AN ORGAN pipe that was stolen from York Minster as a “holiday souvenir” 50 years ago is to be returned by one of the German tourists involved in the incident.
Klaus Weber, who was one of six young men who visited the Minster during a three-week road trip to John o’Groats, is adding a payment of £50: a “rental charge” of £1 for each year it has been in his home in the town of Hude, near Bremen.
The retired teacher said that the visit during the summer of 1969 was their first time outside Germany, and a great adventure for the group. “It was different, with miles instead of kilometres, pints not litres, and your left-way traffic” he said. To help spread the cost, one of the group brought a friend from Berlin, whom he knew only as Georg, and it was he who picked up the 16-inch-long D-sharp metal pipe in the Minster.
Mr Weber explained: “An organ was disassembled, and the pipes were lined up along the wall. Georg took one small pipe. We tried to stop him; we told him: ‘You are a visitor, you should show good behaviour,’ but he said ‘No, it is just a small thing,’ and we couldn’t stop him. He never said why he wanted it.”
Two weeks later, as the group returned towards Dover, Georg suddenly announced that he was frightened the pipe would be discovered at Customs, and he wanted to get rid of it. Mr Weber said: “I got angry and said to him: ‘We couldn’t stop you to take the pipe, and now you want to throw it away, that is stupid. You carried this pipe for almost three weeks, What a nonsense. I said: ‘This pipe is not rubbish, it has historical worth; so I will take the pipe for you and hope I don’t get stopped’.”
Back home, the group separated before Mr Weber could return the pipe. “I tried to get it back to Georg, but I didn’t know his family name or his address. I asked my Berlin friend, but he said they had lost touch.”
Over the years, he would occasionally wonder what to do with it, but nothing happened until earlier this year, when the friends met to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their tour. “We tell our stories of our trip, and we think again about the pipe and what to do with it.
“They all said: ‘That’s your thing, you have taken it, not us.’ Now I am 72. I know that I am getting older, and one day will die, and I know that all personal things are thrown into the rubbish. I think that this pipe should not be thrown in the rubbish; so I want to send it back.”
He wants his £50 to go towards the current £2-million refurbishment of the Minster’s organ.
“My donation didn’t arise from guilt or bad conscience — I prevented the destruction of the pipe — but from appreciation for this unique old church building and its valuables.”
A Minster spokeswoman said that the pipe probably dates from the early 19th century, when the organ was rebuilt after a fire in 1829. “Until he wrote in, we were unaware it had been taken,” she said. “It wasn’t missed. Documentation was not as good back then as it is today. If Mr Weber wants to give it back, we are happy to receive it. Unfortunately, it cannot go back into the organ; it would go into the Minster’s collection with a note explaining its story.”