PASSAU, Germany, Nov. 8, 2007 -- The Leaning Tower of Pisa has long been the undisputed champion when it comes to famous tilting structures, a must-see for tourists from all over the world.
But there's competition on the horizon.
Suurhusen, a small village of about 1,200 people in northwest Germany, has been awarded a certificate declaring its church tower "the most tilted tower in the world."
This newfound status was bestowed by Olaf Kuchenbecker, manager of the German edition of the Guinness World Records book.
At a small ceremony today, Kuchenbecker told villagers, "Your church tower may not be quite as famous as the one in Pisa, but your tower is definitely the most tilted in the world. The steeple tilts at an angle of 5.17 degrees, while the Pisa tower tilts at just 3.97 degrees. When you lay photos of the two next to each other you can see it relatively clearly."
"The new record," he told the villagers attending the commemorative event, "is scheduled to appear next autumn in the 2009 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records."
Mayor Wolfgang Schneider told ABC News, "I don't think we'll ever have as many visitors come here to see our church, but I like the idea that we have a tourist attraction on offer. Many of our forefathers emigrated to the U.S., to Iowa and Illinois in particular, so who knows, maybe tourists from the U.S. will learn about our attraction and come see us."
Elfriede Buß, 67, is one of the residents who volunteered to show tourists around. She told ABC News that she expects many people to come see the tower.
"We've had approximately 1,000 visitors each year, who come here mainly to see the church and hear about its history," Buß said. "I like the idea that people come to this quiet part of Germany, and I can show them our church."
The 15th century church tower, simple in design and not particularly attractive, belongs to the local Protestant Church. It was built on a wooden foundation, which seems to be shrinking due to the effects of drying out over the many years. Since the early 1980s, villagers have been successful in carrying out interventions within the subsoil to reduce the inclination, thus ensuring the tower does not topple over.
Although the church tower's tilt angle is greater than Pisa's tower, it has less than half the Italian tower's height and none of its ornate beauty.
Buß enjoys the company of the people coming to see "her" church and she expects to see many more in the spring, when the new tourist season begins.
It seems that her pastor, 35-year-old Frank Wessels, can do without all the attention.
Being the focus of local media scrutiny and today's commemorative ceremony have been more than enough for Wessels. He's decided to turn off his cell phone for the rest of the day and let his church volunteers deal with all the fuss.