The Washington Post

World’s tallest church has a waste problem — young Germans with full bladders

The spire atop Ulm Minster, the world’s tallest church, juts 530 feet into the air above the German city for which it is named. In its 639th year, though, the Gothic structure could be laid low by a gross and unfortunate hazard: Too many revelrous Germans are ducking into the church’s alcoves to relieve their full bladders and queasy stomachs against the ancient walls.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on it for half a year now and, once again, it’s coated with urine and vomit,” Michael Hilbert, head of the local building preservation agency, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Those charged with maintaining the building, such as Hilbert, worry that corrosive chemicals in the bodily fluids are wearing away the sandstone blocks that form the church’s foundation. Making matters worse, the potential damage to the stone comes after the church recently completed an expensive renovation.

Hilbert clarified to Suedwest Presse that he does not want to become the “Pinkelpolizei,” which the BBC translated as “pee police.” That task will be left to the German authorities. To stanch the flow of expelled waste, police patrols have increased in the area. Ulm also doubled city fines for public urination to 100 euros, or $110.

But neither the increased fines nor the extra patrols appear to have curbed the acidic eliminations. (Most sandstones are able to weather acids, such as those in acid rain, without significant damage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Certain sandstone types, though, contain carbonate cements that dissolve when exposed even to weak acids.)

The church is a popular location for community celebrations, markets and festivals, including wine tastings or Christmas parties, Duetsche Welle noted. Organizers rarely provide appropriate toilets, in Hilbert’s view, prompting offenders to do their corrosive business against Ulm Minster’s walls.

“This is about preserving law and order,” Hilbert told Suedwest Presse.

If the urine causes irreversible damage, it will be a sad note added to Ulm Minster’s long history. Construction on the church, which cannot technically be classified as a cathedral because it was never the seat of a bishop, began in the late 14th century. When it was finally completed five centuries later, Ulm Minster was briefly the tallest building in the world — until it was surpassed by Philadelphia’s City Hall, and later the New York City’s Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower in 1909.

Ulm Minster is not the only iconic structure to face excremental threats. The marble of the Taj Mahal has begun to take on a green hue under a deluge of bug feces. Flies breed in large numbers in the stagnating waters of nearby Yamuna River, as The Post reported in May, and deposit the remnants of their algal diets on the white mausoleum.

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This post has been updated to reflect that the 548-foot Philadelphia City Hall also held the title of the world’s tallest occupied building.

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