The Bridges of Kiel

Gablenz Bridge Photo taken in April 2011

After an hour’s stop at the Lindaunis/Schlei Bridge, the next stop on the bridgehunting tour in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark is Kiel, the city with over 300,000 inhabitants and is the capital of Schleswig-Holstein. There are a lot of features that make Kiel special. Like Flensburg, the city has a harbor and is the port for all passenger ships wanting to journey to Scandinavia and points to the east as well as the North Sea through the Baltic-North Sea Canal, also a jewel loaded with history involving its engineering design and the bridges that crossed them. More on that in the next entries. While the city has many small crossings along the tributaries that empty into the harbor, I did not have the time to journey across the city for that, as I was about to journey along the Great Canal. However, I did have enough time to explore two of the city’s prime structural jewels, something that one could spend a half an hour looking at while breaking over a baked fish sandwich and a good Flensburger Pilsner beer, as they are almost next to each other and can be seen from the harbor’s edge on the west side, not far from the Kiel Railway Station. One is a brand new arch bridge replacing- well- an arch bridge. The other one represented a traditional type for the city that needed a revival after an almost 80-year absence. This one is our first profile.


Foldable Bridge in the upright position Photo taken in April 2011

THE FOLDABLE BRIDGE (a.k.a. Hörn Bridge).

Located near the tip of Kiel Fjord, the bridge has a unique history, which goes back more than 100 years. During the period from 1910 to 1923, the city of Kiel had a rather unique movable bridge known as the transporter bridge. Suspended in the air and supported by two towers and suspension cables, this rare bridge type features a transport wagon, which carries people and vehicles across the body of water and is operated by a steam powered engine. This bridge was located near the spot of the current structure but unfortunately, the span only lasted 13 years, as it was torn down five years after the end of World War I for reasons unknown to historians to this day. One can assume that technical malfunctions combined with the stress put on the horizontal support beams that supported the transporter wagon, and the questions of its ability to resist high winds and extreme weather conditions, as Kiel is famous for may have contributed to the bridge to be torn down for safety reasons. About two dozen of these bridge types were built during the 1880s and 1930s, including the Rendsburg High Bridge- located just 40 km away along the Great Canal, and the Ariel Lift Bridge in Duluth were built. Today, only eight remain including the Rendsburg High Bridge, which will be profiled later. The Ariel Lift Bridge still exists but functions today as a vertical lift bridge as the span replaced the transporter span in 1929.  Between 1923 and 1997, there was no movable bridge in Kiel and the only other notable bridge that existed in the city at that time was the Gablenz Bridge, built in 1914. This would change in 1997 when the engineering firm of Gerkan, Marg and Partners, local contractors located in the city center decided to end the dry spell and construct a new piece of movable artwork over the Kiel Fjord- in a form of a foldable bridge!

At a cost of 10 million Euros, the bridge has a span of 25.5 meters (84 feet) and spans the fjord, connecting the west end of the city known as the Hörn and the Gaarden quarter and Norwegenkei (Norwegian dock) on the eastern side of the fjord. The Norwegankai is the port where cruise ships out of Oslo come in to dock. When the bridge flattens out and crosses the fjord, it has a resemblance of a cable-stayed suspension bridge with two towers and stiffening cables supporting the roadway, made for pedestrians- all tinted in red. But once every hour when the bridge has to open for traffic, the structure literally scrunches itself up like an accordion so that when the bridge is completely open, it is folded into a very narrow letter N on the west end of the fjord to allow ships to pass. A link on the bridge with an animated diagram is enclosed at the end of this article.

When I was at the bridge unfortunately, I was unable to see the structure in action as it remained in a foldable position. The Foldable Bridge has had problems with its operations and hydraulics since the moment it was put into use. Technical malfunctions of the mechanisms of the bridge resulted in many residents nicknaming the bridge as the “Klappt Nichts Brücke”, a rough translation standing for a non-functioning bridge, although in a literal sense, it stood for “Folds Not Bridge”, as klappen not only stands for folding something but also as a negative for  not working/ functioning. Realizing that many people were frustrated at the fact that they could not cross the harbor as easily as they thought, a retractable bridge, built of welded trusses (Warren style) was built right next to the Foldable Bridge so that in the event that the bridge did not function as it should, the back-up bridge would provide the pedestrians with a way from one end of the harbor to the other. This proved to be a useful asset when the Gablenz Bridge was being rebuilt in 2008, for despite the fact that one needed five minutes by foot to get there from the site of the present bridge, it was the primary crossing before the Foldable Bridge was built.

But even with the retractable bridge being in place, the Foldable Bridge would have provided tourists with an opportunity to see how it works, if it functions just like any other movable bridge. It is just a matter of finding the right time to go there when the structure is in operation. I was not lucky, but as a pontist and historian, I can say that the bridge is a future technical heritage site, should it live longer than its neighboring bridge and the city maintain the structure like its neighboring movable bridge to the southwest, the Rendsburg Bridge.

The Foldable Bridge and a retractable bridge (Behelfsbrücke) in the foreground. Photo taken in April 2011



Links to this bridge:




Gablenz Bridge taken from the Foldable Bridge Photo taken in April 2011




The other main bridge site worth seeing in Kiel is this bridge. While the structure today is rather modern, the bridge and its origin goes back a long ways. The Gablenz Bridge is named after the Field Marshall Leutenant Freiherr von Gablenz, who resided in Kiel in a nearby castle and played a key role in helping the Prussian army defeat the Danish in the Prussian-Danish War of 1865, which resulted in heavy losses on the part of the Danes and Prussia gaining Flensburg, the capital’s neighboring city to the north.  The street and the bridge were christened in his honor in 1914, however the predecessing structure, a steel through arch bridge whose upper chord consisted of a Pratt truss design, was completed four years earlier in 1910. The structure spanned the rail line, which terminates at the Kiel Railway Station, only a half a kilometer away, before it descended towards the fjord. For 99 years, the bridge remained in its rightful position until it was replaced in 2009 at the cost of 30.6 million Euros. As part of the plan to reconstruct the rail lines, the railway station, and the street, the center span was put together at a construction site before it was installed right next to the old structure. During that time, construction on the new approaches progressed and the 1910 structure served traffic until the new arch span was ready to be put into place. It was then removed and the south approach was reconstructed. At the completion of the two phases, the new center span was slid into place and the new bridge was open to traffic. The project lasted just three years.

The new structure has a similar through arch span which crosses the railway, but its upper chord design was different- two main arch spans per side- resembling something like a tied-arch span- and the upper bracings are straight and horizontal, not lattice (shaped like an X) like the 1910 bridge. When it was open to traffic, Kiel’s mayor Angelika Volquartz mentioned to the public that she wishes for the city “….that the new bridge serves traffic between the east and west end of the fjord for the next 99 years and that the people look at the bridge as positively as the old bridge and even leave a place in the hearts of the residents.”  (KN-online, 14 June, 2009). If the bridge is maintained as well as the 1910 structure and its neighboring Foldable Bridge that is in use today, then perhaps that dream will be realized 97 years from now. After all, there is no such thing as a bridge that lasts 100 years and requires no maintenance, as many transportation agencies (especially those in the US) have been wishing for.

Links to this bridge:


After a brief stop in the capital and a cruise along the fjord, cycling past the state parliament, the universities, and many houses either made of brick or resembling Victorian architecture, it was now time for a tour of the bridges along the North-Baltic Sea Canal. And what place to have a bridge than to have one just a half a kilometer west of the entrance from the Baltic Sea. While that bridge still belongs to the city of Kiel, it is only appropriate to profile it with the other bridges along the canal, for its history coincides with the bridges built by one person who also oversaw the construction of the canal itself. More in the next entry.



3 thoughts on “The Bridges of Kiel

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