Magdeburg! It’s fantastic! The Chronicles’ first European bridge profile takes us to the capital of Saxony-Anhalt, approximately 150 kilometers west of the German capital of Berlin, and with a population of approximately 340,000 inhabitants, Magdeburg is the third largest city along the Elbe River behind Dresden (517,300) and Hamburg (1.7 million). Founded by Charlemagne in 805, the city has many places of interest spanning over 1200 years that still exist today, including the Magdeburg Cathedral and as many as 17 klosters, many of which came from the age of the Holy Roman Empire, when Otto I ruled the empire (and is buried in the city at the Cathedral), as well as the Baroque Period.
While most of Magdeburg was destroyed in World War II, the Soviets reconstructed the city using Stalinist style buildings which are still in use today and are in a way an attractive place to visit for tourist, especially those in the city center. While much of the city was in disarray during the Cold War, the revitalization efforts got started right after the Reunification of Germany in 1990. Modern day architecture, such as the Hundertwasser House built in 2005 is attracting tourists and architects alike.
However despite all the attractions that Magdeburg has to offer, the bridges serving this city are portrayed as a wild card as they vary in design and history and are becoming more integrated into Magdeburg’s city landscape than ever before. Of the 70+ bridges that serve Magdeburg in any shape or form, 19 bridges span the Elbe River and its tributaries, with the oldest dating as far back as 1846. 15 of them are located in the city center, right next to the river. Of these bridges, there are four steel through arch bridges, one suspension bridge, a vertical lift span, two truss bridges (one is a through truss), one cable-stayed suspension bridge, two steel beam bridges, three arch spans , and one cantilever beam span. All but a third of the number serve vehicular traffic. Three carry rail traffic and there are two serving pedestrians. Each of the bridges has a unique aesthetic design which impresses passersby when crossing them, regardless of when they were built but there is one major difference between them. All but four of them were either built brand new or were rebuilt for their predecessors were destroyed in the war. In either case, the only similarity among the number is their history which goes back at least 150 years for some of the spans. While it is impossible to profile all of the bridges, I decided to pick the top six bridges that are worth seeing, while nominating the honorable mentioned for another five bridges. All but three of the profiles are over the Elbe River. You can also find the bridges through another online source, whose link is at the end of this column.
JASON’S SIX BRIDGE PICS:
1. STERNBRUECKEN (The Bridges of Stars):
This structure consists of two spans: a 69 meter steel through arch span, crossing the parking lot and parts of the Klosterbergegarten on the west bank of the river, and a 242 meter long combination of concrete arch and steel through arch over the Elbe River. Both were designed by Hermann Friedrich Proettel in 1914 and it took 8 years until the bridges were open in 1922. The Elbe River span was destroyed by the Nazis in 1945 as they blew up as many bridges as possible to slow the advancing Soviet troops marching in from the east. Ironically, the bridge was renamed in 1934 honoring the dictator Adolf Hitler. It was renamed the Sternbruecke after the war. However, from the time the bridge was destroyed until it was rebuilt 60 years later, all that remained of the bridge was the smaller steel arch span over the park and the concrete arch approaches. That changed in 2005 when the construction firm Meyer and Schubart from Wunstorf (near Hanover) in Lower Saxony constructed a beautiful blue through arch bridge over the Elbe River. With that plus the rehabilitation of the approach spans, the crossing is now open for pedestrians and taxis only. The smaller crossing still serves vehicular traffic, just like it did before.
2. MAGDEBURG LIFT BRIDGE
This bridge is one of two of its type that can be found in Magdeburg. The other span is located in the north harbor near the railroad bridge. The origin of the bridge goes as far back as 1846, when a seven span bridge was constructed over the west channel of the Elbe River. The purpose of this was to have a rail line go through the island located in the middle of the Elbe River enroute to Potsdam and neighboring Berlin both to the east. Therefore a 215 meter long span was erected. over the west channel. Three of these spans were replaced with a swing bridge span in 1890 and later the first vertical lift span in 1912.
As part of the plan to deepen and widen the west channel for better navigation for ships, the 1912 span was replaced with a 90 foot long lift span, making it the longest span in Europe at that time. The bridge was one of four that survived the war unscathed but was made obsolete with the present railroad span located 4 kilometers north of the bridge. While the lift span, which also consists of a riveted Pennsylvania Petit through truss west approach span and four riveted Pratt pony trusses serving as the east approach spans, is now used for pedestrian traffic, it was renovated as part of the revitalization project along the west bank of the Elbe in 2013 to make it more attractive and safer. It now serves as an excellent pedestrian crossing. The bridge has been used for lighted artwork overlooking Magdeburg and it was at one time on a postal stamp of the East German postal service,
3. HERRENKRUG BRIDGE
Built in 1999 as part of the National Garden Show (D: Bundesgartenschau), this suspension bridge has a rather unique design that makes it attractive for anyone crossing the bridge. The approach spans on both sides of the Elbe River has a unique S-shaped approach with Y-shaped piers supporting the roadway. The towers are made of pylon and are leaning at an angle of about 70° towards the roadway. The cables supporting the roadway are draped over the leaning pylon towers. In the end one does not see a traditional suspension bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge but one that looks like it is leaning with the current of the Elbe River but in all reality, the suspension span is well supported by wider piers thus making it safe to cross. While this bridge is the northern most structure located within the city limits of Magdeburg, located even north of the railroad bridge, the span was needed to gain access to Herrenkrug and North Parks, located along the east bank of the Elbe River, plus all the bike paths that go along the river. The bridge is still a big attraction to the parks and the contractor to thank for making this happen is a company located in Dinslaken (near Hamburg) called Walter Hellmich Inc. However, the leaning pylon tower technique, albeit one of the first of its kind to be used for this bridge, can be found with a handful of other bridge spans, including one spanning a highway in Bayreuth in northern Bavaria, even though only one pylon tower is used to support the pedestrian route in this span.
4. CRACAU BRIDGE
Designed by Juergen Langrock and constructed in 1997, the 232.5 meter long cable-stayed suspension bridge spans the east channel of the Elbe River connecting Magdeburg’s suburb of Cracau and Rotehorn City Park located on the island. Like its sister bridge the Herrenkrug, this bridge is unique as it too has an A-frame tower leaning at a 70° angle towards the river. However, the roadway and the tower are supported by stiffening cables which are accompanied with two approach spans, one on the east end and an C-shaped one on the east end. This bridge was built as part of the URBAN project initiative to improve access between Magdeburg’s city center, the park, and the suburbs on the east end of the Elbe River.
5. Toll House/ Anna Ebert Bridges
Anna Ebert Bridge:
Location: East channel Elbe River
Span length: 191.1 meters
Type: Deck stone arch bridge
Toll House Bridge:
Location: Zoll-Elbe channel
Span length: 43.6 meters
Type: Deck stone arch bridge
Since 1882 these two bridges spanned the river and its tributary while connecting the island and the suburb Werder with Brueckfeld on the east end of the Elbe. A third arch bridge was constructed in 1936 to span the west channel connecting it to the city center. But the three arch bridges survived only nine years as the west channel bridge was destroyed in World War II and the other two bridges were damaged in the bombing. Fortunately they were reconstructed to resemble their 1882 appearance. Unfortunately for the west channel span, a cantilever deck span was built in its place.
The Anna Ebert Bridge looks like a bridge that may have been built in the 1500s because of its appearance. However this is probably due to the fact that the bridge was built using sandstone only, plus it has seen its wear and tear by traffic over the years. Historic records puts the date of the crossing back to 1422, yet the present structure was built in 1882 after having taken two years building the 11-span arch bridge. The bridge was damaged by flooding in 2013 and as a consequence, the structure was shut down to vehicular traffic for about six years. The bridge has since reopened but it is expected to undergo a full-scale renovation in 2023, the same year as a parallel structure, a cable-stayed bridge opens to traffic. Afterwards, the bridge will have one-way traffic.
The Toll House Bridge (Zollbrücke). This bridge is perhaps the most ornamental of the bridges in Magdeburg as it features scupltures on each end of the bridge resembling the era of the Holy Roman Empire. In addition to that, six different coat of arms representing six cities can be found on the span: on the north side, Hamburg, Altona and Brandenburg; on the south side, Dresden, Prague and Berlin. The use of brick and sandstone makes the structure a very appealing one to see. The structure was built at the same time as the Anna-Ebert-Bridge (1882), yet historic records dates the first crossing to 1828. Both bridges are located next to the Toll House, which was built at the same time as the bridges and now serves as a museum and coffee house. All three bridges serve Berlin Chausee, a major artery connecting the city center with east end, where the university is located. Like the Ebert Bridge, a parallel structure is being built to relieve the bridge of traffic. The Toll House Bridge’s supplemental structure will be a single-span steel beam bridge.
6. MAGDEBURG RAILROAD BRIDGE (Abandoned)
Located right next to the Anna Ebert Bridge over the east channel of the Elbe River, this bridge is the oldest unaltered structure in Magdeburg. Built in 1846 by Hans Victor von Unruh, the bridge served the same rail line to Potsdam and Berlin as its western sister, the Magdeburg Lift Bridge. But unlike the Lift Bridge, this bridge has been abandoned since the new railroad bridge was built north of the city after the second World War and has been barricaded to keep people off. Unique about this bridge is the fact that the riveted connections on the 228 meter long, 9-span Pratt pony truss structure are one of the oldest of its kind ever built. Riveted connections were introduced at the turn of the century in the US and 20 years later in other parts of Europe, replacing the pin-connected truss spans which were too light to carry heavy traffic and too fragile because of wear and tear and weather extremities. One will find these types of bridges today on most rail lines as well as truss bridges built after 1900 and carrying either farm vehicles or if it is a primary highway, heavy traffic consisting of semi trucks and many cars. The future of this bridge is unknown for there are talks of demolishing and removing the entire bridge. This has been met with opposition from advocates who wish to convert the crossing into a bike trail crossing. As of 2020, the bridge is still standing.
HONORABLY MENTIONED BRIDGES:
1. Magdeburg Railroad Bridge (new): This welded Warren through truss span was constructed in 1979, replacing a K-truss and a pair of Schwedler spans that were rebuilt after World War II. The Schwedler spans date back to 1873 where three spans existed. The tower and parts of the rail ties from the original bridge still remain. The bridge still serves long distance and regional train services to Berlin and points east.
2. Jerusalem Bridges: Spanning the western channel of the Elbe River, the steel through arches were built in 1952 (for eastbound traffic) and 1996 (for westbound traffic) respectively, replacing the multiple span arch bridge carrying the name Koenigsbruecke, which was destroyed in 1945. Today it carries Highway B1 out of Magdeburg heading east.
3. North Harbor Lift Bridge: Located along the Elbe River southwest of the new Magdeburg Railroad Bridge, this span consist of a riveted pony bowstring arch design as the main span as it was hoisted up to allow ships to enter and exit the shipping yard. Built in 1893, the bridge was decomissioned when the rail line was abandoned and converted to a pedestrian bridge shortly after that.
4. Ernst Reuter Allee Underpass: Located just north of the Central Railway Station (Magdeburger Hauptbahnhof), the underpass consist of 8 different bridges, one bridge per rail line and all but one consisting of a Pratt steel deck arch design. They were most likely built after World War II, with one of the spans replaced around 2000.
5. Magdeburg Water Bridge or Mittelland Canal Viaduct: This bridge, at 918 meters long is the longest bridge of its kind in Europe and located in the outskirts of the city, 4 kilometers north of the motorway A2. The welded Pratt deck truss span provides passage for ships travelling between the waterways in Berlin and the Rhein River region in North Rhine-Westphalia.
IN CLOSING: Magdeburg is transforming into a city where the past meets the future in the present time. The capital used to look like a poster boy with its Soviet style architecture during the Cold War, but at the expense of the ruins that existed after the city was bombed completely in World War II. The city is being revitalized so that it becomes more attractive for tourism and commerce in the years ahead. This also is the case with the city’s bridges as they are playing an increasing role in attracting more tourist and commerce in the region, regardless of type and history. While most of the bridges that had existed prior to World War II cannot be replicated or repaired, the bridges that have filled the shoes of their predecessors have become an integral part of the city landscape, making them an interesting tourist attraction beside the Cathedral and the 17 klosters as well as the city center.
And with revitalization still continuing along the Elbe River, the bridges of Magdeburg will become even more important to the city, whether they will be refurbished, like the Magdeburg Lift Bridge, or a new crossing is built to provide access to places in the east and south of the city. Should the latter be the case, one can be assured that the new structures will look as unique as the Herrenkrug and Cracau Bridges and bring a new face to a city which has had 1200 years of history that is worth looking at, when walking through the city and along the Elbe.