The battle of leaning towers: Germany wins

Germany and Switzerland have long been known as bastions of cool efficiency, where the trains run on time, locals scold visitors for jaywalking and everything works. But travelers might be surprised to know that these countries are also home to four of the world’s most crooked towers, all of which lean more dramatically than the much more famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

Since the completion of a decade-long restoration project reduced the angle of the Pisa tower’s tilt from 5.5 to just 3.99 degrees, a host of other towns have stepped forward to proclaim that their towers are the world’s biggest leaners, in the hopes that tourists will follow. In 2007, Reverend Frank Wessels, the pastor of a leaning church in the northwest German village of Suurhusen, contacted Guinness World Records, which confirmed the church as the world’s “Farthest Leaning Tower.” (see image above)

Wessels recently told Der Spiegel that the church now receives about 10,000 visitors per year. Not bad, but still quite modest compared to the 426,000 tourists who visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa last year, according to a tourism official quoted in The New York Times. But a number of other leaning towers have emerged in the wake of Suurhusen’s crooked anointment.

A medieval defense tower in Dausenau, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, claimed a slightly greater tilt at 5.24 degrees, compared to 5.19 for Suurhusen, but Guinness rejected the bid because the tower is a crumbling ruin, not a functional, freestanding structure. A 12th century tower in St. Moritz, the tony Swiss ski resort, might have laid claim to the record, but a recent stabilization project reduced St. Mauritius’ slant from 5.4 degrees to 5.08.

Meanwhile, a 174 foot tall church bell tower in Bad Frankenhausen, a spa town in the eastern German state of Thuringia, has its own claim. The degree measurement of its slant is more modest than that of Suurhusen’s, but because its tower is nearly twice as tall, its total margin of deviation makes it appear even more crooked.Confused? Just wait. A steeple in Midum, a town near Suurhusen in the German region of East Frisia, claims its tilt is a whopping 6.74 degrees. But church leader Udo Aalderks hasn’t gotten around to making the claim with Guinness yet and it’s unclear if it would dislodge Suurhusen anyway, because the church in Midum is only 46 feet high.

An expert told Der Speigel that some 70% of the medieval churches of East Frisia are hopelessly tilted. Experts say this is because the region is “low-lying and marshy.” Many of the structures were built on wooden supports which are now rotting. Restoration is extremely expensive and the tower in Bad Frankenhausen is due for at least partial demolition unless the town can figure out how to pay for the needed repairs.

In 2010, Guinness sanctioned another leaning tower, this time in the Middle East. The Capital Gate tower in Abu Dhabi was purposely constructed with an impressive 18 degree slant and has been dubbed the world’s “Farthest leaning manmade tower.”

If you’re a crooked building aficionado, you might also check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa replica on Touhy Ave in Niles, near Chicago; the Crooked House in Sopot, Poland, and the Errante Guest House in Chile, to name just a few sloping beauties. And there is also the Crooked Road, Southwest Virginia’s 253-mile heritage music trail.

But despite all the competition for crooked glory, tourism officials in Pisa are apparently unconcerned by all the slanty claims. When a reporter for The New York Times asked Daniella Purchielli, Pisa’s tourism director, about the other towers, she said, “frankly, we haven’t heard about them. Our numbers are increasing.”

Gallery images via Wikimedia Commons, and Hippygit, Jaseman, and HarshLight on Flickr.