Wintzenheim, more vandalism in the offing ?

1. Wintzenheim
On the left, Notre-Dame de l’Assomption
On the right, Herzog chapel
From an old postcard

The Alsatian community of Wintzenheim, near Colmar, had made the news sadly a few months ago in devastating the exterior sculptures of the Hertzog chapel (see article). A Neo-Gothic construction built between 1860 and 1862, it was in fact listed as a Monument historique…in no way troubling the DRAC of Alsace (see article in French) !

Today, another religious monument is being talked about in Wintzenheim : Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Logelbach where elements of the bell tower recently fell off onto the square in front of the church.
Built between 1925 and 1927 close to the Herzog chapel (ill. 1), this monument is particularly remarkable. It was the first time reinforced concrete was used for a church in Alsace and the second example of this type of construction in France, right after Notre-Dame in Raincy.
The passing of time along with inclement weather, as well as a lack of maintenance, took a progressive toll on the upper parts which today are dangerously coming apart. On the subject, we would once again like to underscore the importance of regular inspections to prevent such risks rather than paying the consequences for ensuing accidents…the weakness of concrete in construction is well known ! In any case, the municipality is now responsible for solving the problem and has already prohibited access to the site. We can only fear the worst.

2. Wintzenheim
Notre-Dame de l’Assomption
The mayor would
like to eliminate the
last two levels instaed
of a restauration
Photo : All rights reserved

The mayor, Serge Nicole, has thus stated that the last two levels of the bell tower (ill. 2) should be eliminated, that an identical reconstitution would not necessarily be the accepted choice and that people would have to get used to the church’s new shape : “I told the churchgoers that they would have to progressively get used to the idea of not seeing these two turrets [1]” ! Last 18 October, Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace wrote : “We are waiting for a stability survey to provide a mid-term solution”, stated the mayor. “It is collapsing but no one seems to care !”, he added very annoyed by the many criticisms he has faced concerning his way of managing the case of the Herzog chapel.” Serge Nicole will thus be very happy after reading our article which proves, contrary to what he stated, that some people are indeed worried. We would like to remind him at this time that the party responsible for taking care of the problem is the person in charge of this heritage, that is he and the municipality, as the church has belonged to the city since 1992.
How can one possibly imagine “beheading” the bell tower ? This would totally ruin the shape of the building as well as its historical and artistic integrity. According to witnesses, during the last public meeting, the only things discussed were safety, expertise, cost, but the importance of the monument and the obligation of keeping it together were never brought up. We can only conclude that for the mayor of Wintzenheim, the only way to restore a monument is by vandalizing it. What would be the state of French heritage today if someone like him had been in charge for the last two centuries ? This church is not protected as it is not listed as a historical monument, a scandalous fact given its importance thus underscoring once more the absurd nature of the words spoken by the Directeur du Patrimoine, Michel Clément, when he said that everything that deserves to be protected in France already is. Only the DRAC has the power to intervene now. According to the minutes of the Municipal council held on 25 September 2009, the institution has suggested listing the monument to city hall. It should therefore take its responsibility seriously and initiate an emergency de facto listing which would forbid city hall from taking any irreversible action for one year, then request a survey from the ABF, with the help of the LRMH (Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historiques) or another establishment accredited for concrete heritage [2], and finally forward the necessary elements to the commune for drawing up a list of requisites to carry out a restoration which respects the monument’s historical importance.

This is another instance of an important Art Déco building which is endangered. The government should not balk at funding such a project precisely at a moment when it is–and correctly so– celebrating “20th century Heritage”. Unlike the Herzog chapel where the DRAC could only observe the damage inflicted, the mayor’s intentions run contrary to clearly stated facts. No one can say they didn’t know.

Version française

Korbus and Didier Rykner, jeudi 3 décembre 2009


[1] Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, 15/11/2009. The mayor mistakenly calls the last two levels of the bell tower “turrets”.

[2] Are the companies which have carried out the survey of the concrete (Critt matériaux Alsace and DMI Structure SARL) accredited MH, and are they familiar with the problems related to heritage sites ? This is not explained clearly on theinternet website for either the first or the second.

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