Alan Tallis, 57, reckons he’s landed the best job in town as live-in janitor of the Rathaus – a sprawling, century-old building with two wings and a lookout tower.
He gets to reside in a spacious flat in the town hall along with his wife and their daughter. And he can work his own hours – as long as all the repairs are done in good time.
“The structure reminds me of a castle, and I tell family and friends back in the UK that I live in one. They don’t believe me at first and then ask if it’s all mine,” says Alan, who hails from York and is a huge Leeds United supporter.
“I open my front door and I’m already at work. There’s no one looking over my shoulder and the people are nice. This is by far the best job I’ve ever had.”
It was no mean feat that the Yorkshireman beat a German to the job three years ago, after all he was over 50 and had no formal qualifications.
Alan, who came to Germany as an ‘Army brat’ with his soldier stepfather in 1973, has had a string of jobs including working in a metal factory and junkyards and as a refuse collector. He also served in the German Merchant Navy for six years and worked as a guard in a Bremen harbour.
“My family returned to the UK and I stayed on – I had a factory job and a German girlfriend,” he said.
“Later I worked for Herford Stadt as a cleaner and caretaker for several schools and earned a reputation for being dependable and good at my work, so when the Rathaus job came up, I was well-positioned.”
Alan, who attended Windsor Boys’ School in Hamm and Prince Rupert School in Rinteln, added: “Apart from a three-week period I have always held a job. There was so much work going in the 1970s and qualifications were not as necessary as they are today.
“The most important thing for Brits entering the job market over here, is to be able to speak German fluently.”
The family – including Olde English Bulldogge Miss Molly – share the 132m2 flat on the third floor of the west wing. He and his wife Christa have six children between them, but only one lives at home.
“This flat is massive. We got rid of our old furniture and started anew when we moved here in 2014.
“We used to live near British married quarters in Herford, which was an interesting time,” said Alan.
“The caretaker before me lived here for around 20 years before retiring. When the job became available I applied and got it. It’s brilliant.
“It was a bit weird when I first started at the Rathaus – the heating and roof beams make strange noises at night but you get used to it. The place isn’t haunted though!”
He added: “I get emails or phone calls about what needs to be fixed, and I can start and finish when I want, so long as I do what I’m getting paid for. If I want to drill holes on a Saturday, it’s up to me.
“I do small repairs, everything from fixing broken chairs and dripping taps to replacing light bulbs and defect heating valves. I even shovel snow away from the main entrance in winter. But I will not make coffee!”
However, looking after the historic building also presents challenges, because alterations, large or small, are not allowed.
Alan has a workshop in the Rathaus basement, where he keeps all his tools and a collection of football T-shirts. He said: “The door locks are old and can sometimes seize up.
“When replacing a light bulb, the connecting parts can crumble in my hand due to their age. And it’s hard to drill a small hole in a wall – they always end up much bigger.
“There’s enough to do here, much more than in a big school.”
He opens the Rathaus at 5.30am during the week to let the cleaners in, and receives friendly acknowledgements from local government workers while strolling along the vast corridors.
“I see the Bürgermeister (mayor) every day. He’s all right, you can talk to him,” said Alan.
He doesn’t go up to the lookout tower very often, even though it offers one of the best panoramic views of Herford. Alas, the tower is not open to the general public.
Though not part of his job description, Alan also gets involved with daytime security should a member of the public become belligerent with Rathaus staff.
He said: “We keep an eye out for one another and when the silent alarm goes off due to someone’s misbehaving, all those who are capable rush to the office where the commotion is. It takes a few minutes for the police to arrive.”
Alan was recently assaulted by a refugee from North Africa who was going berserk in the Rathaus. The janitor was punched in the face and had a rib broken by the two-metre-tall man.
“He was massive, breaking windows and picking up and throwing a photocopier,” he said. “I will go up to a rioter and shout at them in English, which usually does the trick,” said the usually mild-
An annual tradition in Herford is the display of some 600 Christmas lights comprising 4,200 bulbs in the windows of the Rathaus.
“I have to test every single bulb and replace the missing ones. People love to photograph the Rathaus at night at Christmas when it’s all lit up,” said Alan, who is also responsible for hoisting flags on special occasions.
“When the Army was still based in town, I once inadvertently hung the Union Flag upside down and it was a German man who pointed it out to me, much to my discomfort.”
The 57-year-old is covered in tattoos and got most of them before it was in vogue, the first one when he was at PRS. Many of the tatts he did himself. The words ‘Leeds’ and ‘England’ are inscribed on the proud Yorkshireman’s body.
Although Alan has never served in HM Forces, he was occasionally mistaken for a British soldier as a young man – usually by pub landlords that had banned Servicemen for their establishments.
“I was once arrested by the RMP and taken into barracks. They realised their mistake the next day and I got breakfast as an apology,” he said.
Apart from fishing and following Leeds United, Alan likes to spend time at his garden allotment in town.
The Herford Rathaus has a small museum about the Nazi history of the building, which once housed a Gestapo prison. The museum is open only on weekends from 2pm to 4pm or by special arrangement. For more information, visit the website: www.zellentrakt.de