The Rehab of the Hirschgrundbrücke in Glauchau: A Wine Glass Half-full or Half-Empty?

GLAUCHAU (SAXONY), GERMANY- The construction projects in and around the Castle Complex in Glauchau, which has been in motion since April (as a whole), is like eating in an exclusive restaurant: No matter what the menu offers, including drinks, there’s a lot to eat and a lot to discuss at the table.   The main course, which features lamb chops, is the front yard that leads to the gates of the castle. This is the meat of the project which one will find to the south of the city center, just a three minute walk from Market Square. This was once filled with lucious trees and bushes but also home to the ice skating rink that had occupied the area; it is being torn up in favor of a multi-complex featuring picnic areas, a pavilion and bike racks. This despite opposition from those who preferred to keep the area all green and in its natural form. A comment by one of the opponents, an architect, during a conversation on facebook recently, says it all.

Then we have the natural bridge, crossing the deep ravine connecting the castle’s south side and its adjacent park, sitting idle for many years, closed to all because of safety reasons and now blocked off to the castle park. This stone arch crossing is no more except for the pylons and the outer arches!

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The Hirschgrundbrücke has been the “vegetarian” main dish for dinner and conversation for many years for many reasons: 1. How to renovate the bridge after sitting idle for 40 years, 2. What is the real name of the bridge: Hirschgrund or Hirschgraben, and now this: Is this bridge a complete renovation/ rehabilitation or a complete tear-down and rebuild?

There are many ways of describing how the bridge is being put under the knife. Yet to better understand how this project is being carried out, I had a chance to talk to the city engineer who showed me the plans of rebuilding the structure during my frequent visits to the City Administration Building. He was also the engineer in charge of overseeing the design and construction of The Wave near Wernsdorf in 2017.  During my interview in March, he mentioned that the bridge was going to be stripped down to the bare bones, leaving the outer arches and the stem of the pylon that used to hold the center arches. The plan to leave them in place was based on an agreement with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage of Saxony (Dt.: Denkmalschutz) in order to keep the bridge listed in the Cultural Heritage Book (Denkmalschutzbuch), similar to what Americans have with the National Register of Historic Places. The old materials would (for the most part) be discarded, while some will be reused together with new materials made of sandstone and other rock-based materials to rebuild the structure to make it resemble its original form, when it was built in the 1700s. The project was announced in the Free Press in April and it is expected to be completed by November 2019.

During my most recent visit in Glauchau, I decided to have a look at the progress of the bridge and found some observations worth noting:

Film and commentary on this bridge:

This was filmed from the castle side with my newly-acquired Motorola moto 6 out of Pittsburgh. Incredible phone/camera and Glauchau was an incredible place for “target practice.” 😉

My observations of this project is best compared to a glass of wine that is half-full; half-empty. One can technically consider this project a total rehabilitation, where the bridge is stripped down to its arches, the original materials reused for the rebuilding process. This has been done on thousands of bridges of this kind throughout Germany, including the bridges in Erfurt, Dresden, Magdeburg, and Berlin, just to name some examples. It is similar to the coined-term “in-kind” restoration but with arch bridges, not truss structures.  However one could call this a total replacement because 90% of the original structure is completely gone; the materials used for the structure recycled and being replaced with similar materials that are used for other arch bridges. From an American modernist’s point of view, when a superstructure is replaced but the approach spans or even the original piers remain, it is a complete replacement, regardless of how you look at it.  Leaving the outer arches and the pylon stems in place kept the bridge from being completely destroyed and replaced, something that had been considered given its condition of being on the verge of collapsing, as you can see in Glauchau’s bridge tour guide.

So to sum up, this rehabilitation  project is one that is considered a wine glass that is half-full and half- empty. It is half-full because some of the important historic elements are being left in place, to be used as a foundation for the new materials that will come on top of it to retain its historic appeal. It is however half-empty because much of the original materials are not being used for the rebuild. Nonetheless, the bridge will retain its historic status in the books, yet my question I have, which will be answered through photos and commentary  during the course of this project, will be whether the bridge- the vegetarian main dish- will be the same as before? Or if it will be totally different, just like with the new multi-complex at the entrance to the Castle Complex- the main course dinner with lamb chops?

In simpler languages: will the architect be right about the changes not conforming to the castle surroundings, or will the people embrace the new form of history which features a cosmetic makeover but keeping its original historic form?

Stay tuned! 🙂

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