On May 18, 1948 – exactly one hundred years after the opening of the first German National Assembly in St. Paul's Church – the church, which had burned down in 1944 and has since been rebuilt in a simpler form, was consecrated again. In the 97-meter-high tower, six bells rang for a quarter of an hour from eight o'clock. Then, for the first time after the Second World War, the Great City Bells began, in which they joined in.
The oldest, the Christ Bell, cast in 1830 and weighing about 2000 kilograms, had already welcomed the Paulskirche parliament in 1848. The other five bells, on the other hand, had been made only a few months earlier: a quartet of smaller bronze instruments called the Bell of Justice, Peace, Joy and Thanksgiving, cast as a foundation of the Evangelical Church of Thuringia in Apolda, and the largest of the half dozen Paulskirche bells, the centennial bell donated by the Chambers of Crafts of the British occupation zone, which came from the workshop of the Bochum Association for Cast Steel Fabrication.
Symbol of freedom and democracy
From Monday on, this hundredweight steel bell with a diameter of more than two meters can be viewed in front of St. Paul's Church. According to a spokesman for the Frankfurt-Rhine-Main Chamber of Crafts, there will be a stele next to it with detailed information about, among other things, the ten craftsmen who were members of the German National Assembly in 1848 and the ringing of St. Paul's Church in 1948.
The information also includes a text from the Hessian State Agency for Civic Education, which states: "The five bells, especially the bell of the century, stand for a possible all-German, democratic new beginning after the catastrophe of the Second World War and the unprecedented crimes of National Socialism." The joint exhibition project of the Municipal Tourism and Congress GmbH, the Historical Museum and the Chamber of Crafts assigns the centennial bell its long-forgotten role: as a symbol of freedom and democracy.
However, in order to be able to present this unique contemporary witness to the audience at eye level, she did not have to be brought down from the tower of St. Paul's Church. Because the monumental steel bell, whose chime is only four semitones above the Gloriosa belonging to the cathedral bell, hung there only until 1987. The year before, the magistrate had decided to renovate St. Paul's Church, in which the steel belfry of the post-war years was also replaced by a wooden structure with 88 steps.
And the centennial bell came to the Historical Museum together with the bronze quartet from Apolda. However, she had fallen silent years earlier. "In the seventies, it was shut down because of failed camps," reports Markus Häfner, a research assistant at the Institute for Urban History. Most recently, as Frank Berger, curator of the Historisches Museum, says, it stood on an outdoor area of his house on Borsigallee. Now, for the first time since its acceptance, it will be presented to the public.
After the end of Nazi-fascism: an important monument to the desire for art
The bell of the century was designed by the sculptor Paul Egon Schiffers (1903 to 1987), a student of Richard Scheibe (1879 to 1964), who headed the Städelschule from 1925 to 1933 and was involved in the reconstruction of St. Paul's Church. The inscription under the years "1848 – 1948", which is lifted out of the cast skin in capital letters, reads: "The wheel of the law turns / without ceasing - do not reach / into the spokes".
And at the bottom, on the brass knuckles, it reads: "+ We belong to one people and the tribes have merged + President H. V. Gagern." Konrad Bund, head of the archives and former director of the German Bell Museum at Greifenstein Castle northwest of Wetzlar, once rightly described this orchestra with its "dialectic of new beginnings and continuity" as a "not unimportant monument to the artistic will of the time immediately after the end of the reign of Nazi-fascism".
"A low-resonance and tonally unclean faulty construction"
There were several reasons why the centennial bell was not hung back on its plate crown in the tower of St. Paul's Church after the restoration work was completed in 1991. On the one hand, as Bund has judged in several publications, it is "a low-resonance and tonally unclean faulty construction that is no longer suitable as a musical instrument, but at best as a noise generator".
The renowned bell expert described their sound as "abruptly shrill and frighteningly brutal", and the internal tone structure as "completely misguided". The bronze quartet cast in Thuringia in 1948, which, according to Bund, had been cast "due to a lack of material due to a lack of material with extremely light ribs and from a bronze that was apparently very low in tin", also did not stand up to the musical test and remained in the museum.
On the other hand, it had been established in the meantime that of the bells that had rung the National Assembly in 1848, not only the Christ bell had survived the Second World War, but also the thanksgiving bell, also cast in 1830, and even the barefoot bell from 1685. Supplemented by three instruments made in 1987 – the Luther and the city bell as well as the citizen's bell, which still "speaks" the preface to the Great City Bell – two of the historic bells are still part of the six-part ringing of St. Paul's Church. The Christ Bell, which fell down in 1997, was replaced by a new casting the following year.
The guest performance of the Centennial Bell next to its former place of work lasts until 22 May. Subsequently, this symbol of freedom will reportedly undertake a small tour of Germany.