Zug, 03.05.2021

The bell-ringer of the Kapuzinerturm is only on duty once a year

On 8 May, Martin Zimmermann rings the peace bell in the highest Zug city tower for a quarter of an hour. He has inherited this tradition from his father. A friend supports him in the not-quite-so-easy task.

The Kapuzinerturms (Capuchin Tower) is located on the north-eastern corner of the fortification ring of the city of Zug. and is named after the neighbouring monastery order. As the highest Zug city tower with a striking tower clock on the top floor, the building, which was completed in 1526, is an attractive sight.

Once a year, on 8 May, the peace bell, weighing around 500 kilograms, rings here at 8 p.m. in the evening for a quarter of an hour. It is a reminder of the end of the Second World War, which was announced throughout Switzerland by the ringing of bells on 8th May 1945.

The Baar cantonal councillor Martin Zimmermann (GLP) is responsible for this task. "I grew up in Zug, and took over the office in 2013 from my father and my godfather," he explains. Even as a child, he listened to the ringing from his parents' house. "My father held the office for about 25 years."

A personal year
On one occasion, his father couldn’t ring the bell. "He spent the 8th of May 2011 in the intensive care unit of the Cantonal Hospital." Not as a patient, but as a worried relative. "My mother and my two children were involved in a serious car accident," says Zimmermann. All three survived with serious injuries, and have recovered.

"Since then, the ringing of the bells on 8th May has become a personal reminder to me of how valuable life is, and how quickly it can be over."

There’s no training, only the real thing
Anyone who thinks that the task of the bellringer is only to pull a rope a few times would be mistaken. "It takes some routine. You have to learn that you can’t force the bell according to your will, but can only guide it," explains the business computer scientist almost philosophically. In addition, you have no training opportunities, as the bell can only be rung once a year.

Photo 1: The Kapuzinerturm was completed in 1525 and is part of the Zug city wall                                   Photo: Daniel Frischherz
Photo 2: Martin Zimmermann rings the peace bell in the Capuchin Tower in Zug on 8 May.
Photo 3: The peace bell may be heard once a year
Photo 4: Martin Zimmermann (right) and his colleague Stefan Huber.
The Baar cantonal councillor (GLP) took over this office eight years ago from his father and godfather.

Photos: Maria Schmid (Zug, 29 April 2021)

Mounting the tower is also a challenge. "It’s pretty narrow, and I'm no longer the slimmest," admits Martin Zimmermann. A stone staircase leads to a further wooden staircase, passing the old clockwork, and you reach the ringing platform on the third intermediate floor.

"We open the tower doors each time, so that some daylight comes in, and start ringing as soon as the tower clock has struck eight times."

Finding the right groove
Like his father and godfather before him, Martin Zimmermann has also found a comrade for the office with whom he can alternate during the rope tugging. "My colleague Stefan Huber has been assisting me for six years." We’ve both slowly got the hang of it.

"The hard thing is to find the right groove, to create a harmonious sound and pass on the rhythm to your colleague." Because the task is exhausting, they alternate every three to four minutes. "If you pull too hard, the bell turns over, and if you pull it too weakly, you’ll lose the beat."

Now and again, there have been some sympathetic, but critical comments about the ringing. "In recent years, however, the transitions can barely be heard anymore," says Zimmermann, not without pride.

A small supporting programme
A mass is usually held first, then we ring the bells for a quarter of an hour and there's finally an aperitif, which is organized by the Capuchin monastery. "The population of City of Zug are invited," says the cantonal councillor.

The supporting programme did not take place last year, and there is unlikely to be an aperitif on the coming 8th May. "But Stefan Huber and I will still ring, and will continue to do so this year. "We shouldn’t stop this beautiful tradition simply because of Corona,” say the two bellringers. "On the contrary, tradition gives the population something to hold onto, especially at this time."

Remembrance is important
Martin Zimmermann is very interested in the history of the two world wars.

"It is right and proper that we shouldn’t forget these times of war, so that, with all today's 'prosperity problems', we can also remember how wonderful it is to be able to simply live in peace."

He feels very close to the city and canton of Zug, and finds it important to maintain such traditions. "I will certainly carry out this office until someone else wants to claim it," he says with a laugh. Whether this would be his son or his daughter is still in the stars. "They are only in their teens, and are more interested in their mobile phones and computers at the moment!"