Mystery Bridge Nr. 144: A Small Unusual Bridge in the Ruins of a Large Military Complex

The best discoveries are found in your backyard. This mystery bridge fits the historian stereotype like a glove and can be found in the southeastern part of Glauchau in the area now designated as a natural reserve, behind the Rudolph Virchow Hospital and adjacent Agricola High School.  We found this bridge as pure coincidence, while we were hiking and taking pictures on a Sunday afternoon. The structure is a two-span deck arch bridge all made with metal, and the connections are welded. The bridge has a total length of 25 meters and it appeared that it used to span a body of water which has since shrunk in size, leaving the area the bridge crosses to be nothing more but a dry ravine to be forded because much of the decking on the bridge is in critical condition with missing or cracked flooring. The bridge used to carry an abandoned road, which we later found that it led to the hospital grounds and given its width, it was probably used only for cars and pedestrians only.

The bridge has a unique feature that is rare to find for bridges built during its time. One side of the bridge exposes the arch section where only a couple vertical beams support the arches. Both the arches as well as the center piers are tubular and are welded together. On the opposite end, the arches are covered with paneling resembling an appearance of a faux pas arch span: a beam bridge that is decorated with only the outer arches, whose spandrels are covered with paneling, thus making the bridge look like a real arch bridge but it’s merely a beam bridge that functions as the crossing supporting traffic.

It is unknown when the bridge was built, let alone who built it, but the area where the bridge was discovered by accident belongs to a natural area known as the Rümpfwald, an area that is the size of 10 football pitches that extends from the hospital, along the cemetary and past Bismarck Tower going south and east towards Rottenbach Creek and the adjacent forest near Niederlungwitz and St. Egidien, located six kilometers southeast of Glauchau’s Railway station. A map featuring both the forest and the bridge shows you the size of the natural area.

Before the habitat was created, it was once a military complex with a long history, most of which still hangs a dark cloud over Glauchau to this day.  In 1914, a military complex was established under the name Friedrich August Kaserne, which covered an area including the hospital, and the western half of Rümpfwald. Originally used for the German army, it was made irrelevant when Germany was forced to reduce its military to a quarter of ist size through the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Nevertheless, when Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the military base was reactivated and used as a concentration camp for political prisoners. By 1936, it became a base for the Wehrmacht- the Nazi army. By 1945, the Soviet troops took over the eastern half of Germany and with that, the military base in Glauchau, which would later be expanded to include the production of weaponry and tanks as well as a practice area. The Soviets occupied the base until 1993, when the last Russian troops left the base. Afterwards, the entire complex was razed to the ground and the area was converted to a natural area, yet some of the relicts from the past still exist today….

….including this bridge. Given its current, deteriorating state, the bridge will most likely succumb to nature as the arches and the superstructure have corroded to a point where a full rehabilitation would be deemed impossible. Yet given the fact that this bridge is one of the most neglected of all of Glauchau’s bridges, it would be a shame to see it disappear without knowing about its history. While only a small portion of the military base has been preserved as a mini-library, perhaps there is a place for this unique bridge, even if the dark past of the military days in Glauchau have long since disappeared…..

.

.

  The Watchman’s post and the Historic Gate to the military base at Wolffersdorfstrasse and the north entrance to the hospital were preserved, restored and converted to a library. The smallest library in Germany was completed in 2009 and received the 2011 Pegasus Award, the most important award of the EU devoted to preserving places of historic interest. More information on the project can be found here.  Ironically, book booth, a phone booth is located on the opposite end of the street at Virchowstrasse. There, you can donate your books and take one from the booth with. It’s next to a panel of what was part of the Berlin Wall.

.

Plans are in the making to expand the Virchow Hospital further into the forest and former military compound, which includes rehabilitation areas and a health care sector. When the work starts remains open.

.