It has been a few weeks since my last posting about the Bockau Arch Bridge and the fight against time and the elements to save the 150-year old structure. But as you can see here as well as on the Facebook page (click here), progress is being made in leaps and bounds to have the new structure, built on alignment, ready to go by next year. Already the piers and the concrete decking are in place, and a barrier is in place, permanently blocking access to the old bridge on the north end. Many have written off the old Bridge, however…..
….it’s not over yet. The decision regarding whether the state government will accept our petition and decision to allow for time to claim ownership of the structure before it is demolished in mid-2019 is still out. We’re looking at 4-6 weeks before Dresden decides. Another petition going one level up further is in the making, an alliance to create a bridge association is being formed, and there is ever growing support for keeping the old structure in place, this despite the claims by the communities nearby that they will not take ownership once the new bridge is open.
And then we have this marketing strategy, one of many that are being sought. 🙂
A friend of mine from Pittsburgh gave me this T-shirt containing all of the city’s bridges along the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers before leaving for Niagara Falls during the road trip through the Great Lakes and the Committee Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge would like to have a Shirt similar like this, but with the bridges along the Zwickau Mulde River.
That’s right! We have 40 bridges to choose from, ranging from the Jähn-Brücke at Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz (named after the lone East German astronaut, Sigmund Jähn) to Paradiesbrücke in Zwickau; The Wave in Glauchau to the Göhren Viaduct in Lunzenau; The Bridges of Rochlitz to the Suspension Bridge in Grimma. But the question is which ones deserve to be on the T-shirt?
From now until September 15th, you have the chance to vote which bridge along the Zwickau Mulde deserves to be on the T-shirt. Go to the link provided below, which will take you to the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Facebook page and its photo album. Look at the photos selected and like the ones that are your favorite. If there is a bridge that is not listed but you want it on there, comment on it. The votes will then be tallied and the top 10-16 bridges liked on facebook will be placed on the T-shirt.
For those who don’t facebook and still want to vote, you can also here:
The winners will be announced on the 17th of September. The T-Shirts will be designed similar to the one on the bridges in Pittsburgh, yet the colors will be different, reflecting on the region in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) as well as along the river. Right now, blue, green and white/grey are being considered, but we are open to other color combinations. Please send an E-Mail if you have a suggestion in colors that you would like to see appear on the T-shirts. Furthermore, as the Zwickau Mulde has one of the highest number of castles, competing with the likes of the Rhine and Rhone Rivers, each bridge will feature a place of interest in the background that is typical of the community.
Once the design is complete and the T-shirts are available to the market, orders will be taken with proceeds going toward the Bockau Arch Bridge. You will be notified once the project is completed and available for sale.
In addition, postcards, coffee cups, a film about the Bockau Arch Bridge, another one on the bridges along the Zwickau Mulde and a book on the bridges in the region are being considered, but unlike the postcards and coffee cups, which are easy to do, the rest will need some time and planning for them to be realized. But we are starting to like this approach with the T-shirt. While more details are coming, you should really go out and choose your favorite bridges for the T-shirt project.
The discussion about the preservation and reuse of historic places has existed since the 1950s, thanks to the preservation laws that have been in place. The German Preservation Laws were passed in 1958, whereas the Historic Preservation Laws that established the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places in the USA were enacted in 1966. Both serve the lone purpose of identifying and designating places unique to the cultural identity and history of their respective countries. Furthermore, these places are protected from any sort of modernization that would otherwise alter or destroy the structure in its original form. Protected places often receive tax credits, grants and other amenities that are normally and often not granted if it is not protected or even nominated for listing as a historic site. This applies to not only buildings and bridges but also to roadways and highways, windmills, towers of any sorts, forts and castles, citadels and educational institutions and even memorials commemorating important events.
Dedicating and designating sites often receive mixed reactions, from overwhelming joy because they can better enjoy the sites and educate the younger generations, to disgruntlement because they want to relieve themselves of a potential liability.
Since working with a preservation group in western Saxony on saving the Bockau Arch Bridge, a seven-span stone arch bridge that spans the Zwickau Mulde between Bockau and Zschorlau, six kilometers southwest of Aue, the theme involving this structure has been ownership. The bridge has been closed to all traffic since August 2017 while a replacement is being built on a new alignment. Once the new bridge opens, the 150-year old structure will come down unless someone is willing to step in and take over ownership and the responsibilities involved. . Taking the structure means paying for its maintenance and assuming all responsibility for anything that could potentially happen. And this is the key here: Ownership.
Who wants to own a piece of history? To examine this, let’s look at a basic example of a commodity where two thirds of the world’s population wear on a regular basis- the author included as well: glasses.
Ever since Marco Polo’s invention, glasses have been improved, innovated and modernized to not only make the person look great in appearance. It also helps them to better see the environment surrounding them, regardless of whether they are near-sighted or far sighted, have astigmatism or require bi-focals to read, or if they want protect their eyes from the sun in the form of shades. Glasses can be plastic or metal (or even both). And like the historic structures, the materials can be recycled if no one wants them. Yet by the same token, many of us love to keep them for the purpose of memories or give them away to those who need them. For over 30 years, I have worn nine pairs of glasses and two pairs of sunglasses; this does not count the eight years that I primarily wore contact lenses, which was during my time in high school and college. Like our historic structures, glasses have a life span. They are worn until the frames develop rust and corrosion, the vision changes or they are broken.
In some cases, many look for a new frames because they want to “look cool” in front of their peers. The “look cool” mentality has overtaken society to a point where it can be applicable to about everything: cars, clothing, houses and especially historic places and structures of interest. Basically, people just ignore the significance of these structures and things that had been built in the past, which hold memories, contribute to the development of a country, region or even community, or are simply fashionable. Still in spite of all this, one has to do something about the glasses, just as much one has to do something about the historic building.
So let’s take these two pairs of sunglasses, for example. Like in the picture above, the top one I was prescribed by an optometrist in 2005; the bottom one most recently in June 2018. The top one is a combination of plastic and steel- the temples, ends and hinges are made of steel; the eye wires are plastic. The lenses are made with Carl Zeiss branded glass with a sealcoat covering to protect it from scratches. The bottom ones are plastic- frames, temples and nosepiece; the lenses are plastic but with a sealcoat protectant and dimmers to protect the eyes from the sun. The brand name is generic- no name. The difference is that the changes in the eyes required new sunglasses for the purpose of driving or doing work outside. As I wear the new sunglasses, which are not as high quality but is “cool,” according to standards, the question is what to do with the old sunglasses?
There are enough options to go around, even if the sunglasses are not considered significant. One can keep the old pair for memory purposes. Good if you have enough space for them. One can give them away to someone who needs them. If they are non-prescription lenses, that is much easier than those with a prescription. With the prescription lenses, one will need to remove them from the frame before giving them away. Then there is the option of handing them into the glasses provider, who takes the pair apart and allows for the materials to be recycled. More likely one will return the old pair to the provider to be recycled and reused than it would be to give them away because of the factors of age, quality of the materials and glass parts and especially the questions with the lenses themselves. One can keep the pair, but it would be the same as leaving them out of sight and out of mind.
And this mentality can be implemented to any historic structure. People strive for cooler, more modern buildings, infrastructure or the like, but do not pay attention to the significance of the structure they are replacing in terms of learning about the past and figuring its reuse in the future. While some of these “oldtimers “ are eventually vacated and abandoned, most of them are eventually torn down with the materials being reused for other purposes; parts of sentimental values, such as finials, statues and plaques, are donated to museums and other associations to be put on display.
One of examples that comes to mind when looking at this mentality are the bridges of Minnehaha County in South Dakota. The most populous county in the state whose county seat is Sioux Falls (also the largest city in the state), the county used to have dozens of historic truss bridges that served rail and automobile traffic. As of present, 30 known truss bridges exists in the county, down from 43 in 1990, and half as many as in 1980. At least six of them are abandoned awaiting reuse. This includes a rails-to-road bridge that was replaced in 1997 but has been sitting alongside a gravel road just outside Dell Rapids ever since. A big highlight came with the fall of five truss bridges between Dell Rapids and Crooks in 2012, which included three through truss spans- two of which had crossed the Big Sioux. All three were eligible for the National Register. The reasons behind the removal were simple: Abandoned for too long and liability was too much to handle
This leads me to my last point on the glasses principle: what if the structures are protected by law, listed as a historic monument? Let’s look at the glasses principle again to answer that question. Imagine you have a couple sets of glasses you don’t want to part ways with, even as you clean your room or flat. What do you do with them? In the case of my old sunglasses, the answer is simple- I keep them for one can reuse them for other purposes. Even if I allow my own daughter to use them for decorating dolls or giant teddy bears, or even for artwork, the old pair is mine, if and only if I want to keep them and allow for use by someone else under my care. The only way I would not keep the old sunglasses is if I really want to get rid of them and no one wants them.
For historic places, this is where we have somewhat of a grey area. If you treat the historic place as if it is protected and provide great care for it, then there is a guarantee that it will remain in its original, pristine condition. The problem is if you want to get rid of it and your place is protected by law. Here you must find the right person who will take as good care of it as you do with your glasses. And that is not easy because the owner must have the financial security and the willpower just to do that. Then the person taking it over does not automatically do what he/she pleases. If protected under preservation laws you must treat it as if it is yours but it is actually not, just like renting a house. Half the places that have been torn down despite its designation as a historical site was because of the lack of ownership and their willingness to do something to their liking. Even if there are options for restoration available, if no one wants it, it has to go, even if it means taking it off the historic registry list to do that. Sometimes properties are reclaimed at the very last second, just like the old glasses, because of the need to save it. While one can easily do that with glasses, it is difficult to do that with historic places, for replacement contracts often include removal clauses for the old structure, something that is very difficult to rescind without taking the matter to court.
In reference to the project on the Bockau Arch Bridge in Germany, we are actually at that point. Despite its protection as a historic structure, its designation was taken off recently, thus allowing for the contract for the new bridge at the expense of the old structure to proceed. Yet, like with the pair of old glasses, last ditch attempts are being made to stop the process for there are possible suitors willing to take over the old structure and repurpose it for bike and pedestrian use. While neither of the communities have expressed interest, despite convincing arguments that the bridge can be maintained at a price that is 100 times less than the calculated amount, the group working to save the bridge is forming an association which will feature a network of patrons in the region, willing to chip in to own the bridge privately. Despite this, the debate on ownership and the bridge’s future lies in the hands of the state parliament because the bridge carries a federal highway, which is maintained on the state and national levels. Will it become like the old pair of glasses that is saved the last second will be decided upon later this fall.
To summarize briefly on the glasses principle, glasses and buildings each have a short lifespan because of their functionality and appearance. We tend to favor the latter more than the former and therefore, replace them with newer, more modern and stylish things to keep up with the pace. However, the older structures, just like the discarded pair of glasses, are downgraded on the scale, despite its protection under laws and ownership. When listed as a historical site, the proprietor works for and together with the government to ensure its upkeep, just like lending old glasses to someone for use, as long as the person knows he/she is “borrowing” it. When it is not listed , they are either abandoned or torn down, just like storing the glasses in the drawers or even having them recycled. However the decision is final if and only if no one wants it, and this could be a last-second thing.
We cannot plan ahead for things that need to be built, expanded or even replaced, for there may be someone with a strong backbone and staunch support who will step in the last minute to stake their claim. This applies to replacing older, historic structures with modern ones that have less taste and value. In the face of environmental issues we’re seeing globally on a daily basis, we have to use and reuse buildings and other structures to prevent the waste of materials that are becoming rarer to use, the destruction of natural habitats that may never recover but most importantly, remind the younger generations of our history and how we got this far. While some of us have little memories of our old glasses in schools with the exception of school class and party photos, almost all of us have memories of our experiences at, in, or on a historic structure that deserves to be recognized and kept for others to see. It’s just a matter of handling them, like the glasses we are wearing.
What’s in a name? A bridge is just a bridge as it crosses a ravine, body of water or even a roadway from point A to point B. This is where this week’s bridge pic comes in. A “natural” bridge spanning a deep ravine connecting a park with a castle……
The Hirschgrund Bridge has been in the news recently because construction has yet to begin on this 300+ year old stone arch structure. Why has there been a delay? You’ll love the author and the Glauchau City Council for this….. 😉
The debate over the name of the bridge!
In March of this year, the contract was let to a company for rebuilding the bridge, the name Hirschgaben Bridge was used. However, in the documents on the city’s budget plans was the name Hirschgrund used. This caused a lot of confusion as to how the bridge should be named. On the on hand, Hirschgraben was used because the ravine surrounding the castle was very deep – on the same level as the riverbed of the Zwickau Mulde River- a difference of 30 meters. Geologically speaking is Hirschgraben correct. And according to oral history is Hirschgraben the name used when talking about the bridge and the ravine. Historically speaking, Hirschgrund is also correct as it focuses on the whole complex itself, which includes the castle, park and ravine. In most history books one will find Hirschgrund. Yet given the preference of one or the other, the names of both were both correct, according to multiple sources. Given the need to cross their Ts and dot the I’s the debate on which name is correct was one of the reasons for the delay in allowing the construction to start.
The other was the city council’s rescinding of the contract to the first firm in favor of the second because the costs were cheaper and the second one was left out of the discussion the first time around. There had been four but only three officially presented their proposals.
In either case, now that the matter over the name has been settled, not to mention the costs and time wasted in “yammering” about it, construction on this natural bridge is about to begin. June is the starting date and the project is expected to take a year to complete. How the bridge will be rebuilt will be presented when the finished product opens to foot traffic for privacy purposes. But it does lead to the question of how this bridge- abandoned for almost five decades- will be reconstructed…..
Go Fund Me campaign to raise $15,000 to hire an independent contractor to look at options to restore the 1932 historic truss bridge
BRUNSWICK & TOPSHAM, MAINE- Conflicts between the Maine Department of Transportation on one end and locals from both Brunswick and Topsham as well as preservation officials have reached new heights for recent public meetings regarding the future of the three-span polygonal Warren through truss bridge have produced intensive strife, and locals have turned to other alternatives to ensure the 1932 product of Boston Bridge Works remains in place for years to come.
Since 30 March, the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Memorial Bridge has undertaken a campaign to raise funds for an independent contractor to conduct a structural survey and present an objective alternative to replacing the historic bridge- favoring the preservation and restoration of the structure. The contractor has had experience in restoring bridges of this caliber in the New England states and East Coast, and the cost for such an engineering study is estimated to be $15,000. To donate to the project, please click onto the link here: https://www.gofundme.com/save-the-frank-j-wood-bridge
Every single dollar will help a great deal for the project. Already at the time of this posting, over half of the funds have been raised. Your help will ensure the other half will be raised, and the counterarguments to MaineDOT’s claim of the bridge being at the end of its useful life be presented as objectively and professionally as possible.
During the last meeting, which spawned this fund-raising effort, officials from MaineDOT presented proposals for replacing the historic bridge using studies conducted by a bridge engineering firm that had no experience in restoring historic bridges. All the proposals presented were rejected flatly by residents and officials from the National Advisory on the Council for Historic Preservation and Maine Preservation, both of whom had requested the DOT to look at the cost for restoring the historic bridge, but was met with refusal. According to members of the Friends committee as well as locals, the meeting between both sides produced biased results and little room to comment on the alternatives to replacing the bridge, angering locals and proponents of restoring the truss bridge to a point where the committee has decided to forego the findings of the DOT and embark on this daring measure. Public sentiment for the bridge is very strong for reasons that restoring the bridge is cost-efficient and presents the two communities and their historic mills and wetlands with a sense of historic pride and heritage. A youtube video of the bridge and the two communities is an excellent example of the willingness to fight to keep the bridge:
Furthermore, at 30 feet wide, the bridge can hold two lanes of vehicular traffic plus an additional lane for bikes and pedestrians, even though a pedestrian portion practically exists on the truss bridge.
The battle for the objective truth is getting intense and it will set the precedent for any future preservation plans for other historic bridges in the region, nationwide and beyond. As mentioned in an interview with the Chronicles last year (click here for details) , the communities will even take the legal path if MaineDOT continues to refuse to listen to the needs of the residents affected by the bridge controversy and shove its new bridge down their throats against their will. Last month’s meeting has taken this matter one step closer to the danger zone. Whether this independent study on the future of the historic bridge, which especially includes alternatives to replacing the bridge that still has years of life left, will defuse the conflict depends solely on the willingness of both sides to come away with a proposal that will satisfy everyone.
The Chronicles will continue to monitor the latest developments on the bridge. In the meantime, if you have a dime to help, take a couple minutes of your time and do the right thing. Donate to save the bridge.
Hirschgraben Viaduct at the Castle Complex to be Completely Rebuilt; Former Mulde Crossing to become Rest Area for Bikes
GLAUCHAU (SAXONY)- While driving (or even Walking) through Glauchau in western Saxony in Germany, one cannot avoid several construction barriers and even downed trees in several places within the community of 24,000, located between Zwickau and Chemnitz. As part of the plan to beautify the city, several Buildings sitting empty or abandoned are scheduled to be repurposed or torn down. And that applies to a couple of the city’s key crossings. A former site of a historic Bridge is about to become a rest area and picnic area for cyclists whereas a historic Bridge near the Castle complex is about to be demolished and rebuilt to mimic the original Bridge from the 1700s. Details about the two Projects can be found here:
Hirschgrund Bridge to be completely rebuilt as part of the Castle beautification project
Connecting the Fordere and Hintere Glauchau Castles with the city park to the south, the 300+ year old Hirschgrund Viaduct is the oldest known bridge in Glauchau, let alone one of the longest and tallest of the city’s bridges. At approximately 75 meters long and 15 meters high, the bridge consists of five arches built mainly of brick and concrete, although it is unclear whether the concrete was added later or was part of the construction. The bridge has been neglected for over 40 decades and closed to all pedestrians for almost that long, thus causing it to decay rapidly, forming cracks in the concrete and exposing the red brick. Vines have been growing on the structure and some accounts in the social media have described the bridge as wobbling while walking over the deep ravine. All the vines, the wooden scaffolding to support one of the arches and other coverings are about to become a thing of the past, for the Glauchau City Council recently approved a 1.3 million Euro project to completely rebuild the viaduct. According to the Free Press, the entire structure is scheduled to be completely taken down, then using the materials from the old structure, will be completely rebuilt mimicking the 17th Century viaduct when it was opened to horse and buggy. The project is expected to last 1-2 years pending on any unforseen circumstances. The complete rebuild of the viaduct is part of the controversial project to beautify the Castle Complex- in particular the courtyard in front of the Fordere Castle on the east side. At the cost of 500,000, the courtyard is supposed to be converted to a multifunctional arena with shelter house, steel flower tubs, park benches, an aluminum pergola and electric outlet. The proposal has been met with hefty criticism because of the lack of taste and conformity with the castle’s surroundings. Even an article written by a local architect suggested alternatives to the proposal that is more appropriate and based on a total agreement by the parties involved (click here to read the article by Kathleen Scheurer). Already, the trees at the courtyard have been removed giving the castle complex a bare-naked appearance:
How the castle complex will look like, once the five-month project ends in October remains open.
Meerane (Upper Mulde) Bridge Abutment to become a Picnic/Rest Area
For over two decades since the construction of the current structure and the removal of the 1880s historic bridge, the remaining eastern abutment has sat in its place, covered with vegetation and garbage and looking like an eyesore. Come April, it will become an eyesore no more. At the cost of 10,000 Euros, the vegetation area will be removed and the eastern abutment will be repurposed as a picnic and rest area for pedestrians and cyclists. Included will be a bike stand, benches and garbage cans in and around the abutment near the pedestrian crossing at Meerane and Linden Streets. That portion of the project will take three weeks to complete, according to the Free Press. This is part of a bigger project which the shoreline of the Zwickau Mulde River will be cleaned up and converted into a park and trail setting, using land from abandoned buildings that either have been torn down or are scheduled to be removed in the near future. Already in the works is the plan to have a bike trail connecting the bridge with the Zimmerstrasse Covered Bridge, located near the Wehrdigt Elementary School. In the long term, the Mulde Bike Trail will go through Glauchau along the river instead of along the Diversion Canal, a plus for those wanting to see the city’s historic bridges along the river. One can also see the bridges leading to the Castle Complex from that proposed stretch of trail. As for the Meerane Bridge, the east abutment is the remains of the 1880s Town Lattice truss bridge built by local bridge builder Heinrich Carl Hedrich, who was responsible for the construction of a diversion canal around Glauchau, Germany’s first water main systems as well as several dams, mills and bridges in Glauchau and along the Mulde. The bridge was replaced on alignment in the 1990s and subsequently removed once the new structure opened.
With the ongoing changes that are happening in and around Glauchau also comes the updates in the Bridge Tour Guide of Glauchau. Several photos have been added on the castle bridges as well as the Wave, plus some updates based on the current developments which will be followed closely in the Chronicles. To see the updates, click here, which will take you to the guide again. There, you will find more pictures and information so that you can better get to know the bridges in and around the city. Enjoy! 🙂
Looks can be deceiving in this picture above. Taken last week right before the Arctic/ Siberian cold spell that dropped temperatures to as far down as -40° C and buried cities, like Flensburg in one foot of snow, one can see the bridge that is still in tact, yet its northern approach to the arch spans is gone. Demolition has not taken place for it has been stayed pending on a hearing between the group saving the bridge and political representatives of the Ore Mountain district (Erzgebirge) and the German state of Saxony. Three days after posting the first entry, the German version of the online petition was accepted by authorities in Dresden (the state capital) and Aue (the district seat), and we received an invitation to a hearing on this unique structure. But for right now, the old approach is needed for the new approach to the span being built directly to the east of the new span. The foundations for the pylon are already supplanted in the Zwickau Mulde, and it will be a matter of time before work can commence on building this important piece that will eventually hold the structure. The new span is to be a two-span concrete beam bridge, whose aesthetic value is really compared to a typical American slab span, as seen in one example here. In other words, engineers could have done a better job in designing a bridge that best fits the mountain landscape, which the builders of the Stone Arch Bridge achieved hands down- and within a course of a year on top of that. 🙂
But going to the current theme in the entry: Social networking has played a key role in addressing the issues of concern while attracting scores of people to help in their causes. Since around 2011, many organizations involved in preserving historic bridges have used social networking- such as facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn to attract people from faraway places, many of them with the tools and technology needed to save the structures and repurpose them for recreational use. My first involvement came with the Riverside Bridge in Missouri, where Kris Dyer led in the efforts to attract hundreds of people who were willing to chip money, time and efforts into saving the two-span truss bridge that was a product of the Canton Bridge Company and built in 1909. Myself and a friend of mine from Pittsburgh helped organize the Historic Bridge Weekend Conference using that bridge and another one at Times Beach near St. Louis as centerpieces for bridge preservation that were needed during that time. Riverside Bridge was restored and reopened two years later, while a campaign to repurpose the other bridge is well underway with plans to have the bridge open by 2025.
This led to the idea of building a social network site for the Bockau Arch Bridge (in German: Rechenhausbrücke Aue). The purpose of the website is to share some stories, photos and other facts about the bridge and its Headwaters Tender House and Dam (Rechenhaus), which is now a restaurant, plus provide some updates on the project to save and restore the stone arch bridge, even after the new bridge is open to traffic next year. Basically, to find out how successful the facebook site is, the one question you should ask yourself is can you attract enough likes to make a statement? Even more likes than in a petition? Unlike going door-to-door collecting petitions from neighbors, friends, family members and teachers, a social network, sometimes combined with an online petition, will attract more people from all aspects of the world. And who knows? There may be enough people out there who just might be that savior with some particular power to save the bridge- a politician, preservationist, financial provider, etc.
And therefore, the committee needs your help. Go to the website by clicking on the link below:
Like the site and feel free to help out in saving this bridge. The goal of the page is to get 2000 likes before Easter, plus just as many more (at least) before the end of the year. The ultimate goal is to send a message to Aue, Dresden, Berlin and beyond that we care about this bridge and we want to keep the structure, no matter what costs will incur in doing that, and no matter what events we can put together to raise money to make it happen. An English-speaking online petition is in the works and will be added very soon.
So can you join in the page and like us to follow? We hope so. 🙂
In the next entry, we’ll have a look at the history of the Rechenhaus located next to the bridge. A very unique one indeed. 🙂 Stay tuned!
Nur Heimat gibts nichts- There is never just a homeland.
This is a comment that I remember during my first meeting with the committee to save the Bockau Arch Bridge. Located over the Zwickauer Mulde River six kilometers southwest of Aue in western Saxony, this 146-year old stone arch bridge is one of a few historic landmarks left in the town of Bockau, with a population of 2,100 inhabitants. Closed since the end of August 2017, I had the dubious priviledge of having to make a detour of enternity in order to arrive at our first meeting. This meant going up the hill along Bockau Creek (which the over 800-year old town was named after), then making a pair of sharp curves going right onto a narrow street which leads me out of town, but not onto the bridge that has been blocked off completely. I had to drive another 15 kilometers on a paved road full of sharp curves, potholes, cracks, ice, and wolves roaming about in the forest until I reached the Eibenstock Reservoir. There, I crossed the next bridge and backtracked on the main highway going on the opposite side of the river which led to the meeting place next to the closed bridge- The Rechenhaus Restaurant. There, I was greeted by the welcoming party, despite my 45-minute late arrival, with happiness and joy that an American was coming to help. 🙂
How did I end up here in the first place? And why do a documentary on an old stone arch bridge that no one really knows much about?
I’ve been a bridgehunter since I was five years old, having photographed and written about tens of thousands of bridges in 14 countries (including the US) and 14 states in the US (including my home state of Minnesota). In Germany, I’ve covered all but three of the 16 Bundesländer. This includes Saxony, the region I’ve been touring since 2016. I’ve been running the Chronicles since 2010 and have worked with groups on how to not only restore historic bridges but also how to make them attractive for tourists. This includes my involvement with historic bridge conventions as coordinator and speaker and my use of social media to garnish the attention of interested readers and other history enthusiasts. I’m also a teacher of English, which I’ve been doing since 2001, and since August 2017, I’ve been based full-time at the Saxony Police Academy in Schneeberg, located only three kilometers from the Bockau Bridge. It was also the same time period as my time in Saxony that I’ve done tours in the region, be it in cities like Dresden, Rochlitz, Leipzig, Glauchau, Zwickau, Aue/Schlema and Chemnitz, just to name a few, or along rivers like the Mulde and Elbe. And it was these bridgehunting tours that got the attention of the regional newspapers, namely the Free Press in Chemnitz, whose news reporters at the regional offices led me to this group saving this particular bridge.
And as for the bridge itself, it has more history than many locals know about. It was built in 1872 and is made of natural stone from the Ore Mountains. It took approximately a full year with lots of manpower to construct a multi-span stone arch bridge that connected Bockau with Albernnau and Zschorlau on the opposite side. At approximately 200 meters in length, the bridge is the longest in the western Ore Mountains and second longest along the Zwickau Mulde River. A local restaurant with the name Rechenhaus was the site of the dam and lock area and headwaters plant, which were built between 1556 and 1559. The first bridge- a wooden covered span- was built in 1559 spanning the river and canal complex. The flow of the water was ideal for transporting materials downstream, and workers constructed several canals in the mountain region less than 90 years later. Even the headwaters plant was once a mill before it eventually became the barracks for the 11th Panzer Division of the German Army during World War II, where they used the bridge to march into Czechoslovakia and Poland.
In an attempt to slow down the progress of advancing soldiers from the east, the 11th Panzer Division was ordered to detonate the bridge in April 1945. This is the same tank division of German army that had fought (and lost) at Stalingrad, Kursk and the Battle of the Bulge before retreating towards Germany. Yet a brave unknown soldier did the unthinkable and relocated the bombs to a temporary bridge in Fährbrücke (south of Zwickau) before blowing that bridge up. This allowed for the Soviets and Americans to easily cross the bridge with their tanks with ease while setting the people free in the process. The 11th Panzer surrendered in Passau on 2 May, 1945, six days before Germany capitulated. The same bridge was used again 23 years later, as soliders from the Warsaw Pact armies, consisiting of mainly Russians and East Germans crossed this bridge enroute to Prague to quash the Spring Movement. By that time, the headwaters house, which had been the barracks, was converted into the Rechenhaus Restaurant, which still serves customers today.
The bridge was renovated in 1988 when concrete decking was added and the arches were reinforced with steel bracing. The bridge has been listed by the German Preservation Commission because of its cultural significance. Yet despite all the history that is involved with this bridge, the historical monument has become a stranger to people in the region, having somewhat lost its face in the eyes of the locals. The mayors of Bockau and Zschorlau would like to see the bridge gone once its replacement opens. The same with the state of Saxony and the German government, both are championing a 6.4 million Euro project to replace the old bridge. And despite the petition going around for saving the bridge, a handful of politicians are interested in keeping the bridge for pedestrian use after the new structure is built- most of them with little affiliation with the region with the exception of the Green party.
Our first meeting at the Rechenhaus Restaurant, the historic building which once had the barracks but was originally the headwaters mill and dam complex. The restaurant has a very Erzgebirge taste to it, with a collection of incense men and wood-carved chandeliers. Opposite the entrance to the restaurant is a mahoghany-framed painting of the dam and mill as it was in the 16th century. Some in the committee would like to see it again as a way to slow the flow of the Zwickau Mulde. The river had flooded towns downstream on six different occasions since the bridge was built, with the worst of them having occurred in 1954, 2002 and 2013. Given its proximity to the bridge, many would like to see the restaurant as is. Yet its location during the construction period has become a painful inconvenience. Talking to the restaurant owner, he was deeply disturbed by the construction and stated that since the project started, he had lost up to 60% of his customers. Whether he can compensate once the new span opens remains unclear.
We were nine people minus the restaurant owner, each one with a new set of ideas on how to keep and possibly fix the bridge so that it can be used again. Yet as seen with the American historic bridges, money needs to be there in order for it to happen. Political connections needs to be there in order for it to happen. The same with the use of media and lastly support from the public. As with all historic bridges, the public is the first line of offence in pursuing the preservation of historic bridges. Whether it is with petitions, technical know-how or even planning events, they always have the ideas first before our elected officials. After that, we get the attention out there via social media. Through that and the events, the politicians come in with bills to approve measure to restore the bridge. Then the money comes in to pay for the costs.
For our bridge in Bockau, we’re already at step one, which is public interest. A petition with 1700 signatures was sent to Dresden to the state parliament. Another one is in the works which includes an English version for people to sign and establishing a website. That will be my job for right now- an important one! Speaking from experience with the Green Bridge in Des Moines, gathering interest in social networking will make waves and influence the thinking of the higher-ups of politics and business. Once that is established and we have the English version to submit to Dresden, the next plan is to meet with officials in Dresden to discuss the situation and ways to make the historic pedestrian crossing a reality. A big plus is the fact that the bridge and the mill area are historic lanbdmarks which make it impossible to tear down unless ordered by the federal government. How that works will come in a later article. Then with the connections and planning will be the events. This is where the tough part comes in. How to make this bridge attractive to tourists of all age? We’ve looked at drawing contests, concerts and the like. But what else could be do there? And how can we raise money for the project? This is independent on any funding available for rehabilitating the bridge, which is scarce at the moment, but the search continues.
It’s a battle that one can lose but it’s better to die trying than to sit and do nothing. The mentality has increased in the US over the past decade, yet Germany does have a lot of pride in its history and culture, too much of it to just sit and do nothing.
And with that, I must set to work. I have my expertise to use and share, while others are garnering some more support from locals and interested people in the project. Therefore, what are we waiting for? Get to work!
More on my involvement in the preservation project to come. Stay tuned! 🙂