VIENNA, Austria — It is an argument in which every side has its own particular slant on the matter. After nine centuries of undisputed fame as the world's most lopsided building, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is facing challenges to its title from two crooked church towers in Germany.
The former East German town of Bad Frankenhausen says the bell tower of its 14th-century Protestant Church of Our Dear Ladies leans even more than its better-known rival in Pisa.
The 184-feet stone edifice has been succumbing to gravity's pull for centuries because its foundations are in porous chalk and is now 4.5 degrees off-center, a figure that town officials say easily beats Pisa's 3.97 degrees.
Guinness World Records — or its German edition, anyway — has backed the town officials' case, and all that stands in their way is the as-yet-unverified bid of another church tower in nearby Suurhusen, which is said to lean 5.07 degrees.
"Good for them. It doesn't matter to us," was the rather lofty response from Pisa City Council last week, when asked for a reaction to the German bids.
Although nobody imagines that Bad Frankenhausen or Suurhusen will ever draw as many tourists, Italians are thought to be somewhat miffed at the prospect of their place in the record books being nabbed by two provincial German upstarts.
Nestling in the foothills of the Kyffhauser Mountains, the Bad Frankenhausen bell tower was built with granite stone 625 years ago and has an added baroque-style spire.
According to the calculations of local architects, who are now devising a strategy to save the tower from imminent collapse, it leans more than 14 feet eastward, and with each passing year, the lean increases by more than 2 inches.
Because of the danger of it tumbling, church services are only held on occasions, such as Christmas or Easter.
"It is still generally considered safe, but you cannot help worrying whether it is going land on your head," said Barbl Koller, the head of the association to save the church.
Officials in nearby Suurhusen, meanwhile, say their 13th-century tower not only leans more, but is also functional as a church year-round.
"Our tower is the most leaning, but in our church we still have regular Mass and even weddings," boasted pastor Frank Wessel.
Olaf Kuchenbecker, of the German edition of Guinness World Records, said the tower in Bad Frankenhausen "is definitely more leaning than the one in Pisa, which is quite a revelation, as far as leaning towers go."
"The bell tower of Suurhusen seems to be a sure candidate for a world record. But tests are still in progress, and at this stage, we can only accept the tower of Bad Frankenhausen as the world's most leaning tower."
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