It was 8.30 p.m. when I arrived at the Lambertikirche. I looked for the little door leading up to the tower and then suddenly spotted her: Martje, the Türmerin of Münster, Germany. Martje is the first female Türmerin or “Tower Lady” in a line of tower keepers that dates back to the 14th century.
I'm not kidding. Six nights a week she climbs the 300 steps of the tower to keep an eye on the city and this night, I got to join her.
Keepers of the tower
As said, the tradition of the tower keepers of Münster dates back to the 1300s. It was only briefly interrupted because of World War II when bombs destroyed a part of the tower. Before, the tower keeper would go up the tower at night to stay there until 6 in the morning and check on the city every half hour. Now, Martje does this every day except Tuesday, but only from 9 p.m. until midnight.
Every half hour, starting at 9 p.m., she walks around the tower and looks in all directions. If there's no danger in sight, she blows her horn three times three in three different directions. It's quite spectacular.
Martje is officially appointed by the city of Münster – it's unique for a tower keeper to actually work for the city, and not for the church – and actually moved to Münster because she wanted to do this job so badly. When she took me up the tower and told me a bit more about her job, I could easily tell how passionate she is about the work she does.
Our first stop on our way up was a room decorated with old photos and some other objects related to the tower. Our second stop took us outside, to the floor where Martje's bell is located.
Her bell is not the same bell as the one the church uses. In fact, the tower keeper's bell can only be heard once every five years, when a new major of the city is appointed.
Aside from the bell, that second stop held three macabre looking cages. They hung on the outside of the tower and consisted of nothing more than some iron bars. The cages were made in the 16th century to keep prisoners in who needed to be moved but ended up serving a whole other goal…
The cages were hung outside the Lambertikirche containing the bodies of three Anabaptists, of whom the notorious John of Leiden who briefly ruled the cities. The bodies were left there to deteriorate for 49 years.
I'll just let that sink in for a moment.
Our last stop was at Martje's “office”, a small room 300 steps high from where she has access to the little platform that runs all around the tower. I spotted a ton of books about Münster, as well as some old photos and maps.
When the bells struck 9 p.m., Martje headed outside to do her round. I stayed close to the door, suffering a bit from my vertigo, and heard her blow her horn three times three, then another time three times three.
The last series had to be blown from where I was standing and I have to say, standing there 300 steps high with just one other person, overlooking the city and hearing the sound of that mighty (not to mention giant) horn was quite special.
I saw plenty of cool things while I was in Münster, but this is definitely an experience that I'll remember for years to come.
How to get there
Münster has an airport, but as it's not too far from Belgium, I decided to go by train. I took the Thalys in Liège-Guillemins to Essen and should have switched there onto a regional direct train to Münster West Hbf, but because of an accident on the German railroads, I instead took a train from Essen to Hamm and then from Hamm to Münster.
On the way back, I took the train Münster > Essen and the Thalys Essen > Liège-Guillemins without issues.
You can also board that same Thalys at Brussels-Midi, if that's more convenient or if you'd rather not book a Thalys ticket, take a regional train from Brussels-Midi or Liège-Guillemins to Cologne and switch to another regional train that goes directly to Münster there.
Do check ticket prices first, though, as Thalys isn't necessarily more expensive and it's usually faster than taking two regional trains. It takes four to five hours to get from Brussels or Liège to Münster.
You can purchase your tickets at NMBS Europe and print them at home.
Where to stay
I spent two nights at the H4 Hotel Münster City Center, just a short walk from the train station and right in the center of the city. Prinzipalmarkt and the Domplatz were less than 10 minutes walking from the hotel and an additional benefit was the free bike hire that came with the room.
The H4 offers an extensive breakfast buffet and spacious rooms with free wifi, free locker, and a television. No fridge and no tea and coffee supplies, as is usual in German hotels, but you do get free water.
Pin for later
I visited the Tower Lady as a special guest of Münster Marketing. There are no tours going up the tower, but you can hear Martje blow her horn every night except Tuesdays, every half hour from 9 p.m. until midnight.