Mystery Bridge Nr. 173: An Unusual Concrete Girder Bridge in Mülsen (Saxony), Germany

Our next Mystery Bridge takes us back to Saxony, but this time to the joint community of Mülsen. Located six kilometers NE of Zwickau, Mülsen, which is 17 km in length and has a width of only 3-4 kilometers, is not only the largest and longest community in Saxony, but it is one of the steepest towns in the state for the landscape makes a 300-500 meter drop from the top to Mülsen Creek, which empties into the Zwickau Mulde. All of the boroughs that make up Mülsen- namely Ortmannsdorf, Mülsen St. Niclas, Mülsen St. Jacob, Mülsen St. Micheln, Niedermülsen, Stangendorf, Thurm and Wulm are located along the creek. Mülsen extends from Schlunzig and Mosel, where the Volkswagen Company is located, all the way down to the Motorway 72 near Hartenstein. Subtracting the top six of the most populous cities in Saxony (Leipzig, Dresden, Chemnitz, Görlitz, Zwickau and Plauen), no other town has as many boroughs and is situated along a body of water in a lineal fashion as Mülsen. And no other town is as sparsely populated as Mülsen, for the whole community has only 10,200 inhabitants. It once had a lot of industry and a railroad that connected Mosel and Zwickau.

Over 50 bridges cross the Mülsen Creek in the entire joint community, yet only a handful still exist that are over a century old. This bridge is one of them and from an author’s point of view, it is one of the most ornamental of bridges seen in Germany, and to a certain degree, Europe and the United States. This bridge is located at Berthelsdorfer Strasse between Mülsen’s boroughs of Niedermülsen and Thurm. It’s a concrete plate girder bridge, featuring a camelback design. The endposts are vertical but are shaped like a silo, with geometrical, Gothic designs on them, resembling the stain glass windows of a typically European cathedral. Vertical beam are spread out on the bridge and at the center span, the top part is parallel to the entire bottom section of the bridge, its length is roughly 1.5 meters. Its design on the outside has a series of arches, resembling a typical viaduct. The inner part of the girder features a crème color with a light shade of yellow. The entire length of the bridge is between 10 and 14 meters; its width is only 2.3 meters- enough for only one car to pass. The weight limit is six tons and the bridge is open to local traffic only.

Close-up of the endpost and its “Gothic” design

There’s no information on the date of construction of the bridge, nor the builder. But judging by the bridge’s appearance, it appears to have been built in the 1920s, as concrete bridges were starting to take over as the alternative to bridges made of wood and metal. After World War I came to a close, there was an enormous shortage of metal for it was used for the efforts of the war- for tanks, planes, artillery and other equipment. At the same time, there were numerous bridges that were in need of replacement, including those that were destroyed in the war. Therefore beginning in 1915, engineers began experimenting with concrete by building girders- beam bridges with concrete railings. One of the most common concrete girders used during this period was the concrete curved-chord through girder, designed by C.V. Dewart and were predominant in the eastern portions of the US and Canada. Most of them can be found in Michigan and Ontario to this day. It is doubtful that this bridge in Mülsen was based on the design by Dewart, though similar pony girders were built in Germany, using straight or trapezoidal railings.

Camelback arch bridge in Altenburg

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An example of such girders in Germany I found was located near Altenburg in eastern Thuringia, but its design is not as stylish as the one here in Mülsen. The one in Mülsen has an artistic appeal that deserves a listing in the Heritage Preservation Books (Denkmalschutz). Only four historic bridges in Mülsen have been listed but they are all in Ortmannsdorf. This bridge has not been listed but it should.

This leads to us all finding some information on the bridge’s history, let alone ways to convince the Office of Heritage and Preservation in Dresden. What do we know about the bridge, let alone the bridge builder and/or designer responsible for this unusual design, which is atypical of all girder bridges?

Feel free to comment either here through the Chronicles (on the web or through its social media channels) as well as through the facebook page Historic Bridges of Saxony. Let’s add this bridge and find ways to save it. After all, a bridge like that should not go to waste.

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Author’s Note: The photos were taken in April 2022; the Altenburg photo was taken while on tour in 2016.

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