The Bridges of Zwickau (Saxony), Germany

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Paradiesbrücke in Zwickau. Photos taken in September 2016

Under a pile of rubble, there is always a jewel, no matter who or what it is or where it came from. Located 16 kilometers south of Glauchau, along the Mulde River, the city of Zwickau may look like an ordinary community, whose architecture mostly comes from the Cold War. This includes high-rise buildings, mining facilities, old factories and even bridges built using scarce materials possible but only lasting 40 years. In fact, a newspaper report from a local newspaper in Chemnitz revealed as many as 37 bridges in the district of 480,000 inhabitants (of which the city itself has 104,000 residents) that are in dire need of repair or replacement. Most of them had exceeded their expected lifespan by 20 years and are hanging by a thread because of imposed weight limits designed to keep trucks, tractors and busses off of them.

But underneath the doom and gloom of a bygone era, there are some jewels to find. Zwickau prides itself on the automobile industry, where the beloved Trabant automobile was built- now the company belongs to Volkswagen. Audi was founded in this community in 1904. The world’s first known and popular automobile racing union was created five years later.  It also has an international school (Saxony International in Reinsdorf) and a college of science and technology (Westsächsisch Hochschule), making the city a multicultural university town. It has a bridge building firm that has existed since 1854 and still has its base in the city.

And when there is a bridge builder in the community, there will always be bridges, especially given its proximity to the river!

The town was first mentioned in the 1100s when the Slavs settled there, yet a half dozen bridges, mostly covered wooden ones were built to connect it with other villages by the 1500s. By the late 1800s, more than 40 bridges crossed the Mulde or surrounded the old town center. Today, if one subtracts the crossings carrying pipelines, only a quarter of the bridges exist in Zwickau, all are along the Mulde. And of these 10 known crossings, counting the Zellstoff Bridge, four of them are over 70 years old. Two of them however have received national accolades because of their unusual designs. They include the Paradiesbrücke- the only known bridge in Germany and the western hemisphere that has the cantilever pony truss design- and the 500-year old Röhrensteg- the only known covered bridge with multiple designs and functions, plus the oldest in Saxony. Both of these centerpieces will be profiled together with nine other structures that will include a couple near Wilkau-Hasslau(to the south) and a couple near Schlunzig (to the north). All of them were built before 1990, but they will present not only the historical aspects of the bridges, but also address the issues involving their ability to carry traffic. A gallery of pictures are enclosed for each bridge I stopped at during the tour in September.

Picking up where I left off in Glauchau, we’ll start the tour going upriver and through the prized automobile and infrastructural community, starting off with our first bridge:

Schlunzig Bridge:
Built in 1954 replacing a wooden bridge destroyed in a flood, the Schlunzig Bridge may be a typical bland concrete beam bridge with little or no value, even if the structure is equipped with the ever so quickly disappearing set of street lighting from the bygone era. Yet its significance resembles two sides of a coin. On the one side, it is a typical East German Bridge, constructed using scarce materials that were prescribed by the Communist government- similar to the bridge at Wernersdorf (for more, see the tour guide on Glauchau’s bridges). Even the lighting originated from that era, which was considered too industrial for the region that is mostly oriented towards agriculture and nature. On the flip side, the bridge is a poster boy for the structural woes the region (and much of Germany) has been dealing with: a run-down structure that is unable to withstand increasing traffic or even weather extremities. The good news though is the district of Zwickau has approved the design and financial support for a new bridge. When the 50 meter long, Mulde crossing is replaced in 2017, in its place will be a more attractive bridge type that will awe even the bikers using the bridge to continue on the Mulde Bike Trail: the cable-stayed span! It will be interesting to see what it will look like when the bridge is back in service by 2018.

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Schneppendorf Bridge:
Three kilometers to the south we have this bridge. The Schneppendorf Bridge features a three-span closed spandrel concrete arch bridge with a total length of 80 meters. Like the Schlunzig Bridge, this one stems from the East German days with typical lighting and railing. It also fits the stereotype of bridges that despite being between 65 and 90 years old (as I estimated its age during my visit), it is in need of repairs because of wear and tear, combined with structural neglect. The bridge has weight restrictions, still it serves as a backdrop to the scenery one can enjoy at a park and rest area located just to the south of the structure. As a bonus, especially for photographers, the bridge and another one just 100 meters to the north- a through truss bridge carrying pipelines across the river- both have a nice background with wooded hills and old-fashioned houses. That bridge has a 45° skewed portal bracing, similar to the next bridge located to the south of the arch bridge.

Note: If you know more about the Schneppendorf Bridge in terms of its history (when it was built and who the bridge builder was, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, and the information will be added to the tour guide right away.)

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Zellstoff Bridge:
Entering Zwickau’s city limits, we have the Zellstoff Bridge on the left. Spanning the Mulde River, this bridge features one of the most unusual through truss spans in the region. It’s span consists of a Warren through truss with riveted connections. The portal bracings are skewed at a 45° angle and feature a V-laced form (outer portal) and an I-beam form with heel bracings (inner portal). The struts and vertical beams are both V-laced, as well with the diagonal beams being H-framed. The approach spans feature five spans of a concrete cantilever design. A gallery below will give you a description of what the bridge looks like. Also interesting is a narrow chimney at the left side of the west portal. This may be part of a mechanism that harnessed or even supported electricity, especially as many electrical lines went over this bridge. The bridge served a rail line connecting an automobile factory and possibly an area where mining had existed and therefore, played a key role in Zwickau’s industrial history. But more research on the mining area in Zwickau and in particular, the mini-chimney is needed to help uncover the secrets to the bridge and its surrounding area. The bridge was abandoned after 1990 and there was a plan to remove the structure shortly afterwards. However, thanks to opposition to the plan by residents and preservationists, the decision was scrapped in 2007, and today, the bridge serves as a bike trail between the city and the area where mining had existed. The overgrowth has dominated the bridge and the trail going east, but people can still use them to see what the mining area had looked like before the Fall of the Wall. Despite its age and the need to be rehabilitated, many people still love this bridge, especially as I met some people while filming it, who all said this one word: “Historique.” That I’m not in a position to disagree with you on.

Here’s a Youtube video on this bridge:

Note: If you know more about this bridge in terms of its history and historic significance to the region, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles. The information will be added to the tour guide.

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Eckersbach Bridge:
Located at the junction of highways 173 and 93, this two-span structure features a concrete deck cantilever design and is one of the heavily travelled bridges in Zwickau. Given its age, it appears that the bridge was built in the early 90s to reduce the traffic congestion inside the city. Yet age and wear and tear are appearing on this bridge, making it look older than it should be. It is unknown how the bridge was built but records show that having a bridge with zero maintenance for 100 years is not realistic. If this is being practiced on this bridge, the results are now showing much earlier than expected.
Only 150 meters north of the bridge is a pipeline bridge, built using steel plate girders. Built in the 1980s, the bridge carried hot water to Zwickau from sources to the east of the city. Abandoned for a decade, the bridge was removed recently not only for liability reasons, but the residents nearby did not want to see an eyesore obstructing the view of the Mulde River valley.

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Paradise Bridge (Paradiesbrücke):
Germany was once known as a place filled with ornamental bridges built using unusual designs. Despite 90% of them being destroyed during the Third Reich and through the bombings in World War II, there are still some diamonds in the field that if found are worth researching and given its rightful honor. The Paradise Bridge, located at Nicolai and Reinsdorfer Strassen near the Nicolaischule is one of those bridges that deserves international accolades, as well as its neighbor upstream, the Röhrensteg. Here are some interesting facts worth noting about this bridge:
1. The bridge is the only one of its kind that features a cantilever pony truss design. Furthermore, it is the only known cantilever truss bridge whose trusses are supported by only one tower. None of the bridges known in the western hemisphere have that unique design.

2. The bridge was built in 1900, replacing a covered bridge, which was one of over 30 that were built in Zwickau. The predecessor had been in service for 200 years before it was decomissioned and dismantled. The builder of the cantilever bridge was Bundel and Co. from Grünberg in the former German state of Schlesia (which is now occupied by Poland. )

3. The bridge is located near the site where a former mine and bridge building company used to be located. A memorial site with a miner resting with a beer in the hand can be seen 100 meters northeast of the city side of the entrance.

4. When the bridge was renovated in 2003, the towers were crowned with finials resembling the Matthäus Kirche (St. Matthew’s Church) which was located 400 meters east of the entrance. Additional decorations on the trusses and ornamental lamps were also added making the bridge more attractive to tourists and passers-by.

5. The structure itself is 120 meters long, its tower is in the middle of the Mulde River. The width is 15 meters, counting the trusses. Since its renovation in 2003, the bridge has been serving cyclist and pedestrian traffic, carrying a bike trail connecting Zwickau’s City Centre with Reinsdorf, located four kilometers to the east. Its replacement structure is found 200 meters west of the bridge at Dr. Friedrichs Ring (Hwy. 173).

Any more reasons for listing this bridge on the UNESCO site in comparison with the nays? Check out this youtube video on this bridge:

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Pöhlau Railroad Bridge:
Located near the site of the International Trabant Museum, this bridge appears to be one of the newer truss bridges built no earlier than 25 years ago. While its light brown color makes it look rusty in appearance, its “molded” connections is typical for today’s truss bridges. The Warren through truss bridge with beam portals and Lattice truss overhead bracings used to serve a rail line connecting Pöhlau and Zwickau Central Station. The bridge and the line are now abandoned. Given its age and modern appearance, chances are this bridge will be reused at some point- either as a crossing for cyclists in its place, a street car crossing going south or a railroad crossing at a new location. Time will tell what the City of Zwickau will do with this structure.

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Röhrensteg:
Like the Paradiesbrücke, the Röhrensteg (translated as the Bridge of Pipes) is another key attraction for Zwickau which should receive international recognition for its design and function. The bridge’s history dates back over 500 years to 1535, when the bridge was first built. At that time, the people in Zwickau needed water for their personal and commercial use. Because the water of the Mulde was dirty and not drinkable, the only source of clean drinking water to be found was at a pond near Reinsdorf- three kilometers away from the bridge. Henceforth, workers created man-powered pumping stations and pipelines made of hard wood from oak trees. The trees were cut down, and after stripping the bark and outer layers, a hole with a diameter of 30 centemeters was dug out by hand, but not before having cut the wood into sections and then connecting them once the hole was “drilled.” The wooden pipeline then transported water down the hill and across this bridge before being distributed throughout the city. A section of this wooden pipeline can still be seen on the bridge, where the overhead beams are still supporting it, providing proof that this practice once existed. A total of at least 17 wooden pipelines had been built for the city of Zwickau to provide drinking water for the community, four fountains where the wooden pipes were connected dating back to the 1700s have been preserved as exhibits at the city center to show this unique engineering feat. This pipeline system was later replaced with more modern systems in the early 20th century, but the bridge itself has withstood the test of time and mother nature. Despite having had substantial damage during the flood of 1790, the Röhrensteg was rebuilt and has retained its original form ever since. The bridge has survived numerous floods and other natural disasters, even after new pier casings were installed in 1940 as part of the project to dredge the Mulde River.
In terms of its structure, the Röhrensteg is the only truss bridge (wooden or metal) to have two different designs and two different portals. The bridge features a three-span Queenpost truss design on the western side and a subdivided Warren truss on the eastern side. A-frame portal bracing is found on the city side, X-frame lattice with heel bracings on the Reinsdorf side. Endposts with 45° angles can be found at each portal; together with the wooden siding lining up between the bridge and the abutment, this makes the Röhrensteg one of the most unusual covered bridges to have ever been built. Roofing is of hip style with an angle of 45°, which is similar to the covered bridges found in Switzerland. The bridge serves a bike trail connecting Zwickau’s southern part and Reinsdorf via Oberhohnsdorf, serving as a spur to the Mulde Bike trail that careens along the river.
Despite its unusual design and multi-functionality, the bridge is showing its age, and therefore is scheduled to be rehabilitated beginning in 2017. Despite having new approach spans on the Reinsdorf side and the pier casing, no extensive work has been done on the bridge. That will change, and in the end , the bridge will become safer for use and more attractive. It is hoped that the structural integrity will remain intact when the work is completed. If that is the case, it will be in the running for several international awards.

More on the work can be found here.

A youtube video on the Röhrensteg takes you across the bridge and to the pipes found in the superstructure itself. Check it out:

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Schedewitz Bridges:
Located in the suburb bearing the bridge’s name, the next two bridges are located only 300 meters from each other, each spanning the Mulde. The older bridge is a two-span Warren deck truss without verticals but with stone arch approach spans. Built in 1894, this bridge may have replaced the arch bridge that had existed prior to that, but was destroyed by flooding. Closed to traffic since the opening of its successor in 1958, this bridge still exists in its original form- with a cobble-stone deck, typical East German railings and street lighting and despite the rust on the trusses, no renovations have been done, and the bridge is sparsely used by cyclists and pedestrians alike. Chances are, assuming there is no severe flooding that could undermine the 100 meter structure (with two 30 meter truss spans), there will be no plans of rehabilitating the structure, let alone tear it down.

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Wilkau-Hasslau Pedestrian Bridge:  Five kilometers further upstream and biking past the Cainsdorf Bridge is the pedestrian bridge at Wiklau-Hasslau, the southernmost suburb of Zwickau. There, one will find a rather unique pedestrian bridge. Built in 2004, the bridge features a pen-like tower, with cables supporting the roadway and the tower itself. The roadway has a curve, allowing cyclist from the east side and Schneeberg to enter as a ramp, as it curves to the right towards the west end. The 145 meter long pedestrian bridge crosses the Mulde River and a pair of railroad tracks that provide train service between Zwickau and Aue to the south. The tower has a height of 32.2 meters, making it the tallest bridge in Zwickau. Yet to the south of the bridge is an even taller bridge carrying the Motorway A 72. Built in 1995, that bridge spans the deepest of the Mulde River valley in Zwickau, but is the second longest bridges along the stretch between Hof (Bavaria) and Chemnitz. To the north of the pedestrian bridge is the Kirchberg Bridge, a three-span stone arch bridge built in the 1600s. Both bridges and the rest of the valley’s hilly and wooded scenery is what the Wilkau-Hasslau Pedestrian Bridge has to offer- along with a short break at a modernized city center, which has a weekly market- before biking on to some more bridges.

A map of the bridges in Zwickau is enclosed in case you would like to visit the bridges yourself.

If you have any more information on Zwickau’s bridges that need to be added, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact form below. All information will be added to this guide.

 

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