“Only a few foundries left”

In Gescher, Westphalia, some 50 experts from Germany and abroad discuss a wide range of topics relating to bells. For the meeting, the German Bell Museum has e.V. Invited. Speaker Jan Hendrik Stens explains the current challenges in the bell industry.

CBA: Mr. Stens, how many bells in Germany do you have your eye on?

Stens: It's impossible to say for sure. There are – at a very rough estimate – 140.000 bells hanging on German towers alone.

CBA: What exactly is the conference of campanologists, as your guild is called, about??

Stens: Around 50 experts from very different fields come together here. Musicians, technicians or metallurgists – we are a colorful bunch of humanities and natural scientists who exchange ideas on the subject of bells.

CBA: You yourself want to give a talk and have announced "some heretical remarks". Where is the shoe pinching you?

Stens: The bell system is facing great upheavals. The gaps torn by the Second World War have been largely closed, thank goodness. In many churches there are now even more bells than before. Now, however, the bell foundries get only a few orders. While there were more than 20 companies in the 1950s, now only a handful exist. A cultural loss.

Many companies survive only because they engage in art casting and produce bronze portals or fountains.

CBA: At your conference you also deal with church closures…

Stens: This is also a part of the upheaval. With the closures comes the question of what happens to the bells. Some of them find a second use abroad, for example in Poland. Other congregations place the bells in the mother church after the closure of a branch church. Here, by the way, it proves to be a blessing if the bells of a place are tuned in tone and can be integrated into the main church without any problems. In some places, despite the demolition of the churches, the towers with the bells are preserved and continue to ring the Sunday bells.

CBA: That sounds rather rearing – at least as far as the bells are concerned. Which topic is still to come?

Stens: The handling of the bells. By ringing, they wear themselves out. For this reason, technicians have developed methods to protect the bells – for example, by using precisely measured clappers and coordinated swing angles. But in some cases, this involves a loss of sound. The key here is to be careful not to exaggerate historic preservation concerns. Bells are objects of utility, not sacred cows best left alone.

CBA: Do the churches pay enough attention to the bells?

Stens: It varies from congregation to congregation. There are pastors and sextons who are very interested in their bells. Others care less. Often the necessary knowledge is lacking.

CBA: And the dioceses and regional churches?

Stens: They have bell experts – but with different competencies. Some are only allowed to ring on behalf of a congregation. Others can intervene on their own initiative and initiate improvements for the bells. This is clearly better and guarantees professional maintenance of the bells.

The interview was conducted by Andreas Otto.

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