On the trail of the mysterious liquid

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The fire brigade helps analyze the contents of a 140-year-old bottle

by Ilse Romahn

(28.09.2021) The contents of the vial, which was found at the top of the Epiphany a few weeks ago, remains a mystery. But there are new indications of the composition of the liquid. They come from the special service environment and safety of the Frankfurt professional fire brigade, which helped with the analysis of the historical find with the most modern technology.

An employee of the professional fire brigade examines the vial with a spectrometer.
Photo: Frankfurt am Main fire brigade

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With a so-called Raman spectrometer that works with laser beams, the contents could be examined without damaging the approximately 140-year-old glass container. The result: the yellowish, somewhat cloudy liquid contains ethanol (alcohol) and a sweetener. “This does not solve the riddle of the liquid message from the 19th century,” said city treasurer Bastian Bergerhoff, the department head responsible for the endowment churches. “But the thesis that our ancestors left a testimony with Ebbelwei as a testimony to the culture of life at that time has at least not been refuted.”

The bottle was discovered when the cross at the top was removed as part of the renovation work on the tower of the Dreikönigskirche. In the sphere under the cross there were also two so-called time capsules with historical documents and three coins. The finds date from 1880, when the church, also known as the “Evangelical Cathedral” in Frankfurt, was completed on the Sachsenhausen bank of the Main. Since the glass container cannot be opened without destroying it, the contents will probably remain a secret. Thanks to the support of the experts at the fire department, the employees of the treasury and tax office responsible for church affairs got a little clue.

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Perhaps future generations will have other ways of analyzing them. Because the enigmatic bottle returns to its place of discovery. Like all other finds, it comes – supplemented by contemporary documents – in a newly made time capsule. This is expected to be placed in the sphere at the end of October, when the restored cross and the weathercock return to the top of the tower. “Hopefully the objects will stay there for several decades,” said Bergerhoff. “Because after the extensive renovation there will be no more reason to work on the top of the tower anytime soon.”

The Dreikönigskirche is one of the eight endowed churches that the city of Frankfurt am Main is obliged to maintain. It was built between 1875 and 1880 according to plans by the church builder Franz Josef Denzinger. The city of Frankfurt am Main is investing a total of 3.2 million euros in the renovation that is currently under way. In the third and final construction phase, the facade and roof of the church tower will be repaired by 2023 under the direction of the Office for Construction and Real Estate. (ffm)

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