World's Narrowest Street Endangered

The small, German town of Reutlingen boasts the narrowest street in the world, with a width of just 31 centimeters, and tourists come from far and wide to scrape through it. But the record is at risk because a side wall is bulging out into the passageway. Soon, it may cease to be a street. Locals are concerned.

New York has Broadway. Paris, the Champs- Elysées. And Reutlingen? The provincial town in south-western Germany has Spreuerhofstrasse. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the street as the narrowest in the world, with a width of just 31 centimeters (12.2 inches) -- or approximately the width of a standard PC monitor.

Reutlingen, in the heart of the region of Swabia, has held the record since 2007. "The Swabians are known for their modesty, so this is a typically Swabian record," said Tanja Ulmer, head of the city's tourism office. "It's is Reutlingen's smallest attraction, but a very important one."

There's not much to see in Spreuerhofstrasse. After all, the street is just 3.80 meters (12.5 feet) long. And it isn't particularly pretty. One has to squeeze past blank walls, and when it's raining, water drips from the gutter of an old half-timbered house on one side. But tourists from Asia and America flock to inspect the alley, adorned at each end with the sign "Narrowest street in the world" in German and English.

The city owes its record to a devastating fire and a city official who was either unfamiliar with his town or extremely slim. The blaze tore through the city in 1726, prompting the authorities to rule that buildings should have gaps between them to stop fires from spreading too quickly. Then, in 1820, a town hall administrator decided to elevate the status of this particular gap to that of a full-fledged public street.

Attraction at Risk

So far, so good. But Reutlingen now faces a dilemma that could cost it its global status. The wall of the near-derelict half-timbered house is starting to bulge outwards because water has seeped into the ancient beams.

Technically, that is making the street even narrower, so one might think that Reutlingen's world record is becoming even more secure. But if it goes on, the street will become so narrow that humans will no longer be able to use it.

"A street is no longer a street if no one can get through it. Then the fun would be over," said Ulmer. And Reutlingen would lose its record.

If the house is torn down, on the other hand, the street will become too wide. The answer is to shore up the building, but so far no one, including the owner, is ready to foot the bill. Building inspectors are to assess the cost of refurbishing the house.

Time is running out. "If nothing happens, the alley will have to be closed -- in 2013 at the latest because it won't stand more than one more winter," warns local tour guide Eugen Wendler, 73.

Everyone knows that something's got to happen. After all, what would the world think of a city that can't hold on to even such a small record?

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