300 steps to happiness

The towerkeeper of Münster

“If I am running late and have to hurry. says Martje Saljé, “I can complete the climb in two minutes”. The lady has had practice. There are 300 steps after all on the way up. Six times a week, the native Norwegian climbs the narrow stairs in the evening - to her workplace in the Towerkeeper’s room at St. Lamberti in Münster. DeinNRW visited Germany’s only Towerkeeper in government service there, high above the roofs of the bishop’s town. 300 steps up and then down again.

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    St. Lamberti Münster aus Sicht des Prinzipalmarktes, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Türmerin schließt ihr Postfahrrad ab, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Aufstieg hoch in den Turm der Lambertikirche, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Schlüsselanhänger mit Aufschrift Türmerin, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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Türmerin radelt auf ihrem Postfahrrad zur Arbeit, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

It is cold this morning. The thermometer is saying minus 4 degrees. Of course, Martje Saljé comes to the interview by bicycle. It is an old, yellow postman’s bicycle. The chain is on quickly and after a brief greeting in the cold, we get going. Two little steps lead to the inconspicuous door at the back of Münster’s most famous church. “Then there’s just another 298, that’s doable”, says the young woman. And she laughs. As she often does when she can speak about her work. When she speaks about the long tradition of her profession, about the history of the city where she wanted to live as a child, when she speaks of the long, peaceful evenings in the Towerkeeper’s room, of her fear of the severe storm in 2014 and of the highlight of her career to date, when she got to ring the big council and fire bell at the inauguration of the Lord Mayor - words like incredible, uplifting, wonderful, magic, respect and happiness occur time and time again.

Since she took over the office from her predecessor on 01 January 2014, she has become more relaxed, as Martje Saljé concludes at the end of the conversation. However, anyone who gets to know the music and history researcher will soon realise that a clever young woman, entirely happy in herself, has arrived in the city of her choice. Her job: “Public service, part-time, with holiday cover and everything that comes with it”, nearly bursts out of her. And she laughs again. Being the Towerkeeper in Münster is not just a job for the 36-year-old.

No fires in Münster on Tuesdays

Traditions & Legends

The Towerkeeper of St. Lamberti was first mentioned in documents in 1383. His task was to watch out for fires and to warn of foreign intruders in the city. More than 630 years later, a pretty, modern woman begins her work in the little Towerkeeper’s room every evening at 9 pm and blows the Towerkeeper’s horn from the gallery every half hour until midnight. Except Tuesdays. On Tuesday, the horn stays quiet and the Towerkeeper is free. Apparently, says the new Westphalian, this is because, “according to legend, there has never been a fire or an attack on a Tuesday down through all the centuries...”

The horn is always blown in three compass directions on the hour and half hour. In the direction of Prinzipalmarkt to the south, Domplatz to the west and the Drubbel (ten small houses were huddled together, i.e. ‘drubbelten’, in the tiniest of space in this square until 1907) to the north. However, many myths and legends were associated with the east, for example of a graveyard to the east and that the peace of the dead should not be knowingly disturbed. However, the researcher doubts this and instead assumes that there are historical religious grounds for this, as the altars in the churches faced east, so the horn was not blown to the east out of respect.

Martjes favourite place is high above the roofs

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Martje Saljé - die Türmerin von Münster, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

“Even as a child, Münster was right at the top of the list of cities I wanted to work in some day. And now I’m really here and can be part of this centuries-old custom. Unbelievable!”

Martje Saljé

The high art of tooting

Always alone, but never lonely

The 36-year-old regularly reports on similar and other events in the city’s history and research areas relating to this in her blog at tuermerinvonmuenster.wordpress.com

Because she does not climb the small winding stairs for fun up to the quaint room with all kinds of pictures on the walls, city maps, numerous books, specialist journals, an old radio from granddad’s time, a cassette recorder from her childhood and two little heaters to heat the cold top of the tower up a little bit. In amongst all of this, we also find some soap bubbles (“to put me in a good mood”) and postcards painted by m-ART-je herself. The motifs: Everything to do with Münster. Because in addition to her music and medieval history, art is also a great passion of the woman who grew up in South Norway and near Bremen, who also works as an English and French translator on the side.

And as her gaze continues to wander over the ordered chaos in the tower room, Martje Saljé also comments that: “Everything up here has also been properly examined and checked in regard to safety.” And then she adds with a wink:

“It’s not the most beautiful workplace in the world, but it’s definitely the safest.”

Even more so as the Towerkeeper has to check in with the fire service every evening when she starts and finishes work. But she is always alone up here and is not allowed to bring anyone up here for safety reasons. There are no public guided tours of the Tower of St. Lamberti either. “Yes”, says the Towerkeeper, “I am always alone here, but I am not lonely.”

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    Zimmer der Türmerin von Münster, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Pop Art Postkarte der Türmerin von Münster, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Inschrift auf dem Horn der Türmerin, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Münsteraner Türmerin mit Horn, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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Inschrift auf dem Horn der Türmerin, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

“Born to watch,
appointed to observe,
sworn to this tower,
I enjoy the world”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Martje Saljé, who beat 46 other applicants three years ago with the Goethe quote writes down everything she has experienced and learned up here. “Everyone knows Till Eulenspiegel for example”, she says, “but did you know that he also used to be a Towerkeeper?“ Another story concerns the “high art of tooting”. This follows a certain mysticism of numbers and is not at all as easy as laymen think it is. “Above all, it has to work first go.” Because Martje Saljé was not able to practice with the 1.2 metre long, expensive replica of the original horn before her “first time”. Everyone heard it.

The key number for all signals, by the way, is “3”. It represents, among other things, the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So at 9 pm, 3x3 Tuuuut, at 10 pm 2×3 Tuuuut and 1×4 Tuuuut can be heard from the tower, so: „Tuuuut – Tuuuut -Tuuuut (Pause) Tuuuut – Tuuuut -Tuuuut (Pause) Tuuuut – Tuuuut – Tuuuut – Tuuuut“. In the beginning, Martje Saljé, who also plays eight other instruments in addition to the tower horn, including the piano, Renaissance lute and double bass, got the numbers wrong from time to time. “It was noticed immediately in the city”, she recalls. But usually the reactions to her medieval handwork are positive. “The night watchman always responds,” she says. “But sometimes people also shout ‘Rapunzel’ at me or jokingly call out: “Don’t jump.” Some also request an encore.

And of course they get it, though not until the next hour or half hour. But anyone who listens really closely will probably be able to hear my other tones from the top of the tower high above. Because in her free time, Martje Saljé prefers to listen to Heavy Metal. That fits somehow with the middle ages.

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Seitenprofil der Türmerin mit Blick auf den St. Paulus Dom Münster, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

Three questions for Martje

Enthusiastic for Münster & Culture Lover

Martje, you have 48 hours of free time. What would you definitely do with this time in NRW?

Martje: “I would do what I always do on Tuesdays – on my day off – namely get to know my new home in North Rhine-Westphalia. Tuesday is always my culture day. I look for a destination in Münster or the region, set off on by bicycle, take the bus or train and explore the countryside. Because I also like to visit churches, for example, in my free time and often join public guided tours there. In the year of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, a few visits to Stadtmuseum Münster will definitely be on the programme, because the history of the so-called Anabaptists is presented there. I see the iron cage in which they were hung in the tower of St. Lamberti every day. And at least one Tuesday in the summer is reserved for Skulptur Projekte Münster (Sculpture Projects Münster). I came to Münster ten years ago, when the exhibition was last shown, especially to see it.”

Which place in NRW did you most recently discover for the first time?

Martje: “Soest. My Soest. A fantastic city. I definitely have to go see it again, because when I last visited two of the churches I wanted to see were closed. Moreover, there are many parallels between Soest and Münster, such as the clearly identifiable former city limits (in Münster it’s the promenade, in Soest the city walls) and the many historic and historically reconstructed façades, and of course the art. Take the painter Wilhelm Morgner and his incredibly large oeuvre. Morgner was born in Soest. However, I only became aware of this connection at the LWL Museum für Kunst und Kultur in Münster of course. Because somehow, everything has something to do with Münster...

Your personal favourite place in NRW.

Martje: “My ‘Turmstube’ (tower room) of course, what else? Because time in the tower always means a happy time for me. Really, up here I breath more freely and more positively than anywhere else. And I have realised that – since I have been working here – I have become a lot more relaxed.”