Greetings to my bridgehunters and followers of the Chronicles,
For those travelling to Germany in the near future and in particular, Saxony, here’s a guide on what you need to know about the state which is comparable to California in terms of its inventions and innovations. More unique are the bridges that are located there. You will find them in the third sectio of the quiz. Without further ado, have a look at the Guessing Quiz on Saxony, courtesy of the sister column, The Flensburg Files. 🙂 Good luck! 😀
A few days ago, I took advantage of nice weather here in Germany and embarked on a what I’ve touted as an Ironman bike tour through western Saxony. Starting at Hohenstein-Ernstthal, the tour lasted seven hours, going to Glauchau, then along the Mulde to Rochlitz, encountering steep hills with grades of up to 20% and heights of up to 400 meters. Then it was to Geithain before boarding the train for Glauchau before having biked the last seven kilometers to neighboring Meerane. All in all, 85 kilometers by bike and every bridge visited was worth every drop of sweat.
While I will mention more about the tour in a later article, I have a found a net of bridges worth posting. This is located in Penig, about 23 kilometers northeast of Glauchau along the Mulde. We have two major highways crossing over each other while crossing the Mulde, yet there are more crossings in this area than those two. Before giving the way the answer, here’s my guessing quiz question for you:
Look carefully in the picture. How many bridges at this site can you identify and can you find out how old they are? This includes the tunnel.
For the number, here are the options:
a. 2 b. 3 c. 4 d. 5 e. 6 f. 7
A map with the location of the bridges is enclosed here:
The answers will be provided when the article about bridge touring along rivers will be posted in a few weeks. This will include the tour of the Mulde plus a couple river examples. Stay tuned! 🙂
During the summer of 1998, I embarked on a bridgehunting tour along six rivers in northern Iowa, among them the Des Moines River. Before splitting into the East and West Forks, the river literally cut the state and its capital Des Moines into two up until Frank Gotch Park south of Humboldt. Then before entering Minnesota, the East branch snakes its way through Humboldt, Kossuth and Emmet Counties, whereas the West Fork stays in Humboldt County, nicking a corner of Pocahontas before halving Emmet County and its county seat Estherville. It was along the West Branch I saw the bridge in the photo above: the Murray Bridge. Located two river miles southeast of Bradgate, this Pratt through truss bridge with pinned connections had a very unique feature on its portal bracing: star-shaped heel bracings welded right through. That, plus the plaque indicating its builder’s date of 1905 all belonged to a local Iowa bridge builder, A.H. Austin. Little did I realize at that time was that although Mr. Austin may have been a local bridge builder, he left a legacy in northern Iowa that is still talked about to this day. And while three bridges were officially credited to his name in a state-wide survey conducted by the late James E. Hippen in the early 1990s, he built more than any of the historians knew about. And henceforth, we will look at his legacy and the bridges that he built up until now, plus the ones that still exist today.
Born Alva Hiram Austin in Colchester, Vermont on 7 September, 1848, he grew to manhood, having graduated at the University of Vermont. After many of his friends decided to heed to the advice of Horace Greeley, the young man of 27 years emigrated west to Webster City in 1875. After having worked for the county auditor and a local church, Alva became interested in bridge building, and in 1877, did an apprenticeship for a bridge builder in Cedar Falls, who was building bridges in Hamilton County, where Webster City is located. Shortly afterwards, he became a contractor, having established his bridge building business in Webster City at 737 Bank Street. For over 40 years, Mr. Austin built dozens of bridges in Hamilton County, as well as surrounding counties, although records have indicated him constructing bridges mainly in Humboldt and Kossuth Counties. It is possible that he built bridges in other counties but more research is needed to confirm these claims. Mr. Austin was known for his athleticism as a civil engineer, having walked 10 miles between his workplace and the bridge building site daily, and thus having known every village and field in the county and its surrounding neighbors.
Mr. Austin was also a committed civic leader, having served as a mayor of Webster City from 1898-1900 as well as the head of the school board from 1899 to 1901, having successfully spearheaded efforts in building the Webster City High School. He later worked as a city inspector, having overseen the construction of the public swimming pool to ensure the design suited the builder’s expectations.
When Alva died on 8 July, 1944 at the age of 96 years, he was survived by his three children, Roy, Jesse and Fred- all of whom had attended college at Iowa State University, yet his daughter Jesse became professor of economics at Cornell University in New York. Especially in his later years before his death, she became his caretaker. Alva’s wife, Chloe Rachel (née: Scullin) died in 1896 after having been married to Alva for 18 years. Another daughter, Grace, had preceded in death 18 years before his ultimate passing.
As far as bridges are concerned, at least 20+ bridges had been built by Austin in five counties, including Hamilton County, yet Kossuth County seemed to have been his primary customer for at least six bridges were built during his career as a bridge builder. One of them was later relocated to Emmet County. Three were reportedly built in Humboldt County, including the now extant Lewis Street Bridge in Humboldt and the aforementioned Murray Bridge near Bradgate. It is still unknown if and where Austin has built other bridges. However, here is the databank of the bridges that he had built. Information on its dimensions and other photos are available by clicking on the name of the bridge, which will take you to the bridge:
Murray Bridge- This 1905 bridge spans the West Fork Des Moines River southeast of Bradgate, in Humboldt County. The bridge is still open to traffic and considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s still open to traffic but plans for possible reuse for bikes and pedestrians are being considered.
Armstrong Gravel Pit Bridge- This bridge spans the East Fork of the Des Moines River north of Armstrong in Emmet County. It can be seen from 160th Street but is privately owned. The bridge was built in 1899 by Austin, but its original location was in Kossuth County. Emmet County’s engineer bought the bridge in 1940 for relocation to the gravel pit, where it served traffic until its closure in the 1970s. The bridge then sat abandoned for three decades until a new owner restored it for private use. The markings on the portals are typical of Austin’s design which could be seen with most of the structures built.
Albright Bridge- Spanning the Boone River at Inkpaduta Avenue south of Webster City, this 1907 bridge represents the common form of the Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and is one of the latest examples of Austin’s work. At 156 feet, this bridge is still one of the longest of its kind in Iowa.
Second Street Bridge- Spanning the Boone River in Webster City, this two-span Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings was one of the first bridges built by Austin in 1878-9. It served US Hwy. 20 when it was designated in 1926. Sadly, a truck crashed into the bridge in 1949 and it was subsequentially replaced in 1950.
Blackford Bridge- Spanning the East Fork Des Moines River west of Algona, this bridge was one of the earliest structures built by Austin. It was one of the first with its star-formed heel bracings but one of the last using the Town Lattice portal bracing. The bridge was replaced in 1942 for unknown reasons except that the steel was probably reused for the war efforts.
Lewis Street Bridge- Located in Humboldt, this two-span Pratt through truss with Town Lattice portal and heel bracings used to carry this thoroughfare until the late 1960s, when it was bypassed by the Hwy. 169 bridge to the west. The bridge closed to traffic in 1970, yet attempts were made to convert it to first pedestrian then afterwards a pipeline crossing. Heeding to the demands of the county engineer to have the structure removed with haste, the bridge was removed in 1981. Today, only the center pier and the abutments can be seen.
Riverdale Bridge- Located over the East Fork Des Moines River at 150th Street, south of Algona and west of Hwy. 169, the Riverdale Bridge was a late example of a bridge built by A.H. Austin. He was awarded a contract to build the bridge in October, having completed it in 1900. The 142-foot Pratt through truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings functioned in place until its replacement in 1991.
Bancroft Bridge- Spanning the East Branch Des Moines River west of Bancroft, this Pratt through truss bridge is similar to the bridge at Armstrong in Emmet County. It was built in 1899 yet it was replaced before 1990, when the statewide Iowa historic bridge survey was carried out.
(Blue highlighted bridges denotes link to bridgehunter.com website; yellow denotes no info outside this page to date)
According to the surveys carried out by Hippen and Clayton Fraser, several other bridges may have been credited to Austin’s name, yet there has not been any full confirmation. Therefore, there is a plea from you. Do you know of other bridges that Austin built? If so, when was it built, where was it located and most importantly, what did it look like prior to its replacement?
All of these bridges will be added to this page on A.H. Austin in the Chronicles’ Bridge Directory. Stories are also welcomed.
Special thanks to Martin Nass of Webster City for the information on A.H. Austin and Doug Miller at the Kossuth County Highway Department for the photos and information on the bridges in the county.
New Photo Apps and other changes to make the online column more attractive.
JENA, GERMANY- Two weeks after introducing the Bridge Builder’s page for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ wordpress page, the column has expanded to include several apps with the purpose to better address the audience. Some of the new features the Chronicles has available for you include the following:
Pin-interest: As part of the plan to replace the flickr photo app, the Pin-interest app will features photos and some information on the bridges the author has visited, linking it back to either this page or the wordpress version. It had been introduced in 2015 but had been seldomly used up until most recently. Having been relaunched, the app will continue its function as before, but will provide the most basic facts for readers to look at. Most of these bridges pinned here will be the ones in the United States and Canada.
Instagram: The Chronicles is the first historic-bridge-related website to have an Instagram app for photos. The purpose is to transfer the photos of the bridges taken by the author directly onto the website. It’s basically following the same method as its colleague in Vermont, Preservation in Pink, but more focused on historic bridges, mostly in Europe and elsewhere, where the author resides (in Germany). Both apps (located under the category Social Network on the left side) will effectively replace the flickr app, for security issues with Yahoo combined with its recent merger have resulted in the author abandoning the app, even though the bridges there will remain on there until further notice.
Google Translate: Readers will now have an opportunity to read about bridges in their own language. The reason behind this is the number of request by readers in Europe to have the texts translated into their own language, including German as many international bridges profiled have originated from Germany. To access the app, scroll down and you will find it on the right hand side.
Planned Events: Open to all pontists, historians and others, planned events can provide readers with information on upcoming events dealing with historic bridges, preservation, and other seminars dealing with history. If you would like your event to be posted, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at email@example.com. Planned events are open for everyone both inside and outside the US.
Tour Guide/Lost Bridges: The Tour Guide page has been updated, including the ones produced by the author as well as the top two finishers of the Ammann Awards for the category Tour Guide as well as winners of the Author’s Choice Awards. The plan is to include more tour guides based on contributions by the author and guest writers, but also based on the results of the Ammann and Author’s Choice Awards from now on. If you have a city or region laden with historic bridges that you wish to write about, please contact the Chronicles.
There are a few touch-ups to be made, including fixing Clustrmaps, adding a couple more apps and updating the themes and other widgets. But the main purpose is to provide better coverage to readers wishing to follow up on the findings of historic bridges and read about the preservation policies that are being advanced. Nonetheless we intend to continue writing and photographing historic bridges, making them attractive for tourists and bringing them up to the attention of people that care about the structures and their significance in terms of history and design and would like to preserve them for generations to come.
Location:White Elster River in the village of Draschwitz, 7 kilometers north of Zeitz in the state of Saxony-Anhalt
Built:1891-2; Damaged during World War II in 1945, Rebuilt in 1946, Restored in 1999/2000
Type:Parker Pony Truss with subdivisions
Length:ca. 30 meters
Status:Open to traffic on a weight limit of 6 tons
During a recent bike tour along the White Elster from Gera to Leipzig (all 90 kilometers of it), I came across this unique structure. After passing through Zeitz and having revisited some of its historic bridges (see link), one would expect to see more of these historic bridges along the river, especially as Saxony-Anhalt has a wide selection of historic bridges worth visiting. One needs to see the towns of Halle (Saale), Magdeburg, Quedlinburg or even the bridges in the Saale-Unstrut River corridor in order to gather the impression that the bridges are being cared for by the state; this includes using funding provided by the European Union but also by the federal government to restore them to their original form while ensuring that cars and bikes can use the bridge.
The Draschwitz Bridge is one of these structures that received this kind of care, as it was restored in 1999/2000, which included new wood decking plus paint on the superstructure, as well as work on the foundations. Given its location on a less used road that is occupied mainly by cyclists and locals driving their cars across, the restoration was worth it, as the bridge serves a local road and the White Elster bike trail, which connects Hof (Bavaria) and Halle (Saale), running parallel to the river until its confluence with the Saale River, between Halle and Leipzig.
But what makes this bridge unique is its unusual truss design. The bridge was built using welded connections instead of pinned connections, as seen on truss bridges in general. Welded truss bridges, together with those with riveted connections were starting to come onto the scene at the time of its construction, as vehicular traffic- namely trains, but also later cars and trucks- had increased since the expansion of the railroad. This prompted the introduction of a network of roads connecting towns on the local level, but later expanded to cities on the regional and in the end national levels. While pinned-connected truss bridges were able to handle light traffic on local roads, as traffic increased and highway systems were introduced, they were replaced with truss bridges with riveted connections. Welded truss bridges were introduced in the 1890s to replace the pinned-connected bridges for despite its biggest asset of dismantling and reassembling the bridge at a different location, missing or broken bolts and cracked eye-bars made it difficult to impossible to relocate the bridge. With welded truss bridges, one has the advantage of relocating the bridge without having to take it apart. Plus with the beams fixed together and welded with bolts, there is more resistance to weight that is on the bridge. The Draschwitz Bridge has this on not only the trusses themselves, but also the outriggers that support the two center panels- an anomaly given the fact that truss bridges usually have outriggers on every vertical beam and panel, especially those in the US built after 1900.
Another unusual feature is the upper chord itself. Normal truss bridges have upper chords that are of either squared shaped beams, V or X-laced or those whose shape resembles the letters I, L and C. They are supported by vertical and diagonal beams that are up to half its size and width. For this bridge, the upper chord and the vertical and diagonal beams are of nearly the same size. However, even more unique is the angled bracings that weave along the top chord, the points sticking outwards by up to 10 centimeters. While some truss bridges in the US and Germany built prior to 1885 may have had features like this bridge, the Draschwitz Bridge is the only known bridge to have an upper chord, decorated with such unusual bracing.
Apart from the renovations, nothing has altered the bridge, even when villagers installed a plaque on the western wingwall, indicating the high water mark set by the flooding in 1954. Chances are, the White Elster may have been rechanneled after that, raising the bridge to prevent it from being swept down stream. Yet, a curved beam connecting that wingwall and the pier raised some eye brows as we don’t know what this serves, except to support the bridge in one way or another.
The Draschwitz Bridge is really a gem in the field when it comes to finding historic bridges. The structure continues to serve local traffic and the Elster bike trail to this day. It’s one of the landmarks one should see when passing through Zeitz and the Elsterau, also the last one to see as one bikes north toward Leipzig, but one that the quiet village of Draschwitz should take pride in, one that Saxony-Anhalt has taken great care of, just like the state’s other historic bridges, and one that historians, pontists, engineers should study further to find out more on its history and structural features. It’s the one bridge that a person can spend lots of hours with the camera and a picnic blanket, sitting and indulging at its beauty, surrounded by a historic and natural landscape.
If you know more about this bridge, feel free to post your comment in the Chronicles’ facebook page or contact Jason Smith using the contact information in the About page.
This is a throwback article dating back to April 2011, when the author toured the bridges along the Grand Canal. Going in the opposite direction enroute to Kiel, this part focuses on the remnants of the Alt Eider Canal, which originally snaked its way across Schleswig-Holstein from Kiel to Tönning via Rendsburg and Friedrichstadt. While the western segment was converted into a river when the Baltic-North Sea Canal was built between 1890 and 1895, the eastern segment, running from Rendsburg to Kiel, was abandoned and as a consequence, many areas have become nothing more but ponds and small creeks with locks that no longer are in use. Using a map for this tour guide, here are some of the relicts worth visiting while on tour. 🙂
After an hour of lunch, combined with a trek combing up along the west end of the Kieler Fjorde, passing the university and the state parliamentary building along the way, I ended up in the northernmost suburb of Holtenau, the starting point of the Grand Canal. Measuring about 95 km long and approximately 60 meters wide in many areas, it resembled the Panama Canal, which slices through the isthmus connecting North and South America. The only difference between the two is the landscape, which the Grand Canal goes through mostly flat land. Before the trip to Kiel to start on the journey, I bought a magazine bearing the name “Nord-Ostsee-Kanal” 2011 version from a book store in Flensburg and while staying at the hotel on the city’s east end of Mürwik, I learned about the canal’s history, let alone the origins, and decided to make a parallel bike tour where I could find and photograph the bridges along both canals, although I would risk not getting from Kiel to Heide before sundown. While my prediction did come true, there was no regret doing what I did, for I would not have had the chance to share my experiences travelling along the Alte Eider and the Grand Canals at the same time.
The Alte Eider Canal had a width of about 30 meters and was 4 meters deep in many areas. While its starting point was in Kiel Holtenau, its path represented a long snake slithering quietly through the flat lands, as the canal made a lot of really sharp turns. Since many ships passing through the canal at the time of its completion had no engines (they would come in 1830s), most of them were pulled by horse and manpower to avoid any collisions with the banks. The canal swerved through many small present-day villages with many locks along the way. They include the villages of Knoop, Pojensdorf, Rathmannsdorf and Schinkel northeast of the present-day canal and Kluvensiek, Bovenau, and Klein Königsförde located to the south and west of the Grand Canal close to Rendsburg. And with each village, there were series of locks- more than that of the canal today in its entire length- many of whom are all but relicts today, where people can come and see what they looked like when the Alte Eider had its heyday.
Each canal lock consisted of a bridge, built using a bascule design which permitted traffic to horse and buggy and ships when necessary. There are many different types of bascule (or draw) bridges that were created and developed. The Scherzer rolling lift style was used on the Lindaunis Bridge over the Schlei. In Schleswig-Holstein, double leaf bascules were used most often to span narrow canals like the ones that existed along the Alte Eider. Originating from neighboring Holland (today known as The Netherlands), double leaf bascules consist of two half-bridge spans, each of them supported by cables or chains that are anchored by towers located on each end of the canal. For a textbook style, the cables or chains are connected to counterweight, located above each tower, which if lowered by manpower (or in today’s case machine), lifts the half-span to its vertical position to allow the ships to pass through. To lower the half-span, the weight is lifted up and back to its position above the tower, and the roadway is anchored down in a horizontal position, allowing horse and buggy to pass. An example of this bridge can be found in one of the pictures below. These types are still being used today in Schleswig-Holstein for small crossings including those along the Eider River in the western part of the state. More on that in the second segment. At least eight different locks had bridges of this type in service before the Alte Eider was made obsolete by the Grand Canal, one located in each village. This included the ones in Rendsburg, Kluvensiek and Klein Königsförde, which is profiled at the end of the column.
When the Grand Canal opened to traffic in 1895, the Alte Eider Canal lost its significance and was subsequentially put out of service. Much of the canal was filled up with silt, while other sections were dismantled and buried with dirt by farmers in an attempt to convert it into farmland. Some of the locks were dismantled with the bridges removed, while others were left as a landmark signaling the canal’s heyday. One can see some of these landmarks today when trekking along the remains of the Alte Eider Canal. This includes a Toll house in Pojensdorf, which has since been converted to a museum dedicated to the history of this architectural landmark. There is a restaurant in Rathmannsdorf, located in front of the lock, which serves local delicacies. In Schinkel, a mansion-style hotel built in the early 1800s still exists today, despite being privately owned. Mills can be found in places like Kluvensiek and Bovenau. Parts of the Alte Eider were converted to harbor for yachts in Rendsburg. And one can find bridge relicts in Klein Königsförde and Kluvensiek, the former being a replica of the one that existed before the Grand Canal opened, the other partially filled in but has a history of its own, when looking at the tower’s portal bracings.
Of the eight bridges that existed, four have been profiled here, although one of them no longer exists. They are arranged in the order of direction of the canal, from Kiel to Rendsburg, starting with the first bridge at Pojensdorf.
Pojensdorf Bridge: Spanning the Alte Eider Canal
Spanning the Alte Eider between Knoop and Pojensdorf, this steel stringer bridge may have replaced a lock and bridge that existed when the canal was in service. The bridge serves as the entrance to the village of Pojensdorf. While the bridge represents a typical short-span stringer bridge used on many roads in Germany, if one goes beyond the bridge and enters Pojensdorf, one will appreciate the landscape that was created by the old canal, let alone the Packhaus in Pojensdorf which was converted into a museum devoted explicitely to the history of this unique canal.
This (now former) drawbridge is probably the most ornamental of the bridges that spanned the Alte Eider Canal. The bridge was built in 1849/50 with the portal towers being designed by Carlshütte Iron Works in Rendsburg. Founded by Markus Hartwig Holler in 1827, the iron works company contributed a great deal with the construction of bridges and other forms of infrastructure along both the Alte Eider and the present Baltic-North Sea Canals up until the Grand Canal’s completion in 1895. However, the company’s heyday did not come until the Ahlmann family took over the business in 1909 and Kate Ahlmann took over the business when her husband Julius died in 1931. She had as many as 3000 workers at the iron works company by the 1950s and contributed a great deal to the economic growth in Rendsburg. Shortly before her death in 1963, a museum dedicated to the history of Carlshütte opened with numerous displays of artwork made of iron, which can be seen today. Sadly though, Carlshütte went into decline after her death and despite surviving one bankruptcy in 1974, the second one in 1997 led to the company’s liquidation. Carlshütte was named after Carl von Hessen, who governed Schleswig-Holstein at the time of the company’s founding.
When the canal was made obsolete by the Grand Canal, the lock was filled in with the exception of a small culvert to allow water to pass underneath. This included the bridge itself even though the two towers still remain standing and can be seen from the road heading to Kluvensiek from Bovenau and the Alte Eider bike trail.
Drawbridge at Klein Königsförde:
Coming up on Klein Königsförde, one will see a replica of a piece of history spanning the Alte Eider Canal on the old locks. Originally there was a bridge that was constructed in the mid-1800s using the double-leaf bascule design, and consisting of towers with an arch design. Yet before the Grand Canal was completed in 1895, the bridge was taken down and not replaced for over 100 years. In the early 1980s a replica of this bridge was constructed using mostly wood for the structure and steel chains for tower support as well as lifting the roadway, even though the crossing is in a fixed position. The purpose is to show the tourist what the bridge looked like during the days of the Alte Eider Canal. The bridge received the Europa Nostra award for its artwork in 1989 and is still in use for pedestrians and cyclists only. A park is located next to the structure on the west end to provide an opportunity to rest and view the village, located on the eastern side of the canal.
Subtracting the city of Lübeck, located on the border to Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, if there is a city that can be considered the one with the most number of bridges worth seeing and learning about in Schleswig-Holstein, Rendsburg would be the place to look at. The city can pride itself for its High Bridge (which will be mentioned in the later columns), but it can also pride itself on the history of bridges that spanned both the Alte Eider and Grand Canals. The Rendsburg Drawbridge is one of the bridges that made the city popular. While there were numerous bridges of this type that were built in and around Rendsburg, this one stands out as it served a main road connecting Hamburg and Flensburg. Furthermore it was one of a few built using iron and may be one of the structures built using the iron from its production facility Carlshütte. Sadly, when the new canal was completed in 1895, the bridge lost its importance and was subsequentially removed. The canal eventually was converted into a harbor, which is still in use today for smaller boats entering and exiting the Grand Canal. Interesting enough was the fact that before the canal was made obsolete, an arch bridge took its place for a while but it is unknown when it was built and when it was removed. Also worth noting is the fact that the drawbridge was overshadowed by bigger and longer bridges spanning the longer canal- one for the trains (High Bridge) and one for the road.
After a tour of the bridges along the Alte Eider Canal, the last segment of the revised tour guide series along the Grand Canal will focus on Kiel, its easternmost terminus. Apart from some neat bridges in the city center, there are some to the east of the city along the Schwentine that are worth noting and visiting. The Schwentine also empties into the Baltic Sea through the Kiel Fjorde but opposite the terminus of the Canal.
Location: Baltic-North Sea Canal at Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
Description: Main span: Cantilever Warren through truss with transporter (main span), steel trestle approach span (south) and loop approach (north)
Length: 7 km (total) Of which: 2468 main span; loop approach 4.5 km
Built: 1913 by Friedrich Voss and C.H. Jocho of Dortmund
Travelling north to Flensburg on the Schleswig-Holstein-Express (the SHE) one evening in May 2010, I was chatting with four passengers heading home to the Rum capital of the world, talking about break-ups, broken marriages and partners cheating on them, when we suddenly found ourselves taking off from the ground. To think that most of the German state is flat consists of mainly farmland and coastal areas, to go from travelling on the ground to travelling in the air in a matter of seconds is like Eliott and E.T. flying in the air by bike. Yet the sound of metal to metal contact, especially when going over the steel towers revealed that whatever we were crossing was huge, the spectacular view of the lights of the town below and the body of water covered in emerald green lights was gorgeous. After going through the steel truss mechanism, we made our descent in a curly-Q fashion before touching the ground and stopping at our next station. Our conversation had stopped in favor of the structure’s admiration, a sign that homage needed to be paid to a gigantic symbol that bridges the past with the present, the lover on one place with one in the other, and the impossible with the reality.
Especially the last one is what describes the Rendsburg High Bridge, spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal in Rendsburg, located between Hamburg and Flensburg. The bridge was the masterpiece of Friedrich Voss, who had built two other structures along the Grand Canal at Hochdonn and Kiel as well as numerous others in the northern half of the country, concluding the two-span arch bridge at Friedrichstadt. It took 1.5 years to build the main attraction along the canal, which after 104 years, it still serves as the anchor that makes the Grand Canal and Rendsburg the place to visit. What Voss did with the bridge was unthinkable, impossible and even insane in the eyes of many locals during that time. While steel trestles and a through truss design were his signatures for long-span structures like the aforementioned bridges, Voss needed a main span that would carry both horse and buggy (and later cars) as well as rail traffic. Henceforth as one of the feats, Voss chose the cantilever Warren span, whose roadway would serve rail traffic connecting Hamburg and Neumünster to the south and Flensburg and Scandanavia to the north. Hanging from the main span is the transporter span, which even today carries cars, bikes and pedestrians across the canal between Rendsburg and Aldorf. The transporter operates four times an hour in both directions during the day and takes 4-5 minutes to cross, half as long as when crossing the entire bridge via SHE.
Even more unique is the north approach. Already in existence was the train station for it served rail traffic between Kiel and Husum, the problem came with how the approach span should descend from 50 meters above water to just over zero. This was where Voss referred to the history books and chose the loop approach. Using the Hastings Spiral Bridge as reference, the loop approach provides travelers with an opportunity to gradually glide down from the bridge, making a circle of 360°. The 1895 bridge over the Mississippi River was the first bridge to feature this loop approach for engineers and bridge builders at Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works had the problem of the bridge extending into Hasting’s business district, which already had numerous buildings and traffic at that time. Therefore, the south approach consisted of the loop approach, thus encouraging cars to glide down into the city center like a marble.
The problem was similar with the north approach, as it consisted of much of Rendsburg’s city center and housing area, combined with remnants of the old canal and the harbor area connected with the new canal. Therefore, Voss and his men devised a plan where a loop approach would feature first a series of steel trestles at the height of between 40 and 50 meters above water level, followed by earthen berms with concrete arch spans crossing main streets, after the descent of 40 meters. A Warren deck truss span crosses the rail line as it approaches the end of the loop. The total length of this loop approach alone is 4.5 km. The area the loop encircles consists of housing and therefore was later named Schleife.
On 1 October, 1913, after 1.5 years of work, Voss and 350 of his men from the bridge-building firm C.H. Jucho of Dortmund completed the work, and the bridge was open to traffic. The bridge and transporter complex has operated almost unaltered ever since, sustaining minimal damage in World War II. The bridge was rehabilitated with rust protectant being added to the steel bridge between 1993 and 2012. The rail line was electrified in 1995, which resulted in the portal and strut bracings of the through truss span being lifted. Instead of the two-rhombus portal bracing, the main span now had A-frame portals, high enough for trains to pass through. Sadly though, the transporter portion of the bridge is being replaced even as this article is being reproduced for this page. On 8 January 2016, the transporter collided with a ship as it was passing underneath the bridge. The boat operator and another passenger were injured in the wreck. After thorough investigations by the local authorities and the Ministry of Transportation, it was concluded that the transporter could not be salvaged and was therefore removed from the bridge. A replacement replicating the original transporter is currently being constructed and should be installed by 2017/18.
I had a chance to visit the bridge again in 2011, this time filming the crossing of the bridge and its transporter, but also following the path of the bridge from the start of the loop approach on the ground to the main span. While I never got a chance to see the Spiral Bridge as it was torn down in 1951, the Rendsburg High Bridge is nothing anyone has ever seen before. It is amazing just to be in a small suburb that is encircled by the loop approach, listening to trains cross it on an hourly basis. Its tall and towering trestles cannot be missed when travelling through Rendsburg. But the main span is just as amazing, for it has a total height of 68 meters, visible from 20 kilometers, making it one of the tallest structures along the Grand Canal. But I also noticed that the bridge with its wonderful work of art has not yet been recognized on the national and international scale. With the Vizcaya Bridge being nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, the Firth of Forth Bridge scheduled to be nominated in 2015, the Rendsburg High Bridge Complex should be considered another UNESCO site as well because of the engineering feats that Voss accomplished in building this superstructure but also because the bridge still functions as a normal crossing of its kind today, just like it did when it opened to traffic in 1913. This is something that has made Rendsburg famous and makes it one of the wonderful works of art in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and central Europe. Already it was given the Historische Wahrzeichen der Ingenieurbaukunst in Deutschland Award (Historic Recognition of the Works of Engineering in Germany) in 2013, on its 100th birthday. Chances are, more accolades will follow for this iron lady, whose total length of 7 kilometers (2,400 m main span) still makes it the longest railway bridge in Germany.
To close this documentary about this bridge, the third and most important part of the Tour along the Grand Canal, there is a saying that applies to any bridge enthusiast. You are never a true pontist unless you visit at least a couple key engineering works. In my book, one should really pay homage to the Rendsburg High Bridge. It is an engineering work of achievement that is underrated and something that awes every engineer to this day. Every engineer has his creative talents, which Voss had when building this bridge. It has withstood the test of time and is still a work of art one should see, when visiting Germany. It is hoped that it will one day be a UNESCO site. It will eventually for it deserves this honor.
You can view the photos of the Rendsburg High Bridge via facebook site. Click here to have a look at every aspect photographed during my visit in 2011.
Some videos of the bridge can be viewed below as well:
And some links to provide you with some more information on the Rendsburg High Bridge:
This bridge was used as a logo for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles from 2011 until its retirement and replacement with the current logo in 2015 using another Schleswig-Holstein bridge in its place, the Fehmarn Bridge. This is what the Rendsburg variant looked like.
The location of the Rendsburg High Bridge and the train station can be found on the map here: