Station:  Bell Tower, Protestant Parish Church of St. James, Kirchplatz 2
M: A free-standing tower, detached from the church proper, is unusual in our latitudes. That kind of "campanile" is more common in Italy. But you have to admit it brings a hint of Mediterranean pizzazz to our town. So what’s its secret?
F: The bell tower doesn’t actually belong to this church!
M: In the 13th century, what is now the Protestant church of St. James was a fortified church. To protect the church and its grounds from attack, they were completely surrounded by a wall. The only way in was through the gate tower. You can see that the tower was originally built for defensive purposes if you look at the side entrance, which is about six metres or 19 feet above ground level. That was the only access to the tower.
F: In 1788, the church was extended, and its steeple was taken down. From then on, the tower of the fortified church served as the steeple. An extra half-timbered storey was subsequently added and now houses the belfry.
M: Running around the upper edge of the original tower is a Romanesque round arch frieze. On the west side, above the arched window, the "Steidemer Männle" has been looking down on the town’s changing fortunes for more than eight centuries. If you’re standing in the market square, simply look up. The Männle is Niederstetten’s town emblem. According to a pre-Christian tradition, the figure is meant to ward off evil spirits, who were apparently always expected to come from the west. However, the figure may also be linked to the old town legend of the Halbes Männle – the bisected man. If you haven’t come across his sad and brutal story yet – you can listen to it at the fountain in front of the town hall.
F: Niederstetten is surrounded by five fortified churches. That type of structure was only ever built in especially important and prosperous places. The best preserved example is in the neighbouring hamlet of Wildentierbach. It’s definitely worth a trip, and it’s also included in your audio tour.
M: But first, let’s hear more about the history of the parish church of St. James.
Fotos: © Trüpschuch