Silent monument


Since the end of June, renovation work has been in progress on the bell tower of St Jakobus Church opposite the outer gates. The ageing building has corrosion damage and cracks in the masonry that could become dangerous otherwise.

A tower without a nave, a clock that has long been showing the wrong time for a long time and bells that have not been rung for years: this is the old St Jakobus Church as Haniel employees have known it in recent years. But at the moment it looks rather different: the tower is covered in scaffolding, the four clocks are being repaired and sculptors and stonemasons are working away at the façade. But sadly the bells will remain silent…

High and low

The scaffolding around the monument, which rises to a height of 32 metres, covers 14 levels. At the sixth scaffolding level, Roland Berns, owner of the stonemasonry company Steinmetzbetriebe Berns GmbH, points to a steel ring sticking out of the wall. “This is where the crack in the masonry begins,” he says, pulling the ring out of the wall – it turns out to be a 15-centimetre-long screw that disappeared between the stones. “The crack goes all the way up to the tenth level. Over the long term, damage in the masonry like this can also affect the stability of the tower,” says Berns. But where do these cracks come from?

Committed to silence

The chiming of the bells is probably largely responsible for the cracks in the masonry. The bells’ movements exert a powerful force on the walls and cause the tower to vibrate. Jointing comes apart from the bricks and breaks loose, leaving cracks behind. To protect the building from this in the future, the bells are not allowed to ring any more.

A job for the experts

“We are placing what are known as spiral anchors across the cracks to connect the edges together again,” says Berns. The hollow spaces will then be filled in again with special mortar in one pour. This will repair the cracks and ensure the structural stability of the tower. But the old masonry presents additional risks: wind and the weather, damp and frost have taken their toll on the exterior walls over the centuries. “One particular weak point is the borders around the windows. But the ornamentation around the sounding boards and the masonry behind the clocks is also porous,” says Berns. He himself manages the family company, now in its sixth generation, and together with his team he has already restored many historical buildings, including the Church of Our Saviour, the town hall and the district court. Time and time again, he gently taps the stones. He can hear straightaway if the natural stone underneath the plaster is no longer firm – no matter how flawless the surface may seem.

Hammer and chisel

This is where Chari Tihanyi, a professional master stone sculptor, sets to work. Using a hammer and chisel, she works on the elaborately designed window border, knocking off edges and sanding it smooth. “This stone is permanently exposed to the elements. Penetrating damp and frost make it porous and cause it to break,” explains Tihanyi. Although this does not make the tower unstable, further deterioration could result in stones falling down onto the street, representing a danger to drivers and pedestrians. The disintegrating stones therefore need to be knocked away and replaced – and here this work is still done by hand.

Detecting damage on a 173-year-old tower, exposing, repairing and sealing it and clearing away the debris: that sounds like a lot of physical labour for a small team of four people. “Even though it is tiring, I can’t imagine any more enjoyable job. Historical buildings have fascinated me ever since I was little. I am delighted about every building that I can restore to former glory. And the view across history-steeped Ruhrort is a reward in itself,” says Berns.

St Jakobus Church was built in 1842 as a Protestant church for Ruhrort, which was still a separate town then. The former gallery church was badly damaged during the war and the church community was not able to take on the necessary restoration work. Haniel therefore acquired the site, including the church building, and raised considerable funds for the renovation of the church tower. However, the nave was so dilapidated that it was demolished in 1991. In its place, Haniel constructed a kindergarten and apartments.