Chemnitz Viaduct: Future in Question

Chemnitz, a symbol of an industrial past time. Located in western Saxony south of Leipzig and near the towns of Zwickau and Glauchau, the city of 243,000 once prided itself on its industrial heritage, for the steel, automobile and railroad industries (among many of them), combined with its architecture once domonated the city. While traces of them can still be found amind the walls of modern architecture and the service sector, including displays at the Museum of Industrial Heritage, much of the city’s past is disappearing, together with the steady decline of the city’s population, for the local government and other actors in the private and public sectors are erasing the scars of World War II and the Cold War and replacing it with a modernized Chemnitz that fits the trend of the 21st Century, attracting younger people to the city.

The Chemnitz Viaduct is one of relicts of the industrial past time and a historic icon that most locals and preservationists are not willing to part. Also known as the Becker Viaduct, the bridge is located over the Chemnitz River, also crossing the Becker and Annaberg Streets in the southern part of the city, along what is locally known as the South Hook. The South Hook connects Chemnitz Central Station with Chemnitz South and Chemnitz Mitte stations, encircling much of the city. The 4 kilometer route once had four railroad tracks but today has two in service, all electrified since the 1960s, still connects Chemnitz with Hof and Nuremberg to the south, Glauchau and Gera to the west, and Dresden to the northeast.

The viaduct is one of two of its kind and one of five viaducts overall that can be found in Chemnitz. Yet the structure is the second longest, measured at 290 meters long, 30 meters wide and 12 meters high. The viaduct features two main spans over Becker Street and the river: steel deck arch spans using the K-truss. Invented by Phelps Johnson of the Dominion Bridge Company in Montreal, Canada, the K-truss first arrived in the United States in the 1920s and were used for many crossings through the 1940s, mainly in the southern states. They were also imported to Europe for use after World War II, when hundreds of major crossings were destroyed through bombings. Yet it is unknown when Johnson patented the truss, but according to local records, the Chemnitz Viaduct was built between 1902 and 1909, thus making the bridge one of the first to use the K-truss in its arch spans. A panoramic view of the bridge can be seen below, providing the reader with a description of what the bridge looks like in full length:

Photo courtesy of Dr. Benita Martin. Link:
Photo courtesy of Dr. Benita Martin. Link:

Despite its architectural and aesthetical value to the region, the days of the Chemnitz Viaduct may be numbered. The German Railways (Die Bahn) has unveiled plans to modernize the South Hook, which includes the demolition of over- and underpasses between Chemnitz Central Station and Chemnitz Mitte. The historic viaduct is among those to be demolished, as Die Bahn plans to replace it with a multiple span open spandrel steel deck arch bridge. This is part of the plan to modernize the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg line to reintroduce the ICE-line beginning in 2030. The proposal has been met with protests by locals, preservationists and other organizations fearing that the viaduct is part of the city’s heritage and should be preserved at any cost. Already a cost analysis was presented by two different universities of technologies in Chemnitz and Cottbus. Each one projected the cost of preserving the bridge to be approximiately 20 million Euros and replacing the bridge at around 13 million Euros. Still, the majority of the public would rather invest more for saving and preserving the viaduct because of its integrity instead of letting it go in favor of bland concrete structures that can be replaced in a third of the time as the existence of this bridge. Furthermore, the viaduct has been listed as a national technical landmark, which makes replacing it almost impossible.

Despite this, Die Bahn seems dead set on starting the demolition process in 2019 and have the new bridge in service by 2023. Already the firm in Berlin has announced its plans and presented proposals. However, like it has tried doing with the Fehmarn Bridge in Schleswig Holstein- presenting the tunnel proposal and tearing down the world’s first basket handle tied-arch bridge, the firm seems to be disinterested in any alternatives provided by the city. By using scare tactics claiming that a new bridge is the best alternative towards maintaining the bridge for 20 years, the strategy has become a useless one, as protesters are increasing by the numbers to block any proposals. The Fehmarn Bridge replacement project is part of the plan to introduce the motorway and tunnel complex through Fehmarn Island, where opposition has gained traction and the project could be in jeopardy because of that. Here in Chemnitz, campaigns and meetings have attracted many people wanting to spend the extra money to save a piece of the city’s history. This includes a video of the bridge below, where the professor of civil engineering at the Cottbus University of Technology is providing a string backing for the preservation of this bridge…..

Legal actions and other measures are being planned between now and the start of the project in 2019, which means three years that can be used to block the proposed bridge replacement. While it is understandable that long-distance train service (Fernverkehr) is badly needed for the city, especially since the ICE trains stopped running in 2006, as long as the Chemnitz Viaduct is renovated and maintained  on a regular basis, it can handle increasing loads and save money on building a new bridge. Furthermore, people will be able to keep the bridge for another two generations or more, which will be a major plus for a city that has been scarred by architecture of the Third Reich and Cold War eras. While much of Chemnitz and its historic town cannot be replaced or replicated, what is left of the city can be saved for the future. The viaduct is one of those that should be on the list.


Author’s Note: More photos of the Chemnitz Viaduct can be found in the Chronicles’ facebook page, by clicking here. 

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