The Rhine Bridges of Wesel (NRW)

The ruins of the approach spans of the Railroad Bridge in Wesel. Photo taken by Daniel Ullrich Threedots, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Located along the River Rhine northwest of Duisburg in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the town of Wesel, with a population of 60,200 inhabitants, is one of the towns in Germany that had been scarred by the history of conquest. It had been captured by the Spanish in 1590, then was the focal point of a tug-a-war between the Spaniards and the Dutch until the French captured it in 1672. The Prussians entered the picture in the 17th Century only to fight with the French over the city for the next century. After the Battle of Waterloo and the subsequent fall of Napoleon in 1813, Wesel became part of Prussia, which later became Germany with the unification of several small states and kingdoms and the ratification of the treaty in 1871. The town was a strategic point for weaponry during World War II, which made it an easy target for attack by the Allied Troops. After three different bombing attacks on February and March of 1945, the city was reduced to rubble; the population was reduced from 25,000 inhabitants in 1939 to only 1,900 by the end of World War II in May 1945.

Despite some of the architecture that withstood the test of time, much of Wesel has been reconstructed to its former glory since the end of World War II, with a newly rebuilt market square and cathedral, as well as Berlin Gate. Yet one can find some ruins of the city that had once been fortified but was one of the key industrial ports along the lower portion of the Rhine River.

This includes a pair of bridges that spanned the river. Both spans had been built before 1900, yet their fate landed in the hands of German dictator Adolf Hitler, who ordered every single bridge along the Rhine and its tributaries to be blown up after Wesel was sacked by bombs on February 19th. The railroad bridge that had existed north of Wesel was the last crossing over the Rhine before it was detonated. The bridge remains are still visible to see. The roadway bridge was rebuilt using a prefabricated truss design, and it lasted for over 60 years until it was replaced in 2009. The history of the two bridges and their fates will be summarized here. It includes video of the two bridges to give you an insight on what they had looked like prior to and after1945.

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Wesel Railroad Bridge:

On 1 MArch, 1874, the Wesel Railroad Bridge was opened to traffic. It was built by the Cologne Railroad Company and was part of the railroad line that had connected Paris with Hamburg, via Münster and Bremen. It is unknown who designed the bridge, but it was one of a few bridges that were put on display at the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873 and received accolades for their architectural work. It is known that the railroad bridge was the longest Rhine crossing in Germany and was last crossing standing when it was destroyed in March 1945. The bridge had a total length of almost 2km (1,950 meters) and featured four main spans, each of a curved Whipple through truss, six additional truss spans, plus 97 stone arch approach spans- 65 on the west side of the Rhine and 32 on the east side where Wesel is located. The truss beams had welded connections, which were typical for European truss bridges built during the last three decades of the 19th Century.

Source: N.N. / Johann Heinrich Schönscheidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: N.N. / Johann Heinrich Schönscheidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The fate of the railroad bridge coincited with the fate of the rail line that passed through Wesel. Despite its length, the bridge was imploded on March 10th, 1945 under the direction of General Alfred Schlemm. The troops and much of Wesel were under attack during the last month, including the bombings that started February 12th and ended on the 19th, destroying much of the city. As American, Canadian and British troops advanced towards the town under the operation “Varsity”, Schlemm and his troops set the bombs on the main spans and during the morning hours of the 10th, the bridge was detonated. Hours later, the Allied Troops took the town without much resistance with only 80+ casualties. The Wesel Railroad Bridge outlived the Ludendorff in Remagen (southeast of Bonn) by three days.

Plans to rebuild the railroad was abandoned and the Hamburg-Paris rail line was later rerouted through Duisburg and later Düsseldorf. The truss bridge piers were later removed in 1968 to allow for ships along the Rhine to pass. What is left of the old railroad bridge are the approach spans, which you can see in the videos and picture below. The railroad bridge has since been considered a historic landmark because of its design and association with German industrial history.

Source: ᛗᚨᚱᚲᚢᛊ ᚨᛒᚱᚨᛗ, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Wesel Highway Bridge:

Unlike the railroad bridge spanning the Rhine, the highway bridge was rebuilt towards the end of World War II. Since 1945, the bridge has been rebuilt twice. The Wesel Highway Bridge was first built in 1917 and featured a continuous cantilever through truss bridge with Warren truss design. Like the railroad bridge, the highway bridge was detonated by the fleeing Nazi soldiers in an attempt to slow the advencement of Allied troops. Little did they realize, they found a creative way to re-erect a crossing, using the technology that was based on an invention in Great Britain: The Bailey Truss.

As soon as the troops captured Wesel, they constructed a temporary bridge, made of pontoons, to enable the passage of troops and equipment and to speed up the process of ending the war, which was successful with the capitulation of Germany on May 7, 1945. With the war over, came the reconstruction of Germany and that included important crossings like this one. In October 1945, English troops constructed a multiple-span Bailey Truss bridge over the Rhine, featuring two bridges, each carrying one lane of traffic and with a speed limit of 25 km/h (15 mph). The Montgomery Bridge, named after Bernard Law Montgomery, who led troops through North Africa, Italy and the Normandy, was the second longest Bailey crossing behind a crossing at Rees. Nicknamed the Gummibrücke, this bridge was in service until a newer, more stable crossing could be put into place.

As you can see in the video here, the bridge in the foreground was the successor to the Bailey Truss . It was a continuous through truss span using the simple Warren design with riveted connections. It was built in 1953 by a consortium of three companies and served traffic until 2009. Because of its narrowness, it was considered structurally obsolete, resulting in the construction of the new, but present structure, as you can see in the background.

The present structure took four years to build but in the end, the bridge was opened to traffic on 30 November, 2009 and right after that, the truss bridge was dismantled. Some parts can still be seen near the present day structure. The bridge features a bottle-shaped A-frame tower with stayed cables. At 772 meters in length, it’s 200 meters longer than the truss bridge. Thanks to a width of 27.5 meters, the bridge can carry four lanes of traffic along the Highway 58.

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Fazit:

The bridges of Wesel once provided a main artery over the Rhine and services for the residents. Because of the war, much of the city was destroyed and relicts from the war can be seen today, especially with the railroad bridge that once was part of Wesel. Yet the destruction of both bridges showed that through the use of technology, combined with the resiliency of locals to have a crossing open, that newer bridges can be built that are sturdier and can carry more than their predecessors. They helped with the rebuilding efforts of Wesel and to this day, made the town a stronger and more intact community than during the war. Still the scars will forever remain on the landscape and they must not be forgotten when talking about war in the classroom and its impact on society. World War II presents an example of a war that must never happen again, and that speaking from experience of those who witnessed it first hand and afterwards…..

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 148: The Lima Bridge in Iowa

LIMA, IOWA- If there is one county that has a wide selection of through truss bridges that have been left in their places with concrete bridges serving as functional crossings- and observation points for passers-by, it is Fayette County, in northeastern Iowa. At least 10 unique crossings can be found in the county, each with its unique history behind its bridge builder, let alone the local history associated with it. Some are well documented, while others are not but their value is worth researching.

The Lima Bridge is one of those that belongs to the latter. The bridge spans Volga River on Heron Road at the state recreational area between the villages of Albany and Wadena. The structure features a pin-connected, seven-panel, Pratt through truss span with M-frame portal bracings and V-laced struts supported by heel bracings. The bridge is clearly visible from the concrete bridge which has been in service since 1979, yet when accessing the bridge, one has to be aware of brushes and other vegetation. In fact given the vegetational overgrowth on the bridge during my visit in 2011, the bridge’s structural integrity is stable and there’s no doubt the relict will remain there for years to come.

There is little history about this bridge in general, except to say that if we count the current concrete structure, this is the fourth crossing at this location. According to history, the first bridge was a bowstring arch span, built in 1865, though there was no mentioning of the builder of the bridge. Judging by the outriggers and the H-beams, this bridge may have been built by the King Bridge Company, as it had been established in 1858 by Zenas King, seven years before the first crossing was built.

Source: http://www.angelfire.com/ia/z/limastore.htm !: For the following two pictures

The crossing was subsequentially washed away by floodwaters in 1875 and was replaced with another crossing. This is one where the debate comes in. Sources have pinned the current through truss span as its replacement crossings. However, its portal bracings show that the truss span was built much later, between 1890 and 1910. During the 1870s and 80s, portal bracings were characterized by its Town Lattice features, supported with ornamental shapes that were sometimes curvy. Beginning in the 1890s the portal bracings based on alphabets were introduced, which featured frames resembling the letters A, M, V, W, VW, MA, and X. Howe lattice portals that feature rhombus shapes were also introduced at the same time and they became common for use through the first three decades of the 20th Century. Today’s letter-style portal bracings are predominantly A-frame but M-frames and Howe lattice are also commonly used as well.

This leads us to the following questions to be settled regarding this bridge:

  1. Was the bowstring arch bridge built as the first or second crossing?
  2. If it was the second crossing, what did the original crossing look like?
  3. If it was the original crossing, what did the second crossing look like, when was it built and by whom?
  4. When was the through truss truss bridge built? In the second black and white picture there was a builder’s plaque which has since disappeared.

In theory, there were four crossings that have served this location since 1865. The only argument that would justify three crossings built would be if repairs were made to the through truss span, such as replacing the portal bracings. This was practiced with some of the through truss spans during the introduction of the letter-based portal bracings in 1890 and two examples can be found in Washington County, at Bunker Mill near Kalona and Hickory Avenue Bridge over the English River, the latter has since been abandoned in place.

Another theory was that a flood in 1947 knocked the bridge off its abutments but was later put back into place and continued to serve traffic until 1979 but that would mean finding out how the bridge was washed away and how this truss structure came about.

We do know that the Lima Bridge is one of three relicts that is left from the town of Lima. It was founded by the Light (Erastus and Harvey) Brothers in 1849, when they constructed a saw mill along the river. In addition to over a dozen houses, a church, lumber yard and general store were later added, though the general store itself survived through the 1960s when it was torn down as part of the conservation project. A railroad line also went past Lima but had only provided service until 1938. The church on Heron Road north of the bridge and an adjacent cemetary on Fox Road are the other two structures left of the community that once had over 200 people during its heyday. More information on Lima’s history can be found in the links at the end of this article. Ironically, Lima is located just three bird miles east of another village, Albany, which also boasts a through truss bridge spanning the same river. The town is now a campground area, while the bridge, which is on Hill Road is only open to pedestrians.

While there is a lot written on Lima’s history, the history of the bridge itself has many questions that have yet to be answered. We know that the through truss span still exists and serves as part of the town’s history. We know that its predecessor was a bowstring arch bridge. Yet what we don’t know at all is how many crossings have existed on Heron Road since its first one in 1865?

And for that, it’s now your turn to discuss this.

You can find more about the bridge by clicking here. This includes its predecessor (here). For more on the history of Lima, Iowa, click here.

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Happy Birthday to Mouse TV (Sendung mit der Maus) in Germany

Statue of the Orange Mouse- The Star of the Show that is 50 years old. Source: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

COLOGNE, GERMANY- March 7, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the German-speaking children’s show „Die Sendung mit der Maus“ (in English: Mouse TV), which is officially presented as „Lach- und Sachgeschichte“ (in English: Stories for Laughing and Learning). On this day in 1971, the first episode of the Mouse was introduced on public TV through the West-German channel WDR, located in the city of Cologne.

Featuring the Orange Mouse, the TV show runs along the same pattern as our American counterpart, Sesame Street, which debuted two years earlier. Unlike the Muppet characters, like Big Bird, Kermit, Elmo, the Count and the Cookie Monster, who take up most oft he show’s time through conversation and lessons, the Mouse features only three characters- the Mouse himself, the Blue Elephant and the Yellow Duck, yet the show features various cartoon clips from other shows but half the time is spent showing the viewers how things are built and how certain devices work- in live time. Like in Sesame Street, the Mouse is televised in many languages and can be seen even on American TV.

The Mouse has garnered dozens of awards, some of which have gone to two of the moderators who have been with the mouse for as long as the show: Armin Maiwald and Christoph Bienmann. While we’re talking about how things are being built in live time, I stumbled across some films that featured the bridge, while I was finding some older series to be presented in another commentary in my other column, the Flensburg Files. Some were quite funny and even if they are over 30 years old, some people will get a laugh out of them. Yet there are some that educational and quite useful for everyone to watch. We’re going to show the Chronicles‘ greatest bridge hits that were presented by the Mouse over the years. While the target language is German, the videos presented here speak more volumes than what is spoken in any language. 🙂

In the first video shown above, there are the many attempts of Christoph trying to cross the river All of the attempts were worth the laughs. Yet given the fact he was an exchange student in the United States prior to joining the Mouse in 1972, he added some American flair to the film, which was released in 1982.

The next bridge video was the first to show the actual bridge building process. This two-part series, released in 1994 takes you through a step-by-step process from planning to the actual building of the viaduct that now spans a road, river and railroad tracks.

Then there’s the bridge replacement aspect with a focus on replacing the motorway bridge in Leverkusen. Started in 2014, the series is ongoing and there will be much more to come as the project progresses, for the bridge replacement is expected to take a decade to complete.

And lastly, we have the newest among the bunch, the slide-in replacement of a railroad bridge near Cologne and the process that took a full weekend to complete, yet the filming was enough for one episode.

Especially in the past decade, the videos on building bridges have become more popular for people of all ages for much of the infrastructure is getting older and becoming unable to handle today’s traffic in terms of volume and weight. Nevertheless, they are interesting to watch as each structure is inspected and when it is concluded that replacement is inevitable, the planning, design and construction is carried out.

Even if one is not interested in bridges, the Mouse presents virtually every aspect of manufacturing or making the basics for every day life with the purpose of making it entertaining but most importantly, educational.  I started watching the Mouse when my daughter was born in 2008 and since then, it has become a cornerstone to our Sunday ritual: Mouse TV with pancakes for breakfast, all on the sofa in the living room, something that many of us in Germany enjoy doing on a Sunday morning when the show is televised on TV, either on ARD or KIKA.

And therefore, the bridge community and this columnist of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Mouse a happy golden birthday and many thanks to Armin, Christoph and crew many thanks for making the show a „bridge building“ experience for all ages, especially those who wish to become engineers in the future.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag/ Happy Birthday!

Endangered TRUSS: The Jefferson Highway Bridge at Okay, Oklahoma

All photos courtesy of Mark W. Brown

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OKAY, OKLAHOMA- There are many historic structures that are endangered because of the need to have a concrete bridge to move traffic from point A to point B. There are some that have been sitting abandoned- many of which for too long and need the attention of the public to save it from its ultimate doom. When I think of the first endangered TRUSS candidate, the first bridge that comes to mind is this one: The Okay Truss Bridge. The bridge spans the old channel of the Verdigris River to the west of the town of Okay in Wagoner County. The structure was first discovered a decade ago and even though it has been abandoned for several decades, records have indicated that the structure was once part of the Jefferson Highway, the second oldest intercontinental highway that was built in 1915 and went from Winnepeg, Canada to New Orleans, cutting through parts of Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma in the process.

There is not much information on the bridge’s history except to say that given the materials needed to build the structure, let alone the features, the bridge must have been built between 1910 and 1915, as part of the project to extend the Jefferson Highway through the small community. The bridge features two Parker through truss main spans. Each span features a 3-rhombus Howe Lattice portal bracings with angled heels, latticed struts and V-laced vertical beams. There is also a Pratt pony truss span on each outer end of the bridge. The connections are pinned and the material: steel for the trusses and wood for the decking.

Westernmost pony truss approach span

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The bridge was later bypassed by another structure to the south, as part of the project to rechannel the Verdigris and the truss span has been sitting abandoned and in disarray ever since. The easternmost pony truss span collapsed many years ago and it would take a lot of climbing just to get onto the bridge itself.

The gravest problem though lies with the through truss spans because of a failing pier. It is unknown when and how this occurred, but the center pier is crumbling, causing the end post of the western through truss span to slip.

While the damage may be minimal when looking at it from a bird’s eye view, when on the bridge, it is far worse than it seems, as the crumbling pier, combined with the sagging of the endpost, is causing the western truss span to lean and twist on its side.

The twisted metal brought a reminder of one bridge that fell victim to flooding in 1990, which was the Rockport Bridge in Arkansas. Prior to its downfall, flooding in 1987 caused severe damage to the center piers causing the center span to tilt and twist. This is exactly what is happening to the Okay Truss Bridge, and if nothing is done with the truss span, the next flooding may be the bridge’s last.

What can be done to save the truss bridge? The easiest is to take the truss spans off the piers and dismantle them for storage. As it happened with the Bridgeport Bridge in Michigan, the twisted western Parker truss span could be straightened through welding, whereas the trusses in general would need to be sandblasted and repainted. The piers would need to be replaced and because the easternmost pony span is considered a total loss, a replacement span could take its place if one reerects the restored truss span and converts the area on the east end and the island between the old and new channels of the Verdigris into a park area. As this bridge is part of the original Jefferson Highway, research is needed on the structure’s history to nominate it to the National Register.

Oklahoma has seen a big drop in the number of truss bridges in the last two decades, yet efforts are being taken to save what is left of the bridges. There is little doubt that the Okay Truss Bridge can be saved if action is taken to salvage the trusses and rebuild the entire structure, while erecting a park to honor its history. It takes the will of not only the locals but also members of the Jefferson Highway Association to make it happen. Yet time is running out and we’re fighting windmills regarding even saving the truss structure before the next floodwaters. If there is a tiny sense of hope, removing and storing the trusses should be top priority. Afterwards, time and finances could be allotted to restore and rebuild the bridge to its former glory.

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Author’s Note: A big thanks to Mark W. Brown for allowing me to use his pictures for this article.

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Rare Deck Truss Bridge in Quebec Incinerated

CHEMIN HAMEL/ SHERBROOKE/ QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC, CANADA-

A rare gem of a historic bridge is no more, and police suspect faul play. The Pont Davy was a wooden deck truss bridge, whose design resembles a truss bridge built almost two centuries ago but it was 70 years old when it met its demise. The bridge was a two-span Town Lattice deck truss bridge, with a total length of 200 meters. Built in 1951, the bridge carried a local road until its abandonment a couple decades ago. It was first discovered by pontists 10 years ago and the bridge has become a popular tourist attraction. Its red Town lattice trusswork is one of the youngest that was built, and its natural surroundings made it a popular stop for hikers and photographers alike. Work had been progressing on finding out its history prior to its destruction.

Police and criminal investigators are looking into the cause of the fire, which occurred at the bridge on 23 September, causing the entire structure to collapse. No one was injured in the disaster. Since then, authorities have suspected arson and are looking for person(s) responsible for the fire. Information and leads should be reported to the local authorities immediately.

More information and photos of the bridge can be found via link here:

The Pont Davy was one of over a dozen covered bridges that are remaining in Quebec. A tour guide on the bridges can be found here:

It’s also in the Tour Guide page of the Chronicles. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the arson at the bridge.

Abandoned Bridge in an Abandoned Village in Sudetenland

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Photo by Lara Lary

Wartime Bridge Series

Our next wartime bridge story takes us across the border into the Czechia- specifically, between the Bavarian town of Rehau (south of Hof) and the Czech town of Asch, near Eger (CZ: Cheb). At the westernmost point in Czechia was the village of Újezd (Krásná).  It was first mentioned in the 12th Century and is in the area oft he Rehau Forest in the valley of Mähringsbach Creek near the border with Bavaria. In fact, it was located six kilometers east of Rehau. It belonged to what was once called the Sudetenlands. At the time of the Munich Accords of 1938, the Sudetenlands were handed over to Germany and with that, the village itself. At the time of the annexation, the village had 43 houses and just under 300 inhabitants. For 300 years up until that time, an average of 300+ people had lived there and it had mostly houses, but also a church and a stockyards.  After World War II ended in 1945, Újezd (Krásná), as well as the rest of the Sudetenlands were handed back to what was then Czechoslovakia. Germans who had lived there were forced from their homes and expelled back into Germany. As for Újezd (Krásná), it was emptied by 1950, and by 1953, all the villages along the Czech- German border were razed. This was one of them.

Only bits and pieces of Újezd (Krásná) exist to this day, including a memorial for the fallen soldiers, a cemetary and this bridge, a box culvert carrying a roadway that once went through Újezd (Krásná).  It appears to have been dated back to the 18th or 19th Century. Fellow bridgehunter and photographer Lara Lary found this on one of the tours and included some history behind this structure, which is being added to this Wartime series. Like the rest of Újezd (Krásná), it looks quiet and abandoned, but one can hike through the remains just after crossing the bridge at the Bavarian-Czech border.

More on Újezd (Krásná) can be found here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9Ajezd_(Kr%C3%A1sn%C3%A1)

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 132: The Motorway Bridge to Nowhere

Typical Reichsautobahn in the 1930s in Germany. Source: German Federal Archives (wiki)

 

 

 

The 130th Mystery Bridge takes us to the south of Germany to one of what Germans would call a “Soda-Brücke”. These are bridges that were built as part of the plan to construct a major road or highway only to have the project be abandoned with these structures considered in English to be “The Bridge to Nowhere.”  The State of Bavaria has dozens of Soda Bridges that exist as they were part of Adolf Hitler’s grand project to build and expand the German Autobahn (Motorway) system to be used for the war efforts. Known as the Reichsautobahn, most of the total original length of 3900 kilometers are being used today, which include the three most traveled Motorways: the A4 Cologne-Dresden-Görlitz, A9 Berlin-Nuremberg-Munich and the A7 Flensburg-Hamburg-Ulm-Füssen (Bavaria). At almost 1000 kilometers, the A 7 remains to be the longest in Germany.

This Soda Bridge is located along what was supposed to be the Reichsautobahn nr. 87.  This stretch of highway was constructed between 1938 and 1940, the same time as this bridge was built. This is located near Straubing in southeastern Bavaria and when it was built, it has a total span of 40 meters and a length of about 80 meters. Like most Autobahn-Bridges built during the Third Reich, the span was made of concrete, whereas the abutments and wingwalls were built using brick. Like with the rest of the stretch of Autobahn, it was never completed as the war halted the completion of the route and this bridge became expendable.  As a result, you see the bridge like it is in this film clip:

 

 

This was found by chance, which makes researching more fun to do.  🙂

After the war, talks of finishing the motorway were in motion until the 1960s when the plan was abandoned for good. Why?  Much of the stretch going towards the River Danube had an average grade of 5-6%, making it potentially dangerous for trucks to travel on the stretch.  Henceforth, much of this stretch was either abandoned or converted into local highway use- this bridge was one that belonged to the former. The motorway was finished but relocated 6-8 kilometers away from the original route and was renamed Motorway 3, which is being used today, connecting Deggendorf with Cologne via Würzburg and Frankfurt.  Another Motorway A 87 was in the planning but for the Stuttgart area. That plan was never realized.

Yet this still does not solve the mystery of how many other Soda Bridges that existed along the original Reichsautobahn 87, let alone how the route was followed exactly, and lastly, who was behind the design? This is where we open the page for discussion. Feel free to comment here or in the Chronicles’ facebook page or group page German History and Nostalgia.

 

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Best Bridge Cup

bridge cup

In connection with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ 10th anniversary special, we’re starting a new bridge campaign. This time what we are looking for are people who have bridge cups like the one in the picture above.  It can be a graphic design but it can also feature a photo taken of your bridge. In either case, we want to honor our historic and unique bridges with a good cup of coffee.

There are two ways to post your photo with your favorite coffee cup:

  1. You can add them in the comment page below
  2. You can add them in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ facebook page
  3. You can also send your photo to the Chronicles at this mailing address and it will be added as well.

In case you are wondering, this is my favorite coffee cup. It’s the one of the Fehmarn Bridge in Germany, which was recently saved from demolition (an article to come later) with a beach chair (Strandkorb) and sand dune beaches in the foreground. I’ve had this cup since 2014 and it has been a source of good luck and inspiration- something we need in these times.

So what’s your favorite bridge cup? 😉

 

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Wartime Bridge Story: Lange Brücke in Forst (Lausitz)

Source: A. Savin vis wikiCommons. Photo taken in 2016

Wartime Bridge Series

Film clip

Our next Wartime Bridge takes us a bit further south in the German state of Brandenburg but this time, we continue along the Neisse River until we reach the city of Forst. With a population of 18,000 inhabitants, the city is located east of Cottbus. Prior to the Fall of the Wall, Forst was well known for its textile industry, for a large factory was located there. Yet since its closure, the city has been on the decline, falling from 31,000 inhabitants in 1945 to under 20,000 by 2011. Despite its steady decline, the city is dependent on tourism as there are several historic artefacts one can see either by bike or by car, including the historic water tower, the factory, the church and historic city center…..

…..and its bridges that span the River Neisse.

There are four bridges that connect Forst with its neighbor to the east, Zaseki on the Polish side. The village of 250 inhabitants used to be a suburb of Forst when Germany had its state of Schlesia. In fact the town was modernized beginning in 1897 to accommodate more people as many of them found jobs in the textile factory and other industrial sites nearby. Three bridges connected Forst with its former neighbor prior to 1945. Today only one of them, a six-span truss span is still in use, providing rail service to Lodz from Cottbus.

And this is where we look at the other two bridge ruins- one that used to serve vehicular traffic and one that used to serve pedestrian traffic. The pedestrian crossing had been in use from the 1920s until the end of World War II and  featured multiple spans of concrete, using Luten arches.  The other one is known as the Lange Brücke.

The Lange Brücke was a six-span concrete arch bridge with closed spandrels. The structure was built in 1921 and had a total length of 170 meters. The width was about 14 meters. It was an ornamental structure where it was decorated with fancy light posts and rail posts at the entrance to as well as on the bridge. The bridge was a predecessor to a wooden crossing, which featured multiple spans of kingpost pony trusses. It had been built in 1863, had a total length of 101 meters and was only 5.75 meters wide. In 1889, it was widened by another 3 meters. Still, because of the increase in traffic due to the expansion of Forst, the city council agreed to build a new span, which took two years to complete.

Neither of the bridges survived as well as much of the city of Forst in 1945. In the middle of February of that year, the Soviet troops had lined up on the Polish side of the River Neisse at the entry to the Lange Brücke. While it is unknown whether the Nazis had blown the structure up prior to that, it was known that Forst became under seige with bombs and bullets devastating much of the city. Half the population had perished by the time the town surrendered on 18 April, 1945; 85% of the city was in ruins.

A video showing the ruins of the Lange Brücke can be seen here. The river span was the only one imploded, while the outer spans have remained in tact. Interestingly enough, many of the ornamental relicts belonging to the bridge are still standing today.

 

 

At the present time, talks are underway to rebuild the Lange Brücke and its pedestrian counterpart in an attempt to reconnect Forst with Zasieki. The city council had originally planned to add at least two bridges to the Neisse before 2020. At present the Northern Bypass Bridge, which carries Highway 157 is the only vehicular crossing that connects Forst with Poland. The concrete structure was built only a few years ago. The railroad bridge to the south of Forst is the other crossing. It’s a contrast to the situation in Eisenhüttenstadt (see article), but there’s a ways to go. Because of the interest in a central connection via Lange Brücke, it is very likely that a new span will be built sometime in the near future, whether it is reconstructing the Lange Brücke to its original glory or building on on a new alignment and leaving the old one as a monument. The question is with not only the planning but also the finances, especially during these difficult times with the Corona Virus. But nevertheless, a new bridge will happen because of the will of the people to make it happen.

 

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As a treat, I have this video showing the ariel view of three of the four crossings connecting Forst and Zasieki. Check out the gorgeous views of the bridges from up above and up close.

 

Sources:

History of Forst: https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/bitstream/handle/18452/7622/knpv.PDF

History of the Bridge: https://www.lr-online.de/lausitz/forst/die-alte-_lange-bruecke_-36431060.html

 

BHC 10 years

Oderbrücke at Fürstenberg at the German-Polish Border

Remains of the Bridge. Source: Lechita / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Wartime Bridge Series

Our next bridge in the series keeps us in Poland but we go towards the Oder-Neisse border to Germany. Specifically, to this bridge at Fürstenberg- or what’s left of it.  This bridge spannned the River Oder at the Polish-German border near the village of Fürstenberg in the German state of Brandenburg.  The River Oder is one of the widest and most navigatable rivers in Poland for 80% of its 742 kilometers can be travelled by boat as it flows through the western part of the country. Its width of over 300 meters in areas is largely due to it confluencing with rivers, mostly from the German side as well as it flowing through a large lagoon in the northwestern part of the country before it empties into the Bay of Pommerania at Swinemünde.  Its width made it difficult to build many bridges along the river.  And this leads us to the bridge remains.

The bridge was built by August Klönne in 1914 and was the only crossing over the River Oder in Fürstenberg prior to 1945. The 600 meter bridge featured four concrete closed spandrel arch approach spans on the Polish side and a steel through arch span with Pratt truss upper chords as its main span over the river- half the length of the entire structure. The through arch span is signature of the bridges that were built by Klönne and many of these spans still exist today in Germany, including the famous Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne.  A diagram depicting the bridge at Fürstenberg can be seen below:

fürstenberg br
Source: structurae.net

This takes us to the event where the crossing was brought down.  After a failed attempt to bring down the Jastrowie Bridge (see the article here), German soldiers fled towards the river and used it as its stopping point for advancing Soviet armies that were closing in on Berlin at an alarming rate. To buy them some time and regroup for their possibly last stand against the Soviets, Hitler ordered all the bridges along the Oder and Neisse Rivers to be blown up. One day after the Jastrowie Bridge partially collapsed, the Fürstenberg Bridge was detonated. While the steel arch span was brought down, the arch spans remained in place. Unfortunately, one person was killed in the explosion, a Justus Jürgensen, who was later given the Ritterkreuz post humously on 5 March. Still the honor would not stop the Soviets and Polish troops from occupying the town.  The bridge remains on the Polish side can be seen through a video below:

What became of Fürstenberg at the end of World War II was a totally different story.  The bridge was never rebuilt and all that remains are the arch spans on the Polish side.  Poland was freed and the border along the Oder and Neisse was reestablished. As many as 8 million Germans living east of the border were subsequentially expelled to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), which was under Soviet control until a government was established in East Berlin in 1949. The community of Fürstenberg that had existed since the 13th century folded into a newly created Communist city that became known as Stalinstadt, named after the Soviet dictator and one of the victors of the war, Josef Stalin.  The city had 15,000 inhabitants when it was established in 1951 but thanks to the industries and Communist-style apartments that were built there, the population had reached an all-time high of 53,500 people by 1988, including many displaced Germans from the Polish side.  It was renamed Eisenhüttenstadt in 1990 and at present, only 23,000 people live there. It remains the only city in Germany that has no bridge along a major river. Those wishing to cross into Poland have to through Frankfurt (Oder) or Guben; in each direction at least 30 kilometers.

While Fürstenberg became Eisenhüttenstadt and still has a predominantly Communist cityscape but without a bridge over the River Oder, much of the historic old town still remains in tact, including a large church and a former city hall. It is still considered by many to be a border town because of the Oder-Neisse boundary and its location on the river. Still there is hope that after 75 years, planners will come through with a crossing over the Oder that will eventually bring the two countries together and with that, the villages on the Poland side and Fürstenberg on the western side. Whether this will happen depends not just on the finances but also the will of the people to make it happen.

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