“Now!” Says Gerald Fischer. The six-ton cast steel bell swings back and forth for the fifth time. The 67-year-old stands two meters away from her in the tower of St. Albert Church and waits for the clapper, which weighs around 250 kilograms, to hit the bell, which weighs several tons. The sound of the huge church bell. A chord, in this case G minor. 80 decibels, a little less than a full-fledged airplane, which delight some – and annoy others.
For some, the ringing of bells is the warm, pleasant sound that has always accompanied them. The fascination of the bell can be explained by the bell expert Fischer just as much as he can understand the frustration of some city dwellers, who are annoyed by minute-long bells in the morning or in the evening.
Fischer says: “Some cannot sleep with the bell ringing, some cannot sleep without it.” He smiles at this sentence. Maybe because he realizes that you are surprised at the sentence. Someone who could talk about the bell as an instrument for long periods of time would be happy when he draws other people into the bell’s pull. Whether it is the stories about the Chinese who were the first to cast bells, but who are now ruining prices. Or whether it is the knowledge of the background to the many liturgical chimes. And finally, he also has two solutions for annoyed city dwellers. The first is knowledge. About this object that was developed 4000 years ago.
In Munich it has been agreed that the doorbell will not ring at night in residential areas
The church musician doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t move a millimeter when the clapper hits the cast steel with a roar. At a volume that makes non-bell experts flinch even though the impact is expected. The enjoyment of the sound of bells probably does not unfold for the layman more than two meters away, but at least 20 or not at all. With a little knowledge that can change. But then there is still the question: “Do we still need bells today?”
It used to be different, of course, says Fischer, when he climbed down from the tower and sat down at a table with the utensils of his guild, a tuning fork and a miniature hammer the size of cutlery. “The Chinese,” says the man with the short, light hair, with such routine casualness as if he could put all the knowledge about bells into one sentence. Before monks discovered the devices for themselves, the Chinese invented them, but also buried them again at some point. “The craft probably died out until the Romans reestablished it and then the first monasteries in the fourth and fifth centuries began using bells.” Back then, bells had a very direct use.
Monks were called to prayer by the bell, “it was a signaling instrument”. In the morning for Lauds, in the evening for Vespers, and you are immediately back in the year 2021. Because even today the churches ring the bells for prayer. They are allowed to do that too, and that takes you to the law. “The liturgical ringing is protected in the Basic Law,” says Fischer. This is also confirmed by the health department on request. “There are no restrictions,” said the unit. Means that a church may theoretically ring at any time for a liturgical occasion such as prayer. “In Munich, however, it has been agreed that the doorbell will not ring in purely residential areas between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.,” says Fischer. Catholics also ring the bell for the change during mass or for the Marian prayer in the evening one hour before sunset. Or to call for a service a quarter of an hour before the start of mass.
Do you still need that? “You can of course question all of that,” says Fischer. And in the current situation of the Church it is also appropriate to question a lot. “For many people, ringing the bell for mass is already part of the ritual.” It gives you a sublime, comforting feeling when you stand in front of the church and hear the bells ring. “But it is also sufficient if you ring it five minutes before the start, and not 15.” Many would come by car anyway and they wouldn’t hear it beforehand anyway.
The law does not care what religion it is. Protestant churches let the bells ring instead of the Angelus prayer. “Even the muezzin in a mosque somewhere in Germany can sing according to this law.”
Much is left to the churches, the responsible pastors. Sunday mass in St. Albert is at eleven o’clock. “You can expect the residents to do that.” Eight o’clock is different. But even a ringing of 80 decibels for several minutes falls under the category of short-term noise. “When a gravel truck drives through a residential area or an airplane flies over it, the permissible 50 decibels are exceeded, but that is just then defined as short-term and allowed. You have to endure that, says the legislature.” The length of “short term” is not fixed.
In his church in Freimann there has never been a problem with residents, says Fischer. There was even one last case in Garmisch, when a pastor had the chimes shut off during the night because a couple of neighbors had complained. As a result, many more neighbors complained, completely different ones who could no longer sleep. “They were and are so northed up by the regular blows that they really need them.” And then there are also the examples that you enjoy the six o’clock ring, for example, because you then know: stay there for another half an hour. But of course he knows other examples as well.
Some parishes now do without ringing the angelus in the morning. Residents complain again and again, often a parish with later bell times or the omission of some times comes towards them. Even if they don’t have to by law. Others, like the parish of St. Philippus in Laim, only recently had bells installed, which is now angering some residents. Especially those who were not asked because they are not Catholic parishioners. Fischer’s motto could also apply here: With more knowledge, there might have been less trouble.
One reason why bells are fascinating is their echo. According to Fischer, the most famous bell in the world that hangs in Erfurt, “it is close to perfection”, rings out for five minutes. That is about as long as it takes a reader to hear from Fischer’s “Jetzt!” read at the beginning of the text up to this sentence.
“The ringing of a bell goes deep into the feeling, into the stomach, puts you in the mood.” The bell is somehow between above and below, the worldly and the divine, maybe not halfway, but in a tower at least in between. The bell before the fair: “an introduction, an opener”. A rhythm that lets you groove along.
Many towers have four bells, but some only have two, always depending on the structure of the church tower. Ten bells hang in the Frauenkirche, just like in the Old Peter, in Scheyern the monastery church has as many as 14 bells. The ringing, it is simply part of it, “and it will be in 50 years”. No director who does not ring a funeral with bells, “even at the scene of the crime”, or the funeral of the English princess Lady Di. “Every minute Big Ben struck once.” Big Ben, the largest bell in Westminster. And of course you look far beyond Freimann and St. Albert.
Whether in Berlin, Peiting or Munich, the chime law applies everywhere, then the bells ring according to the statics. In other countries there are completely different sounds. In England you can hear scales, and there are even championships in “change ringing”, which involve precisely coordinated ringing. In Spain, the bells are often hung on a wheel that moves and leads to a “confused” ringing, says Fischer. And everywhere there is the same effect with the bell lovers: They enjoy the spherical sound, the connection to above, the premonition of eternity. Because in principle a bell like this lasts forever. If it cracks, it is heated and the crack is poured out. “After that, the bell sounds like it did at the beginning. A kind of sauna session for relaxation.”
And then there is always the Doppler effect, which humans also feel. “A bell is a moving sound source, like an ambulance driving away from or towards you,” says Fischer. In humans, the feeling arises very easily and subconsciously that something is approaching or is moving away. That also increases attention. But fisherman, bell expert and bell-sized human lexicon, also says: “Even I sometimes get annoyed by the ringing.” What you can understand even as an absolute layman at a distance of two meters. So do you understand the residents who are annoyed by the ringing of bells? Certainly not Rainer Schießler.
The full boom is in the city center on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.
The pastor of Heilig Geist am Viktualienmarkt and St. Maximilian an der Isar says: “Yes, the people who complain about the bell really believe that we are ringing to annoy them? We are not that stupid.” He writes a long letter to any resident who complains. “Afterwards, people are absolute experts on bells.” Calming and calming by imparting knowledge, as with Fischer. “It’s about moments of prayer, about pausing when the bells ring. I put the pen down and pray when I hear the bells.”
Prayer doesn’t necessarily have to be the same, but who in the hectic city of Munich does it harm to pause a few times a day? Schießler is also a bell expert, he can report on the warning functions that a bell used to have, for example in front of a fire. “At some point the bell moved from the sacred to the profane.” Once he got a bad letter, after Easter. On Easter vigil, the mass starts at 5.30 a.m., he let the bells ring for Gloria around 6 a.m. “A murderous act,” wrote the local resident. That is of course correct from a purely church-historical point of view, but he meant the ringing of the bell.
“We only ring the bell on Christmas and New Year’s Eve at night,” says the pastor. There are so many stories from the war about how people tried to save the bells in their churches because the sound meant so much to them, says Schießler. Many were also hidden so as not to be melted down for the war machine. “And when they rang again after the war, it was like a liberation for the people.” Schießler also uses his bells as a noise instrument. When the AfD registered an event on Marienplatz some time ago, Schießler came along and wanted to ring the Holy Spirit bells by remote control when the speakers speak. The radio wasn’t enough. Otherwise the bell is a peaceful instrument. Bell fans speak of “kissing” when Klöppel meets bell, 250 by 6000 kilograms.
The chime, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. It has to be compared to noise. For this, a bell is not struck by the clapper, but by a so-called hammer. “There are cases where, when the chiming of the hour is too loud, the church has put in a second hammer, one for the day, a little louder, and a quieter one for the night.”
Incidentally, the full Munich roar is in the city center on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. Schießler lets his bells ring in for the weekend, but all the other city-center bells are also ringing with all the force that Doppler would have enjoyed. “It takes 15 minutes and all the bells are coordinated with each other,” says Fischer. Perhaps that would also be a way of appeasing dissatisfied residents: through an overdose, a kind of hypersensitization.