Not Movie Stunts. The Real Thing!

He’s not your everyday man. Be it the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Mount Rushmore in the U.S., the London Eye, or the Forbidden City in China, Thorsten Mowes has cleaned all of these seemingly impossible-to-clean masterpieces and treasures. We have the opportunity to interview him and to learn more about his work.

Thorsten Mowes

Tell us how and when you embarked on this unusual field of work?

I have now been working for 25 years for the KÄRCHER Corporation. For the last 16 years I have been the responsible project manager for the restorative cleaning projects in our cultural sponsoring programme. I started at KÄRCHER with technical training as an industrial mechanic and then worked for some years as an application technician in the product management end of the business. In 2001, my predecessor passed away, and KÄRCHER was looking for someone who could continue with his job. KÄRCHER offered me the possibility of further education with various opportunities for training and seminars in the field of restoration and conservation.

How many of these difficult projects have you undertaken over the years?

KÄRCHER has cleaned more than 150 monuments in the last 35 years. I have taken care of more than 120 in my 16 year career.

Please tell us about the dangers and the intricacies involved?

The biggest risk is damaging or destroying the original substance of the building material while cleaning it; and this can happen, if you choose the wrong method or the wrong equipment or if you work within the wrong parameters. To minimize this risk and bring it close to zero, we do a lot of testing, analysis, and scientific examination in the laboratory before we start with the actual cleaning.

Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Which are the areas you must especially care about while cleaning monuments?

The substance of an old monument can be in bad condition because of the physical and chemical effects of weathering. These sensitive surfaces need a lot of attention during the cleaning process, more than new surfaces, which are typically stable and strong. Sometimes a stone restorer or conservator has to apply a strengthener to consolidate these areas, for example, before we can start with cleaning.

We learn that your work takes you to different parts of the world. How many days in a year do you travel?

I travel approximately 50%-60% of my working time.

Does this leave you with time to spend with friends and family?

I have been married eight years, and I have a five-year-old daughter.  My wife and daughter are the center of my life. I try to spend every second with my daughter Lina when I am not at work. She is growing so fast, and sometimes it makes me sad to see how fast time flies by.

What are your favourite activities outside of your profession?

I was once an active skydiver, but since building our house and since the birth of my daughter, there is no more time for this hobby. Today I do mountain biking and running for exercise, and when I am on vacation I do scuba diving. But my focus is on my daughter’s interests.

Mount Rushmore – Black Hills, USA

Please tell us about your growing up. Was it as unusual as your profession?

When I was young, I was always looking for extreme experiences in all kind of directions. I also always liked to travel around the world. So I was very happy when I found my current job.

Would you have any word of advice for our young readers in different part of the world?

Traveling around the world is the best education. No teacher can educate you more than life itself. You will never and nowhere learn more about different cultures, politics, nature, religions, and people than by travelling. Take every chance you get to do it! 

Photos: From Archive of Kärcher and Thorsten Mowes.

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