Ulm Minster, once the tallest building in the world, is seeing its sandstone foundations waste away because of public waste
Although Barcelona’s unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral will ultimately stretch 10m taller, the spire shooting up from Ulm Minster in Germany allows the building the rights to claim its place as the world’s tallest church. But now the 638-year-old Gothic structure, which reaches 162m into the sky, is at risk from the most unholy of problems – too many drunken men are skulking up beside it to find a quiet place to relieve their bladders, stomachs, or both.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on it for half a year now and, once again, it’s coated with urine and vomit,” a concerned – and disgusted – Michael Hilbert, head of Ulm’s building preservation agency, told the international German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Hilbert and others tasked with the maintenance of the massive structure have expressed major concern that chemicals found in the bodily fluids routinely splashed on the cathedral’s base could be beginning to corrode the heavy sandstone blocks that support the steeple from its foundations.
To add insult to injurious public urination, Ulm Minster, a popular meeting point and festival venue, has only just gone through a costly renovation process. While most sandstone varieties are robust enough to weather the kind of acids found in rain water, certain types are mixed with carbonate cements that dissolve when in contact with even the weakest of acids.
“I don’t want to be the pee police,” Hilbert explained to the Südwest Presse, “But this is about preserving public order.”
To stem the tide of urine, local authorities has increased the number of police officers patrolling the area around the church, which cannot technically be referred to as a cathedral having never been the seat of a bishop. Ulm has also doubled the fines for public urination to €100.
But should the Ulm urinating public fail to stop and cause irreversible damage to the building, it will be a sour end to a structure that was first begun in the 14th century. When the Lutheran church was finally completed in 1890, it was the tallest building in the world, losing the crown to Philadelphia City Hall in 1901, but remaining Europe’s tallest until as late as 1951. The Minster also survived an air raid in 1944 that levelled 80% of the medieval centre of the city, coming out with only superficial damage.