Bell towers

In the last two years, I have been spending almost every long weekend (Friday evening to Monday morning) in a small town in Italy, staying in a comfortable flat facing the main square and a typical village church. Next to the church there is a bell tower, which is supposed to beat time during the day. I would not be able to say whether the bells were really ringing every hour, but I seem to remember they were not. For sure, there was no bell ringing between 11:00 pm and 7:00 am (probably a consequence of the message Basta con le campane! – which means Enough with the bells! – which I saw hand painted on a side wall of the church). There was a long loud ring every day around 7:45 am, and at some other time during the day, with intensifications on Sundays, but I was not able to deduce a specific pattern.

In the last four days, I have been staying in a small German village, roughly the same size of the Italian above. My (uncomfortable, this time) flat again faces the main church and its bell tower. Its bells not only ring every hour, but every quarter of the hour, according to the following system: each 15 minutes account for a dong. So if you hear dong dong dong it means it is 45 minutes after some hour, which is not specified. When the clocks strikes an exact hour, you hear 4 dongs, and then as many dangs (a tone slightly different from the one before) as the number of hours, from 1 to 12, without distinguishing between am and pm (which is perfectly reasonable, you should be able to tell yourself). So if you hear dong dong dong dong dang dang dang dang dang dang dang it means that it’s 7 o’clock, either am or pm. And yes, the bells continue with the same procedure all night long. The system is consistent and robust (if you cannot distinguish the dongs from the dangs, you just have to count), even if maybe a little redundant (for instance, you could agree that 12:00 count as no dang, and spare the bells and everybody 24 dangs a day). Ah, and there is no message painted on the walls of the church.

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