Ulm Minster “Coated in Urine and Vomit” Thanks to German Videophobia

Piss

The Washington Post reports on the Ulm Minster:

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, however, 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, like Hilbert, worry that abrasive chemicals in the bodily fluids are abrading 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….

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, like those in acid rains, without significant damage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Certain sandstone types, however, contain carbonate cements that dissolve when exposed even to weak acids.)

This is another instance of the curious German aversion to video surveillance. Like nuclear power, inflation, and debt, Germans have an intense cultural aversion to video surveillance. This is largely explained by the Nazi excesses in monitoring the population, as well as the European culture of privacy, which gives you rights over your own image, even in public. But these legitimate concerns are endlessly exaggerated and hyped in public discussions here, so that there is an organized lobby against video surveillance even where it would be a cheap, obvious, and effective way to solve serious problems.

As here. This is not a hard case. Just set up a bunch of obvious video surveillance cameras and signs where the problem is worst. Post images of the offenders online.

The predictable riposte from Green Party members, the most strident opponents of video surveillance, is that this won't stop everybody from pissing on the church. I've heard this argument literally hundreds of times from Green Party member about virtually every proposed expansion of government or police power. 

One of the strange defects in German debate culture is that almost nobody makes the obvious counter-argument to the Greens: that a measure doesn't have to be 100% successful to be worth doing. We have laws against murder, yet murders happen nevertheless. Some people will still piss on the church after the cameras are installed, but there will be many fewer of them. Perhaps the cameras might catch people who are engaged in innocent activity (although what that might be is a bit hard to imagine). Of course, nobody would see these images except the people who monitor the camera feeds.

The idea that this miniscule infringement of the privacy of people who know they are in a public space outweighs the importance of preserving the world's architectural heritage is, frankly, ludicrous. I'd be willing to bet that all the privately-owned businesses within a kilometer of the Ulm Minster already have video surveillance. The notion that a masturbation video emporium (g) in Ulm can manage to protect itself, while one of the world's greatest Gothic churches cannot, is, well, beyond ludicrous.

Grow up, Germany. We're counting on you.

10 thoughts on “Ulm Minster “Coated in Urine and Vomit” Thanks to German Videophobia

  1. The predictable riposte from Green Party members, the most strident opponents of video surveillance, is that this won’t stop everybody from pissing on the church. I’ve heard this argument literally hundreds of times from Green Party member about virtually every proposed expansion of government or police power.

    In a democratic political system, this is simply called ‘opposition’. If there’s a considerable part of the population that is against these measures, it’s perfectly okay for a party to represent those positions. Funny how everyone is always denouncing the Green Party as being the party that wants to control every citizen’s life while at the same time denouncing them for not wanting more surveillance. It seems that for some people this quite small party has to be held accountable for every evil in the world…

    You just can’t strip away the experience of sixty years of totalitarianism on German soil and pretend that it didn’t happen. Besides, it’s also Easten Europeans who’re sceptical of state surveillance, simply because they all still have vivid memories of how it can be manipulated for political power.

    As I’ve said before: people from the Anglosphere simply don’t have the experience of totalitarianism and therefore have a more innocent relationship with things like video surveillance. But how would you react if I criticised the USA PATRIOT Act with the words: “Grow up, USA. We’re counting on you.”

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  2. Can’t disagree more.

    You promote installing surveillance cameras in a country that doesn’t use them.. but ‘for a good cause’…

    Slippery slope.

    This is just how America got all of its indecent spying laws passed. The were ‘to protect the children’ or ‘to protect from terrorism’ etc. Because when you wave either of those flags there’s no way people can rally against them.

    Can’t believe you (of all people) would be promoting the installation of police cameras.

    At the extreme – the loss of one church (never happen) would be a VERY small price to pay for the continued freedom of a populace. I’m sure if you gave America that choice they would gladly take it (the ones that aren’t sheep).

    You grow up.

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  3. Occam’s razor. The Greens oppose this because they don’t care about one of the world’s great Gothic churches, appealing in that veign is like asking them to care about “orange cubed lightyear fringes”. It’s not outright hostility but simple indifference to a culture they have nothing in common with.

    What are the Greens’ proposals? Anything remotely useful or are the simple oppositionists who say ‘no’ to everything?

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  4. “You just can’t strip away the experience of sixty years of totalitarianism on German soil and pretend that it didn’t happen”

    So? Poland experience almost as much totalitarianism and there is no huge fear of public space video surveilance. Just yesterday I saw a news story about vandalism in a zoo and the obvious solution was video surveillance. The primary concern was cost, which shouldn’t be an issue in Germany.

    On the other hand there was a strong dissident movement in the PRL (peopl’es republic of poland) and it was found at different levels of society) while there was very little in the DDR (and mostly limited to some intellectuals). So maybe that’s a factor too.

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  5. Can’t disagree more, Rice.

    The analogy you make between the U.S. Privacy Act (much of which I don’t agree with by the way) and the video surveillance of public areas is fallacious.

    There is a big difference between using techniques like wire-tapping, for example, to monitor private behavior that could be potentially harmful, and detecting certain types of public behavior that necessarily have harmful consequences.

    I think that the video surveillance of sensitive public areas is absolutely necessary, although where to draw the line is not an easy question.

    Public spaces are one thing and privacy is quite another. The two are often incompatible. I think we can all agree that our privacy necessarily ends to a large extent whenever we enter a public space.

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  6. So let’s put up cameras monitored by the police to stop people pissing on a church. What’s next? let’s put of cameras by schools to protect the children. Then let’s put some up at all train stations, subway stations, airports and where crowds gather to stop terrorism. O wait – how did we become the UK? Ah – by good intentions and now we live in a police state – but hey.. no more pissing on the church!

    besides, for all the good churches have done – don’t they deserve a good pissing?

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  7. “for all the good churches have done – don’t they deserve a good pissing?”

    Let’s play with this…

    for all the good synagogues have done – don’t they deserve a good pissing?

    for all the good mosques have done – don’t they deserve a good pissing?

    for all the good buddhist temples have done – don’t they deserve a good pissing?

    hmmmm

    I still maintain that some of the opposition comes from being pleased at a christian house of worship being damaged in a way that they would never stand for if it were another religion.

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  8. You’re talking about political decisions, but the people’s perception of those can be a whole different affair. The Poles I’ve spoken to are not very happy about this new era of surveillance, and many people still fear the coming back of “UBkistan” (the UB was basically the Polish Stasi). To younger people, this whole paranoia about law-and-order/security of the current PiS government (and its former coalition government with a hardcore fundamentalist right-wing party back in the mid-Noughties) is off-putting.

    And, by the way, it’s not like there’s no video surveillance in Germany. In certain cities, you actually see quite a few cameras. The question is: do we want more of that? And does it really prevent more crime?

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  9. “To younger people, this whole paranoia about law-and-order/security of the current PiS government”

    That’s not a big feature in current political debate. And in many ways PiS (now) are a throwback to the people’s republic (the voting base of the party are those who lost out on the transition to capitalism).

    I deal with younger people on a daily basis and their concerns with the current government are far more economic than social (both exist but the former is _far_ more on young peoples’ minds).

    “a hardcore fundamentalist right-wing party back in the mid-Noughties”

    That party (a kind of proto-fascist party and truly terrible) no longer exists. There is a very small number of far right nationalists but the globalist-nationalist political divide hasn’t really arrived in Poland yet and there’s no equivalent to AfD or Jobbik in Poland at present (though migrants are a visible/audible presence on the streets of major cities).

    I’ve never met anyone that’s overly concerned with monitoring of public places (especially places were crimes are likely to occur). People are concerned about private surveillance, true.

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