The Bridges of Hof (Saale)

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Luftsteg at Hof Central Railway Station. Photo taken in 2017

Hof, in the far northeastern corner of Bavaria, is one of the most historically strategic cities in modern German history. The city, with a population of over 48,000 inhabitants, is located at two Dreiecken, with a history that dates back to the Cold War. To the southeast, there’s the Bayerische Dreieck near the town of Prex, where Bavaria, Saxony and the Czech Republic meet. To the northeast, there’s the Dreiländereck near Mödlareuth, where Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia meet. Until 1990, Hof was an isthmus surrounded by the Iron Curtain and with that, the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), with the borders barb-wired, walled and patrolled by soldiers to ensure that no escaped to the west. Hof was in the line of a possible invasion by Warsaw Pact Forces as they would’ve marched into West Germany via Fulda Gap, had the conflict reached the point where the first missiles had fired.

In 1989, when East Germans fled to the west via Prague in what was Czechoslovakia, Hof was the meeting point where trains loaded with refugees passed through before heading to West Germany. Gutenfürst, located 10 kilometers to the northeast, was its main transit station into Saxony. When the Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, tens of thousands passed through Hof to get their Welcome Money (Begrüßungsgeld) and buy western goods for the first time ever. Traffic jams of up to 50 kilometers at the Rudolphstein Viaduct were common until the Koditz Viaduct and the Motorway 72 opened to traffic for the first time in almost three decades.

Since the Fall of the Wall and its subsequent Reunification, Hof has transformed itself. It used to be a Cold War modern city with Americans stationed there. Businesses catered to the needs of the soldiers and those who successfully escaped. Nowadays, they have gone out of business, but life goes on in the now quiet small city which is situated between the Vogtland, the Fichtel Mountains and the Franconian Forest. It’s the third largest city in the regional district of Upper Franconia Franconia behind Bayreuth and Bamberg and like the two, it houses not only its own city government but also that of its district. Hof belongs to the Beer Mile where one can try over a thousand different sorts of beer in places like Bayreuth, Kulmbach and Bamberg. Hof is famous for its Schlappenbier, one of the strongest beers ever brewed. And while the Galleria Kaufhof has shut down since 2018, the historic city center, with classical houses lining up along the streets leading to the St. Michaeliskirche, is still bustling with activities with weekly markets and especially its Christmas Market (for more on that, click here.) The city is home to the University of Sciences, where over 5,600 students attend for classes.

While they play a very small role during the Cold War and thereafter, the bridges of Hof have undergone a transition of their own, just like with some of the architecture in the city. No longer known for their modern Cold War architecture, many structures have been replaced with post-Cold War modern architectures, where slabs of concrete built in the 50s and 60s are being replaced with fancier designs made of steel, wood or even a combination of the two plus concrete decking. This includes the likes of the Theresiensteg near the City Park and the Luftsteg at the railway station. Only a few historic structures remain in Hof, whether they are the truss bridges near Filzwerk, or the arch bridges at Obere Steinbrücke or the railway viaduct at Unterkotzau, the oldest bridge still standing. And while most of these structures can be found along the railway and the River Saale, each one has a history of its own that have yet to be discovered. Although the city has its own website and a page devoted on bridges, there is only information on the bridge projects that are either planned or completed, but next to none on the structure’s history in comparison with the one we know about; some of which are located at the former East-West German border.

Henceforth, a tour guide has been created with the focus on the bridges of Hof. Based on the author’s visit this year, they will feature pictures of every bridge photographed in Hof with the information that is known about the bridge, with some gaps that need to be filled with regards to the bridges’ history. They include the structures along the River Saale from Oberkotzau to Unterkotzau, as well as those along the railline, including one at the railway station. Click onto the pictures and if you know of the history of one or more bridges, contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact information by clicking here. The information will then be added in the tour guide that is powered by GoogleMaps. Old photos of the bridges (including the spans that are long since been replaced or removed) are more than welcome.

Hof has a wide selection of bridges in terms of style, materials and different eras. The question is what were the stories behind them? What were they like before World War II? This is where the podium is now open.

Click onto the tour guide, click onto the bridges marked and Good Luck! 🙂

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