Many cities have places where miracles happen and people remember them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Minneapolis Miracle of 2018 in professional football, visiting the Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, or even the parting of the Red Sea- the last two points dealing with Christianity. Then there’s the liberation of Europe in 1945 and the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent German Reunification of 1989-90 from the historical standpoint.
In the sense of infrastructure- in particular, bridges, if there’s a place where miracles did happen, one needs to travel to Dresden and to this bridge. There are several nicknames to describe the Loschwitz Cantilever Truss Bridge, which spans the River Elbe and connects the two suburbs of Blasewitz and Loschwitz. The most common is the Blue Miracle (Blaue Wunder in German). It has nothing to do with the bridge’s color nor does it have to do with its perfect photo with a blue backdrop. It has to do with the fact that the bridge, built by Claus Köpcke in 1893 has survived death three times- two of which came towards the end of World War II.
While Dresden was bombed a total of six times from 1944 to 1945, the city was hit the hardest during the infamous raid on February 13-16, 1945. British and American air troopers dropped thousands of tons of bombs onto the city, effectively destroying the entire city center and its prized architectural jewels, such as the Semper Opera House, the Castle of Dresden, and the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), all of them dated back to the Baroque Period of the 17th Century. 80% of the entire city was in flames with as many as 30-40,000 people perishing. Temperatures from flames rose to 10,000° Celsius- hot enough to melt metal and vaporize people nearby. The Dresden Bombings are comparable with the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of the intensity and the impact on the structural landscape of the city.
The bridge itself sustained damage to the trusses and decking during the air raids but they were minor enough that repairs were made to the structure and the crossing was back in service again. While the other crossings were damaged to a point where they were impassable, the Loschwitz Bridge survived its first miracle.
Shortly before the end of the War, the bridge had its second miracle. And there were five people to thank for this- two of whom were honored for their work. Before Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on May 1, he had ordered every bridge to be imploded to impede the march of Allied Troops that were encroaching Berlin on all sides. Already destroyed were all the crossings along the Rivers Oder and Neisse in present-day Brandenburg, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, it was hoped that the crossings along the Elbe would follow suit and be met with dynamite. And this despite thousands of refugees evacuating areas already bombed out because of the raids.
Places like Dresden, where tens of thousands were homeless and looking for ways to escape the war, even if it meant surrendering to the approaching enemy unconditionally. With crossings, like the Carola and Augustus Bridges severely damaged or destroyed, it was hoped that the Blue Miracle would go down with them. However, on 7 May, two men- Paul Zickler and Erich Stöckel- made sure it didn’t happen. The two men defused the bombs by splicing the cables disabling the bombs and later removing the dynamite that would have brought the bridge down. However, three other men- Max Mühle, Carl Bouché and bridge commander Wirth also contributed to the cause. The bridge was saved and had its second miracle. Ironically, Germany capitulated to the Allies in Berlin that same day, thus bringing the European theater to a close. A monument commemorating this courageous event and honoring the two men can be found at the bridge along the pedestrian path on the Blasewitz side of the structure. Why the plan to blow up the bridge was foiled remains unknown to this day. However variables such as protests by the locals as well as the acceptance that the war was no longer winnable must not be left out.
The third close call was the plan to tear down the bridge and replace it on a new alignment, presented by the Socialist Party (SED) in 1967, but it was met with opposition and after almost two decades, the project was scrapped by 1985.
Fast forwarding to the present, the Blue Miracle is still standing, tall and strong. It has earned its nickname after 125 years of literal wear and tear. It has survived all the extremities that most historic bridges built of steel would have succumbed to. It survived a blazing inferno through war, while the rest of Dresden burned to the ground. It survived the worst of winters, such as that of 1978/79 that crippled both East and West Germany. It survived several windstorms, including Kyrill in 2007, which leveled forests and buildings and caused widespread power outages. It survived severe flooding- most notably those in 2002 and 2013 which put much of Dresden under water. And lastly, it survived the gravitational pull caused by the weight of vehicles and street cars traveling across it. All of this has not affected the bridge’s beauty as it is one of the most beloved and photographed not only in Dresden but also along the River Elbe. While some pushed for its demise, others made sure their plans never bore fruit, hence allowing for the bridge to stand for generations to come.
The Blue Miracle at present. The bridge has become an attraction both during the daytime, but also at night, thanks to the addition of LED lighting in 2011. The bridge is still used by commuters entering Dresden from the south, even though another bridge- the Waldschlösschenbrücke, built down stream- has taken the stress off the bridge since its opening in 2013. The bridge will be getting a much-needed facelift beginning in 2025 but when it is done, the crossing will continue to carry traffic and its historic flare as one of Dresden’s greatest places of interest will remain for locals and tourists to see. Already a book has been written about the bridge but from a photographer’s perspective. There will be more written and talked about with this bridge- the Blue Miracle: the structure that not only connects the south of Dresden, but one that has been in use through the best and worst of times. And that is thanks to five people who made it happen before the end of a war that was long lost and that people yearned for a new start.
The German term “Blaue Wunder erleben” originated from the name of the bridge in Dresden and implies that the person got an unexpected and sometimes unwanted surprise because of something done that was considered illegal.