I found the following story, “Going for a Bong”, intriguing and, in perhaps a rather bizarre way, fun. Yes, it is about the marketing of church bells.
Glockenbörse is an on-line marketplace for the sale of church bells, based in Germany. How could you not be intrigued by such a bizarre concept?
Eighty years after German troops stripped church towers of their bells, across Europe, parishes are trying to get them back. Although somewhere around 150,000 bells were expropriated and melted down to make guns and bullets to support Nazi Germany’s World War II efforts, approximately 25,000 stolen bells survived. These survivors found their way to vast “bell cemeteries”, and now they are finding their ways either “home” or to new churches around Europe, and around the world. The Hamburg bell cemetery alone currently holds over 12,000 stolen bells. Who would have contemplated a growing market in stolen, second-hand church bells? “Going for a Bong”.
Grzegorz Sonnek, the pastor in Radoszowy, a small town in south-western Poland was surprised to get a letter from a German parish offering to sell him a bronze bell. The church’s oldest parishioners still recall the day Nazi troops stole the town’s 400-year-old bell. Now, Mr. Sonnek says, he is planning a special mass this month to celebrate its homecoming.
Last year a bell that was decorating a large church in Munster went home to the Polish village of Slawiecice. The diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has a project to return 54 bells in the future.
I have to ask if they are returning these bells to their rightful owners, free-of-charge? Stupid question, when we are talking about “the church”. At least they are not trying to charge full price! If you think I am joking at the church’s expense, I should remind you that during World War II the Vatican made a deal with Mussolini to sell church bells to the Italian war effort for guns and bullets. Bells, I might add, that had been paid for and donated to the churches by private citizens over the millennia, not bells the church establishment had provided to those churches.
As I researched the history of stolen bells, I found out that the Nazis were only carrying on a long tradition of such thefts. The google page that comes up when you type in “History of stolen bells” has pages and pages of examples. Trinidad, Gloucestershire, Iowa, Czechoslavakia, New Brunswick, several villages in France, Nebraska and Minnesota, even a Buddhist temple in Maui, to name just a few. The United States recently returned some historic bells to the Philippines, which it had stolen 117 years ago.
Brand new bells usually cost between 30 and 40 euros per kilogram, and bells weigh anything from 5 kilograms to several tonnes. Second-hand bells currently go for about a quarter of that so the market is definitely booming. (Definitely “Going for a Bong”).The keenest buyers are from places where Christianity is growing, like India and Africa. The co-founder of Glockenbörse says his site has brokered the sale of more than 66 tonnes of mostly German bells, since he founded it in 2015.
The growth of second-hand bell sales is not only driven by lower prices of stolen bells, it has been supplemented by the sale of bells from churches that have closed as their flocks dwindle.
Germany has become the center source for the global trade in second-hand church bells, a somewhat dubious distinction, I must say.
Given the extent of current thefts, it should continue to be a booming business, if they can somehow stop the thieves from melting down the bells.
I wonder what it costs to ship a five-ton church bell from Stuttgart to, say, Zimbabwe?