Co-produced with sister column
SPARNBERG (THURINGIA); GERMANY- Approximately 1-2 kilometers west of the Rudolphstein Viaduct and the Motorway 9 between Berlin and Munich is a small village that has slowly but surely become the forgotten or even lost one. Sparnberg is located on the River Saale. Founded in 1202, the village used to have a population of over 400 inhabitants at the end of World War II. Today it has only 160. The town today is characterized by its small church and market square, a dam and mill that was created in 1999, a park that is just off the Saale Bike Trail and other hiking trails that careen the steep woody hills, and the key crossing between Thuringia and Bavaria- the Sparnberg Bridge.
To understand the history of the bridge, we have to look at the history of Sparnberg in the post war period. The village is located at the edge of civilization, tucked away from the events that were unfolding in World War II with Hitler’s downfall in the hands of the allies. Even driving down to Sparnberg from Rudolphstein today is a real chore for one will face steep hills and steep curves before jumping right onto the bridge and into Sparnberg. If you have a car with a stick shift, put it into one before going down, ok?
Everything was peaceful until their covered bridge was blown up in 1945 by the fleeing Nazi soldiers in an attempt to flee the Soviets and Americans from the south. They had previously taken down two arches of the Autobahn Viaduct thus cutting off the main artery between Berlin and Munich for 21 years (see more here). It was at this point that Sparnberg, for 45 years, was in the direct line of fire between the Americans on the Bavarian side and the Soviets on the Thuringian side. While the American troops took advantage of the gorgeous views of the Saale River Valley (known in Germany as the Saaletal) and watched the daily lives of the residents in Sparnberg, the Soviets were quick to erect a Wall as tall as the one that had splitted Berlin into two, made of concrete and steel to keep people from crossing the Saale to the Bavarian side. The entire town was surrounded by the tracks that were used by the military and police. Many of these concrete reminents of the „Todeszone“ (Death Zone) can be found in and around Sparnberg today. This includes a rather unique treat that the lucky „bastards“ from Moscow got, which you can read about here. But in all reality, the people of Sparnberg had no chance but to be at the mercy of the soldiers who were infiltrating the small village in the middle of „No Man’s Land“ until November 1989- the time of the Fall of the Wall.
While making it across the border was trecherous for residents had to flee through Bad Lobenstein and the Schleizer Dreieck in order to cross the Viaduct, which had been restored and reopened 23 years before, a temporary crossing was built in 1990 to allow people to cross the Saale. At the same time, both states and district of Hirschberg (which Sparnberg belongs to) developed a plan to build a new permanent crossing. Originally planned as a covered bridge, they changed their minds, and when the bridge opened in 1993, this was what the structure looked like:
At present, the bridge looks like this. However, as it was a wooden beam bridge, time, weather extremities as well as wear and tear have taken their toll on the structure. Furthermore, the steel supporting the beams is corroding, making the crossing more dangerous. The bridge’s current weight limit is 2.0 tons and only cars can cross. By American standards, the structure would have to close allowing only pedestrians and cyclists to use it. Its absolute „Schmerzpunkt“ is three tons, but many states have the limit set for cars at five tons. While photographing the bridge from underneath, the sound of creaking and crackling of wooden planks from the cars might be an indicating factor, yet bridges with wooden decking have that typical sound of wood rolling and creaking.
The major problem is how the bridge has been maintained, as you can see in the picture above. As the bridge was financed by both states, it should have been maintained by the same parties. This pic was taken from the Sparnberg side and shows that theory and praxis are a day and night difference. In the background the plankings on the Bavarian side is warped with wood rot and cracks, as if it had never been maintained. On the Thuringian side, the planks look like new and seems to have been in place for a decade. While Sparnberg used to have a bridge festival and part of the proceeds were most likely used for the maintenance and rehabilitation, it was only for their side, whereas the Bavarian side has long since neglected its end, using the „out of site, out of mind“ mentality which is taking ist toll. Should it continue, then Sparnberg may not have a bridge for too long- it takes a simple collapse of a car into the Saale to do the trick.
While the bridge still provides the easiest access to Bavaria, the time is ripe to replace the bridge with one that is iconic for Sparnberg and the region along the former East-West border. The structure of course needs to be wider and made of both wood and steel to ensure its longetivity, with the southern approach to the bridge to be widened. Yet it needs to be as iconic as not only the present structure but the covered bridge that had preceded it before it was bombed and later walled shut. One has to keep in mind that despite the few cars that cross it, it is still a vital one for the people in Sparnberg. A slab bridge is definitely not an option, but other designs might be suitable, such as a through truss bridge, suspension bridge, tied arch or even its classical covered bridge. All are typical for the region.
The question is which one would you choose?
More pics of the bridges in the region can be found here