The thieves came in broad daylight to Gross Ridsenow, a tiny hamlet set in the gently rolling landscape of eastern Germany just a few miles inland from the Baltic.
They parked their lorry outside the church, strolled inside, climbed its tower and cooly removed the 500-year-old bronze bell hanging in the belfry. Then they heaved their 600kg booty on to the back of their truck and drove away.
Nobody in sparsely populated Gross Ridsenow noticed. "Nothing is sacred to some people," complained Pastor Thomas Kretschmann. The theft was nothing new. According to Hendrik Stens, curator of Germany's authoritative Bell Museum, the country is y in the grip of a bell robbing epidemic. The thieves are lured by the rocketing price of copper.
Because of its high copper content Gross Ridsenow's bell was worth ¤20,000. The price of copper has increased fivefold over the past decade and church bells are not the only items being stolen. There has also been big increase in the theft of copper guttering, building site copper wire, and overhead railway cables.
Gross Ridsenow's bell has turned up but it will never ring again. Police found it smashed to pieces at a breaker's yard in the nearby port city of Rostock. The thieves were given ¤1,600 for it. Unwittingly they were also filmed by a surveillance camera. The police are unlikely to have much difficulty finding them. Such news is no consolation the Bell Museum's Hendrik Stens: "The bell's soul has been lost forever," he says.