There is a proverb that I’ve been going by while bridgehunting recently, especially in the eastern part of Germany: The smaller the community the more historic bridges one can find. While cities, like Chemnitz and Zwickau have numerous bridges, the number of century+ old structures are relatively small in terms of numbers and ratio compared to modern bridges, smaller towns like Glauchau, Aue and even Rochlitz have a higher number of historic bridges. The trend is similar in many small cities and towns in Europe which makes finding historic bridges much easier. Yet when a person finds such a small community that has an important historic bridge, like you are about to read about here, chances are more likely that the person will find more than what they bargained for in terms of finding other structures that are just as significant as the town’s centerpiece.
And this is where the tour takes us back to the Ore Mountains but this time, a bit further east of Aue by about 15 kilometers to a town called Markersbach. With a population of only 1600, the town lies deep in the valley of the Bigger Mitweida Creek, which effectively cuts the community and its neighbor Rauschau into two. First mentioned in the history books in 1210, it was part of the Cisterician Monestary and later the Peter and Paul. The Church of St. Barbara, built in 1610, is one of the oldest churches in the mountain regions. The water pump power plant is located at the upper basin of the Mitweida serves the region. The Jenaplan School, based on the concept created by Peter Petersen in the 1920s, is located in Markersbach but the community school’s origins dates back to the 1500s. Since 2007, Markersbach is a joint-community with neighboring Raschau, which has as many people as its neighbor. The city is served by a major highway connecting Schwarzenberg and Aue to the west and Annaberg-Buchholz to the east. A railroad line connecting Schwarzenberg and Annaberg rarely provides service.
And the centerpiece surrounding the community is also the highest viaduct in the region, the Markersbach Viaduct, nicknamed as the Matchstick Bridge, for the structure was built using thin but heavy steel parts. The bridge was the primary reason for my visit. However arriving there, I found three more significant railroad bridges, a few smaller bridges that are at least 70 years old, a highway viaduct that somewhat fits into the landscape with its color. That means five major bridges and a couple smaller stone arch bridges can be seen as one travels along the main street that runs parallel to the Bigger Mittweida. This large number of bridges was one of the factors in having a bridge festival in 2010, which included a tour of the viaducts by train and fireworks.
Yet given the number of houses and trees that are skewing the view of the bridges, combined with a lack of parking with the car, it is rather difficult to get to the structures without asking the property owners to climb onto the rooves of their houses just to get a good shot of the bridge. Or stand in the middle of the street ensuring one doesn’t get hit from behind by a car.
This tour will look at the bridges in Markersbach, beginning with the centerpiece, for it symbolizes the community’s history and existence, followed by the less mentioned ones but also have some charm to it. The information is scarce for all but the Matchstick Bridge and therefore will be updated as more people step up with their stories and facts about the bridges. One has to keep in mind that Markersbach can be easily passed over, thanks to the new viaduct (a.k.a. The Flyover) that has been in service for over seven years. Therefore before entering the viaduct, one has to turn off: to the right and down the hill past the loop before seeing the first bridge; to the left there is the grand view of…..
The Markersbach Viaduct is one of the key historic bridges in Saxony one needs to visit. The viaduct spans one of the tributaries that empties into the Bigger Mitweida. With a total length of 236.5 meters and a height of 36.5 meters, the viaduct is the tallest of its kind in the Ore Mountain region. Under the direction of bridge engineer Claus Koepke and built using steel manufactured by the Queen Marie Steel in Cainsdorf (near Zwickau), construction of the bridge took two years, with the completion being 1889, coinciding with the opening of the Schwarzenberg-Annaberg rail line. The line provided train traffic all the way to Leipzig and Berlin until World War II. It was later reduced to Zwickau and then later to Aue. The line no longer serves regular traffic but has special services that provides tourists with a splendid view of Markersbach, the valley and the mountain areas surrounding them. The bridge features nine spans supported by eight trapezoidal towers with X-laced framing. The spans are lenticular deck trusses, whereby the longest spans (two) have curved Warren trusses with 25m each, three 20m spans have polygonal Warren trusses and four 12.5 meter spans have camelback Warren trusses. For each truss type are the triangular panels subdivided. Photos of the viaduct are difficult to do due to the obstruction by the houses. Even getting up close to the bridge is difficult because it requires walking up narrow and winding streets, all but a couple of which are cul-de-sacs occupied by houses and cars. Getting to the opposite side of the viaduct is possible but only through walking through fields and forests. And even then it is hard to come by- one has to be lucky to get up close and personal with the bridge. However a grand view of the entire bridge can be found off the highway at the intersection where the bridge bypass and the road leading to Markersbach meet. That impromtu observation platform is nothing more than a road that used to enter Markersbach before the bypass and the highway viaduct were built.
Highway 101 Flyover Viaduct
In 2005, construction began to construct a nearly 2 km bypass to alleviate traffic going into and through Markersbach. The plan: To construct a tall viaduct which would not only “fly” over the community crossing the Mitweida Valley, but it would also make travel between Annaberg and Schwarzenberg much smoother, especially for trucks. Furthermore, it would provide passers-by with a splendid view of Markersbach, its prized viaduct and much of the mountain while driving “in the air.” 😉 The project was not easy as erosion, causing mudslides hindered consturction, the worst having occurred on the eastern slope in October 2006. The next problem was establishing a firm foundation for the pylons, which was discovered the following July. When the bridge finally opened in November 2011, it was four years behind schedule. However, the delay was worth it for the jeans-blue steel deck girder with cantilever features now hovers the community and its valley, narrowly surpassing the railroad viaduct by only 7.5 meters. The Flyover is 317 meters long and has two lanes totalling 25 meters. The cost for the project: 25 million Euros, twice as much as previously planned. Yet the Flyover is still most travelled today giving residents a piece of mind without having to worry about their children running across the street and risk getting hit by trucks and racing cars.
When entering Markersbach by turning off at the Flyover, one will be driving down the hill along the winding stretch of what was Highway 101 (German: B101), flanked by trees on both sides. Yet at at the loop where one crosses the Mitweida Creek, one enters the community, greeted by houses on both sides of the street and this bridge. One should not be fooled by its appearance. It is definitely not the Markersbach Viaduct because of its height. One can even see the difference from a distance- either at the observation point at the Flyover or even along the former highway on the left entering town. The Mittweidathal Viaduct is shorter in length but it is not just simply a bridge, whose characteristics are its curve towards the Markersbach Viaduct as well as its brick piers. When looking closely at the 86 meter long and 10 meter high viaduct, it features brick piers with quarzite-like stripes and six spans, each one featuring a deck plate girder supported by polygonal Vierendeel trusses. Because of the absence of diagonal beams they are not Parker trusses, yet they have an appearance of a lenticular truss. So to categorize the truss style, it is considered a half-lenticular polygonal Vierendeel truss with welded connections. The bridge has existed as long as the rail line itself. Yet because of its seldom use, age caused by weather extremities has taken its toll. Should the line be used again, either as train service or as a bike trail, some repairs will be needed to ensure the bridge continues to function in its original form.
St. Barbara/ Annaberg Street Viaduct:
About 400 meters away from the Mitweida Viaduct and following the former highway through Markersbach is this viaduct. The St. Barbara Viaduct was named after the nearby church- the oldest one in Markersbach- which is located on the same street as the viaduct crosses: Annaberg Street. The 70-meter long viaduct features four spans of deck plate girders, the longest is 30 meters and features a Camelback girder design which hovers over a side street that is opposite Abrahamsbach Creek) and runs pararell to Annaberg Street. Where that span crosses is near houses that line up along two sharp curves, which is dangerous for all vehicles. The viaduct looks like one of the newer spans that had replaced a previous bridge, but it is unknown when the replacement date was. We know that the bridge is 200 meters away from the Markersbach Viaduct and is located near some key points in the community: the afreoemntioned church, a Methodist Church, a park and the Jenaplan School. Even though the viaduct is seldomly used today, a curious question I have is how people tolerated living right next to the viaduct, especially during Sunday mass at church? 😉
The last bridge on the tour takes us one kilometer west to neighboring Raschau and this bridge, the Raschau Viaduct. Like the Markersbach Viaduct, the Raschau Viaduct is the most original of the bridges profiled here, as the bridge dates back to the construction of the rail line. This is especially noticeable as the seven-span viaduct, built on stone piers, features Town Lattice deck trusses, built using welded connections and a thick network of diagonal beams both in the inner and outer portions of the spans. The bridge has a total length of 112 meters, making it the second longest crossing along the Schwarzenberg-Annaberg rail line. The width is 12 meters. The height above the streets is four meters, making it the lowest crossing above ground level along the line as well. Height restrictions have been enforced to discourage truck drivers from using the streets. With the Flyover, combined with access on both ends of Markersbach and Raschau, the bridge has not sustained any damage, even though German laws have also played a role in forbidding overweight and oversized vehicles from using the road. Had this bridge been located in the States, with its lack of laws forbidding such vehicles, the Raschau Viaduct would not have survived such careless driving, and the driver would most likely have been forced to pay for a new bridge. However, because of its conformity to the landscape and its beauty, this viaduct will most likely remain for a long time.
There are a few single-span arch bridges but with the exception of a railroad overpass, these structures are only short spans and are difficult to photograph. A couple points of interest are worth photgraphing, which are noted in the Google Map. The bridges presented in this tour guide are examples of structures that represent a small community, whose history play a role in establishing the community and bringing it together. And while all but one are seldomly used today, the bridges at Markersbach are indeed diamonds in the rough, which is worth a couple hours of visiting and taking some photos. Even more so if the community has bridge festivals and other local celebrations throughout the year. 🙂