Life in the steeple – the daily routine of a steeplejack family © Gerd Wellner (Nabu)
Since he received the keys to "his" church tower exactly 20 years ago, Matthias Melzer has experienced a lot: marriage, the birth of his son, lost socks – but also the occasional lightning strike.
211 steps, then it is done. High above St. Anne’s, the largest Gothic hall church in Saxony, at a height of 42 meters lives the only family of turrets in Europe who live permanently on their tower. Young Matthias Melzer set his sights on the airy post at Grobe Kirchgasse 21 in Annaberg-Buchholz at an early age. At the age of twelve, he promised the old Turmerin, Mrs. Soltau: "I will be your successor one day." Girlfriend Marit also found it romantic – in the beginning. But after visiting the tower, one thing was clear to her: never.
But, as is well known, one should never say that. For years, while Matthias had been leaving their shared apartment every evening since 1995, undauntedly and voluntarily climbing the tower and ringing the bells up there, a decision quietly matured: When Marit finally said "yes" to being a steeplejack, Matthias Melzer wrote his application that very evening. Exactly 20 years ago, at the beginning of February 1999, he received the keys to the parish.
Tradition goes back 500 years
Today, the steeplejack of the 20.500-soul village in the Ore Mountains has long since ceased to descend: "Before there was 1.000 reasons not to move up; now there are just as many to stay here." Soon the Melzer family has grown up: Son Toni Melzer (16) was not born in the tower, but after only three days of life, he too was able to enjoy the mountain air – and a panoramic view of the Ore Mountains, guaranteed unobstructed, from every window.
The tradition of the Turmer of Sankt Annen goes back at least 500 years: As early as 1519, when silver fever was rampant in the Erzgebirge and the boomtown of Annaberg did not yet have a real church tower, there is evidence of a night watchman and Turmers being paid. From 1578 at the latest until 1995, the Melzers’ apartment was continuously inhabited.
Nevertheless, the two do not see their job as a folklore event for tourists: "We do the service of a turret in the 21st century. Century."In fact, Matthias Melzer himself is an exotic member of the 157-strong European guild of night watchmen and doormen: he is the only member who is constantly responsible for ringing the bells. The nostalgic Turmer appearance in the evening with costume, horn and the call "Hort ihr Leut’ und labt euch sagen" (Hear ye people and be told) he only takes on at town festivals and similar occasions.
Upstairs there is a ban on alcohol
"Ringing is not a question of strength, but of technique," say the bell ringers of Annaberg. In fact, the two are rather slight in stature, even more so compared to their bulky charges, which were lavishly restored in 2012: Anna, Margarete, Peter and Paul together bring 5.163 kilos on the scales. For Anna, with a good 59 hundredweight the strongest of the three, it needs alone two full-grown bell-ringers. The small prayer bell on weekdays sounds automatically. Nevertheless, the four sound doors in all directions have to be opened to allow the sound to unfold and not shake the old walls unduly.
During the day, the two doormen work as landscapers and artisans. They don’t get a cent for their community service. "You don’t have to do everything for money," says Marit Melzer laconically. In summer, the family organizes barbecues with friends on the viewing platform 32 meters above the ground. Electric grill and non-alcoholic beverages do not dampen the mood. The Turmerordnung of 1843 already imposed a total ban on drinking to excess. Every now and then, lightning strikes at Melzer’s; but that can’t shake an Erzbegirgian doorman.
20 years apartment in the clouds
Otherwise the Melzers do not have to do without anything. Their octagonal 80-square-meter apartment has everything: a fitted kitchen, shower, television. The telephone has been in use since 1879. Beverage crates and other loads are carefully guided past the large bell by rope – otherwise the ringing of Annaberg would be unmotivated. Another advantage of the high altitude: If visitors ring the doorbell, one can "quickly vacuum in case of need". And: "The gym is already included in our rent," says mother Marit.
Tourists in particular are not always familiar with a special feature of the cityscape. From time to time, concerned visitors call the congregation: "There’s laundry hanging on your steeple!"In fact, up here the concept of a whirlwind takes on a whole new dimension; clothes dry in record time. It doesn’t matter too much if one or the other sock goes sailing. After all, there are only 211 steps…
20 years of living in the clouds – and no end in sight. On the contrary: 49-year-old Matthias Melzer calculates that his predecessors stayed on the tower "until about 80". And to move down prematurely, so that his son could continue the Turmerei in the next generation, is out of the question for him. As long as they are fit, his wife and he want to remain. "And whether Toni will move up at the age of 50 after having lived down there for many years?"The father is rather skeptical about this. But perhaps by then a grandchild will be found who can then inherit grandpa and grandma in office.
By Alexander Bruggemann