, almost like a foghorn. It is much quieter than I thought it would be.
When Martje waves her torch at the waiting listeners, I wave back. Thank you for this wonderful evening!
Disclosure: We were allowed to experience the visit to the Türmerin of Münster as part of a press trip. Many thanks!