The Bridges of Rochlitz, Germany

Zassnitz Suspension Bridge
Zassnitz Suspension Bridge. Photos taken in March and May 2017

While cities, like Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden have many well-known bridges that are either fancy in design or over 80 years old, there are many town and villages, with an exceptionally high number of these structures, but whose history and design make them appealing to tourists, historians and photographers alike. One could just say that when discovered, these bridges would make a great tour guide, let alone a great platform for research.

Little is written about the historic bridges in Rochlitz. Located seven kilometers east of Geithain and 30 kilometers southeast of Leipzig, the town of only 6,500 inhabitants is situated along the Zwickauer Mulde River, at the junction of highways 7 (from Geithain and Leipzig), 175 (from Glauchau and Zwickau) and 107 (from Grimma and Meissen). The town is famous for its castle, built in the 1400s and still houses administrative and judicial offices today. It also has a historic market square with its historic town hall and fountain, as well as its historic Postmeile and Hospital, both originating from the 1600s. And finally, Rochlitz has a long row of historic buildings lining up along the main street, which is divided with a wide center island that is lined with trees and statues.

The town used to be a hub for regional and freight train services, as a line between Glauchau and Wurzen once served passenger trains from 1890 until its decommission in 2004. Another line connecting Waldheim and Narsdorf with Penig and Geithain passed through Rochlitz but was abandoned after 1998. Unlike many American railroad companies, like the now defunct Chicago-Rock Island-Pacific Railways, which used to remove bridges, crossings and rails upon abandoning the line, these two rail lines are still visible when passing through Rochlitz. As a consequence, one can see many remnants that had once been associated with the Mulde rail routes before being shut down, including the railroad station, rails, and even bridges.

Three railroad bridges spanning the Zwickauer Mulde in Rochlitz are still standing, despite having been out of service for almost two decades, all of whom are still in great condition with some minor damages and rust. One of them, located near the Castle, is the second longest known railroad crossing along the river behind the Göhren Viaduct at Lunzernau, just 12 river kilometers upstream. And this goes together perfectly with a highway bridge built of brick and the river’s signature crossings- two pedestrian suspension bridges with truss features, which makes up for eleven of such crossings between Aue and Wurzen via Glauchau and Zwickau that are anchored by towers, five being suspension bridges.

Map of Rochlitz and the Bridges:

 

This tour guide will provide you with a tour of these six crossings, plus an addition two bridges at the Castle and two shorter crossings found by accident while biking along an abandoned section of the Waldheim-Narsdorf Line. All-in-all, ten bridges will be profiled- six of which are along the Mulde, but three are directly in Rochlitz. One located to the south at Fischheim and two to the north will be included. The city of Rochlitz had already profiled two of the crossings along the river for their website prior to my recent visit. However, when reading the tour guide in English (you can also switch to German or other languages via Google-Translator, if you wish), the city will probably think about expanding its information to include the other crossings left out. Furthermore, with five abandoned crossings profiled, it will provide a basis for possible discussion regarding either revitalizing the rail line between Glauchau and Wurzen or converting that stretch to a rails-to-trails route, based on the success stories of many in the United States.

 

So without further ado, let’s have a look at the first crossing…..

 

Schaukelsteg Fischheim:

Our first bridge on tour is the Schaukelsteg. Located over the Zwickauer Mulde, this 1958 bridge connects the villages of Szörnig and Fischheim, approximately three kilometers south of Rochlitz. The bridge itself is one of the rarest a person can find in Germany. It is a combination of a wire suspension bridge and cantilever  Warren truss with riveted connections- the former of which is the main span; the latter as approach spans. What is even more unique is the fact that the wire cables are anchored at the top chord of the cantilever truss spans, while the cables run through the looped suspenders, which supports the decking. The towers, albeit anchored on piers that are well above the river levels, are triangle-shaped with the pointed end down. Only one other bridge was built using such a design, which was located in Rochsburg. It was built at the same time as this bridge but was replaced in 2012.

The Schaukelsteg was first mentioned in 1871, when it was built as a wooden crossing. It was destroyed by flooding and subsequentially replaced by a wire suspension bridge in 1907. At that time, it was a typical suspension bridge supported by vertical towers. It lasted for 47 years until it was washed away by flooding in 1954, which destroyed one in six bridges along the Zwickauer Mulde. It took four years until this structure came about and has survived two more major floodings events ever since, including the 2002 floods, which happened right after the bridge was restored. Like in the 1871 bridge, this bridge serves pedestrian and bike traffic, although at one time, the 1907 suspension bridge was once a toll bridge, having collected 10 Pfennig per person for crossing the bridge in the daytime, 20 Pfennig at night or when crossing by bike and 30 Pfennig when crossing with a load. This was needed to maintain costs for operating the structure. Today, the bridge is considered a free bridge and is part of the Mulde Bike Train System.

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Zassnitz Railroad Viaduct:

Located at the Castle on the south end of Rochlitz, the Zassnitz Railroad Viaduct is the longest railroad viaduct along the Glauchau-Wurzen Railroad Line, with a length of 243 meters. It is the second longest along the Zwickauer Mulde behind the Göhren Viaduct, a bridge that is three times as long. The bridge was built in 1872 when the Penig-Rochlitz section of the Glauchau-Wurzen line was opened, yet the current structure appears to have been built right after World War II because of the newness of the steel used in the contraption. The bridge features, from south to north, three spans of deck plate girder approach spans, five Warren deck truss main spans across the Mulde- the trusses are subdivided and have riveted connections- and four concrete beam approach spans on the city end. Since 2002, the line has been out of use, and with it, the bridge, which flanks the Castle and can be seen in the foreground. Yet talks about revitalizing the line is still ongoing. Should it bear fruit, the bridge may need some rehabilitative work, as some trusses are rusted and the concrete approach spans are cracked. But it remains to be seen if the line will ever be in use again.

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Zassnitz Suspension Bridge:

Not more than 300 meters away, we have the Zassnitz Suspension Bridge. Built in 1956-7, the current structure serves pedestrian traffic, providing access to the old town from the Mulde Bike Trail. Its construction is similar to the suspension bridge at Fischheim, yet with one catch: It is a pure suspension bridge, whose cables are anchored at the towers, which are triangular shaped and whose pointed end is upwards. However, the pointed end is capped by a curved , which guides the cable directly over the tower before being anchored on its outer side. The towers themselves are A-shaped, but at a transversal view, the bracings are also A-frame.  Like the suspension bridge at Fischheim, the bridge was washed away by floods in 1954 and was therefore reconstructed afterwards, but east of its original site. First built as a wooden covered bridge in 1502, later replaced with a wire suspension bridge in 1889, which had survived 65 years before that tragic event, the Zassnitz Suspension Bridge is the oldest known crossing in Rochlitz. It is one of the key attractions in the town and is listed as a technical historical site by the German Preservation Laws.

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Rochlitz Highway Bridge:

Spanning the Zwickauer Mulde on the east end of Rochlitz, this city bridge is the lone crossing going in and out of Rochlitz, and apart from carrying two major highways going south and east towards Glauchau and Mittweida respectively, this 115 meter long bridge is famous because of two historic feats:

 

  1. It set a record for the shortest amount of time needed to construct an arch bridge. Using red granite from a quarry in Mittweida, workers needed only seven months to construct this arch bridge, which features five arches, the of the longest being over the Mulde. This also included the demolition of its predecessor as it was deemed functionally obsolete.

 

  1. It was also the site where American troops marched into Rochlitz on 15 April, 1945 without a single shot fired. Realizing that resisting the Allied troops was no longer an option despite desperate pleas by Hitler and other Nazi officials to fight to the very death, citizens agreed to terms of an unconditional surrender at the bridge. This was symbolic for Rochlitz was one of only a few historic towns that survived without being destroyed by bombs. The bridge itself was one of a few that survived Nazi attempts of blowing it up in a feeble attempt to halt the movements of the armies. A plaque at the east end of the bridge explains how the bridge and the town were both spared.

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Rochlitz-Narsdorf Railroad Bridge (a.k.a. East Bridge):

From the highway bridge, one needs to bike another two kilometers along the Zwickauer Mulde, rounding the historic town, before reaching the first of two railroad bridges. The East Bridge is one of the most unique of the railroad bridges along the river. The railroad bridge features three spans of a deck Howe truss bridge, built in a curved fashion. The trusses are welded together and has curved endpoints, which makes it one of the fanciest railroad bridges in eastern Germany. Workers needed a year and a half to build this 170-meter structure, from October 1891 until its opening on 28 March, 1893.

From then on, until the rail line was discontinued in 1998, the bridge served passenger and freight services, although reports indicated that traffic was limited because of little demand for train service to Narsdorf and Waldheim. The bridge has been out of use for almost 20 years, yet it still retains its original form, despite having survived the floods of 2002 and 2013.

 

While plans are in the making to convert the old line into a bike trail, chances are very likely that this bridge will have a new function, providing cyclists with a link between Waldheim and Rochlitz and with that, the two bike trails that bear the name Mulde, but with the two different branches (Zwickauer and Freiberger). Should this happen, it would eliminate the sharp curves and extremely narrow tunnel that is offered on the Zwickauer Mulde, where cyclists are required to dismount before passing through.

 

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Rochlitz-Colditz Railroad Bridge (a.k.a. North Bridge):

Only 200 meters from the East Bridge, we have the North Bridge. When leaving the train station Rochlitz enroute to Colditz and the final destination Wurzen, the line branches off into the eastern line (going across the East Bridge) and the northern line and this bridge. This 100 meter long structure features three spans of a deck plate girder design, carrying one track of traffic. As a bonus, it also has a bottom deck, which carries bike and pedestrian traffic along the Mulde bike trail, but hanging off the side and supported by still steel suspenders. In fact, between the narrow tunnel at East Bridge and the northern end of this bridge, the trail consists of a catwalk, which hugs the river bank between the two railroad bridges before crossing on the North Bridge. Afterwards, the path continues on the ground as a paved route going along the eastern side of the river. The railroad bridge itself appears to have been built after World War II and is structurally in good condition. Yet being out of service for over 15 years, there are concerns about what to do with the railroad bridge, let alone with the line itself. While it will still continue its use as a hanger for the bike trail crossing/ catwalk, the question remains whether it makes sense to continue this use or if the trail could be directly on the bridge itself.

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Geithain-Rochlitz Tunnels:

When biking along the Talweg from Königsfeld, located west of Rochlitz, and the garden house district in the western part of the town, one can find a couple unique arch bridges spanning driveways and the Frelsbach Creek. Both of them are made of stone and cement, and have spans of 10 meters. Both of them are part of the former Geithain-Rochlitz railroad route that used to pass through Rochlitz enroute to Narsdorf and Walheim before it was abandoned. The bridges are still standing and should the former railroad route was converted to a bike trail, one will be treated by the crossings which are over 120 years old and still in pristine condition.

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Rochlitz Castle Bridges

The last bridges in this tour guide are the ones surrounding the Rochlitz Castle. The castle was built on the site of an imperial castle that had been built in the 10th century. From 1143 until the 18th century, the castle had been part of the margraves of Wettin, who were responsible for expanding the castle during the next four centuries, with much of the work being done in the 14th Century to include romanesque wings, a secondary residence, hunting field and a church, just to name a few. Since 1852, the castle has housed governmental offices, which includes judicial offices that are responsible for the district of Mittelsachsen. 40 years later, a museum opened and has provided tourists with a chance to learn about the castle’s history and its relationship with the Wettin family.  The castle is surrounded by the Zwickauer Mulde on the south end, the Hellerbach Creek to the west, and moats to the east and north. It was obvious that bridges were needed to provide access to the castle.

Two of the bridges worth noting are multiple span arch bridges. A short span can be found at the east entrance to the castle at the church. That bridge features two spans made of stone and cement. The bridge is arranged in a slanted formation, providing tourists with a climb from the streets of the old town into the castle. The longest of the bridges known to exist is a four-span stone arch bridge, spanning the Hellerbach at the western entrance to the castle. It is about 100 meters long and at least 20 meters tall, visible from the Zassnitz Suspension Bridge. Both bridges appear to have been built in the 11th or 12th century and were probably renovated some centuries later. They still maintain their original integrity although we don’t know how many more bridges can be found at the castle. It is possible that when touring the castle one can find one or two more at the site.

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To learn more about the bridges and of Rochlitz, here are a list of links for you to click on:

City of Rochlitz:

http://www.rochlitz.de/home/

Rochlitz Castle:

http://www.schloss-rochlitz.de/de/startseite/

The Zwickauer Mulde Bike Trail:

http://www.mulderadweg.de/

The Bridges of Rochlitz:

http://www.rochlitz.de/wirtschaft-und-tourismus/tourismus/sehenswuerdigkeiten/bruecken/

 

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