The Nagelsäule – Nail Pillar – has stood on the Liebfrauenplatz on the eastern side of the cathedral since 1916 and – as far as research tells me – is the only of its kind remaining intact in Germany.
The history’s interesting, if not gripping.
As the allied blockade of Germany in the first world war started to take grip, the Mayor of Mainz, Karl Emil Göttelmann, called on his fellow citizens in a burst of jingoism to show their solidarity with the troops and flash the cash for a Good Cause.
The 7 metre high pillar, crowned with the Iron Cross and the inscription “In Kriegsnot helf uns Gott” (“God help us in times of war”) and designed by the city’s Master Mason, Adolf Gelius, and the sculptor Ludwig Lipp was dedicated on 1 July 1916.
The column was decorated in four discrete rings – at the top, War (no big surprise) below it The State (again, no big surprise) then Brotherly Love and finishing with an area to be decorated with nails representing the donations
Citizens could buy nails ranging from simple iron one for 1 Mark (about €5 these days) to a gold-headed one for 20 Marks and hammer them into the oak stem.
All in all, they collected 170,00 Marks (€800,000-ish) which went to provide children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds with vacations in the country and to organisations supporting soldiers’ spouses.
You’ll also find symbols of more significant donations – either corporate from the many SMEs in Mombach, the industrial powerhouse of Mainz, or elsewhere, and plaques donated by the Kastel Choral Society (below) or the Hoteliers Association (bottom)
Years (and other wars) passed it by until people started noticed in the late 1980s that it rather swayed in the wind.
People looked at it, measured it, thought about and decided in 2006 that there was a fair risk that the family of the chappy who sells honey in its shadow on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday might have to call in his life insurance in the very near future.
Down it came and away it went into storage.
Fast forward to 2010. (If my memory serves me well, the city decided they had no money to restore it and figured that it if they kept quiet, no-one would miss it.)
Fat chance of that.
A fund was set up and kicked off with $60,000 from Gerhard Heiter, a Meenzer Bub who emigrated to America in 1956 and what with the generosity of the general public and some tax money thrown in its general direction, Michael Recker, a restoration expert from Mombach, was called in to oversee the job.
And what a lovely man he is.
You (well, I don’t anyway, but maybe that’s just me…) don’t meet many people who you like from the minute you start talking.
He’s one of them.
I asked him what stage of the restoration he was at, so he told me in detail (coating the metal stays with anti-corrosive stuff), invited me inside the fence for a closer look and showed me all sorts of interesting plaques and their history.
Including one that gives me the willies/heebie-jeebies/whathaveyous.
The plaque that I picked at random in the post a couple of weeks back was one marking the death a mere 4 weeks before Armistice Day of a Leutnant Karl Gelius, a possible relative of the Master Mason who designed the memorial.
Google the name and you’re taken straight to a passage from Carl Zuckmayer‘s “Als war’s ein Stuck von Mir” (A Part of Myself) describing volunteering for service on the day that war was declared:
“Ich weiß noch heute den Namen jedes einzelnen, der da mit mir ging: Karl Gelius, Franz Klum, Leopold Wagner, Max Neuhoff, Heinz Römheld, Geo Hamm, Richard Schuster, Franz Pertzborn, Erich Hahn -, ich sehe ihre siebzehnjährigen Gesichter, wie sie damals waren, jung und frisch, ich könnte sie nie anders sehen, denn sie sind nicht gealtert. Sie sind alle tot, kriegsgefallen, jeder der hier Genannten”
“I remember to this day the name of each of them who was there with me: Karl Gelius, Franz Klum, Leopold Wagner, Max Neuhaus, Heinz Römheld, Geo Hamm, Richard Schuster, Franz Pertzborn, Eric Hahn – I see their seventeen year old faces as they were then, young and fresh, I could never see them any other way, because they have not aged. They are all dead, fallen in the war, every single one of them.”
As I said – not your average war memorial….