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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Thomas Viaduct in Maryland

Photo courtesy of HABS/ HAER

Film clip

One of the most historic of bridges in the US a person should visit is the Thomas Viaduct. The viaduct features eight spans of stone arch (each one has a span of 58 feet or 18 meters) with a total length of 612 feet (187 meters). It’s 59 feet in height. Built in 1835, it was named after Philip Thomas, the first president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, which had built, owned and operated the viaduct. The bridge’s last rehabilitation project happened almost 90 years ago. Since then, it has been in use with no known repairs done to it. The bridge can be found in Maryland, between Elkridge and Relay, along the Patapsco River.

The rest of the story and photos can be seen in this film produced by an avid railroader. Produced in 2019, this narrator shows you all the views of this gorgeous viaduct while telling you some more interesting facts about it.  Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

 

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The bridge is the world’s oldest bridge of its kind that is in operation. CSX runs its trains over the viaduct today. It has received numerous accolades, including a National Historic Landmark in 1964. In 2010, the bridge designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

 

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 131: A Small “Forgotten” Bridge in a Small Forgotten Village

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BHC Mystery Bridge

LAHR (BW), GERMANY- The next Mystery Bridge takes us to the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg and to the city of Lahr. The community of 44,000 inhabitants is located near the cities of Offenburg and Strassbourg along the River Rhine and is easily accessible by the motorway (A 5), train and boat.  The mystery bridge at hand can be found to the north of the city, near the town Friesenhaim and Heiligenzell, along the creek Leimbach.

Towards the playground in Heilizenzell on a small path running parallel to the main street one will cross the Leimbach. The crossing is full of bushels of reed and poison ivy on each side of the path. One will not notice the historic crossing unless you cut away at the vegetation and see the arch.  Yet one may perceive it as a modern-day culvert. Yet when looking at it more closely……

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……one will see the inscription on the arch and the stone spandrels, making this crossing definitely an arch bridge. Looking more closely, we have the inscriptions of I K 8 8 1 4- the first 8 is larger and resembles a letter S spelled backwards with an I down the middle.

This is our mystery bridge. Its design is just as unique as its history. Its history is linked to the history of Heiligzell and the disappearance of the town’s predecessor. At the site of the crossing was the village known as Leymbach. According to the history books, the village was first mentioned in the first Century, AD. It was large farm and trading post that was owned by the Romans during the time of the Empire. Evidence of that comes from a well that was built five meters deep. This was discovered in 1979 by gardener Klaus Schwendemenn and was restored by the neighboring community Friesenheim.

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The well and the remaining foundations from the Roman times. Photo taken by Andreas Loegler

The village was later mentioned by the Lahr registry books in 1356 but it was last mentioned in 1535. Afterwards, Leymbach disappeared from the map. Historians have speculated that the town’s demise had to do with pests, fire and warfare which led to the residents fleeing to safer places. But more research is needed to confirm. Leymbach had a district of Hovestadt, yet it was only mentioned once in the 1500s. What’s left of Leymbach are two farm field border markings with the names “Auf der Steinmättle” and “Hinterem Steinmättle”

The town of Heiligenzell was first mentioned in the 10th Century AD when the farm/ trading post was given to the Monestary by Emperor Heinrich II. It was christenen Heiligenzell by the 14th Century. It was an important trading post during the Middle Ages. It was destroyed during the Geroldsecker feud during the 15th Century, and it is possible that it was the same feud that devastated Leymbach. Heiligenzell was later rebuilt and it is possible that Leymbach folded into its neighboring post. A castle was built during the 1500s to protect the residents. Two churches were added- a monestary and later a Catholic Church in the late 1800s.  Heiligenzell had a coat of arms that resembled the number 8, which was the same coat of arms found on the keystone of the bridge.

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Coat of Arms of Heiligenzell

The coat of arms and the number is much larger than the other inscriptions, which means the bridge belonged to Heiligenzell. Interestingly enough are the other inscriptions. The first are the initials for the person who built the bridge, which was I. K. The second is the fact that the letter K has the same function as the number 1, according to the history books. Normally a Roman number 1 would have the same function as the letter I. Therefore we can conclude that the bridge was built in 1814 by a person, whose name starts with I for the first name and K for the last. Otherwise it would contradict the history books regarding the founding of Heiligenzell.

The Leimbach was rerouted to run along the path in 2014, and this was when the bridge was discovered. It has received lots of media attention because of its unique design and a history that has a place in the puzzle on the history of Heiligenzell, including its former neighboring village of Leymbach. It is a foregone conclusion that the bridge’s predcessor used to connect the two but we don’t know what it looked like  before this structure was built. We do know that person I.K. built the bridge but we don’t know who that person was and if he had built other arch bridges nearby.

Therefore the search for the history of the bridge and its connection with Heiligenzell’s own history is open to the forum. It is open to locals who have a lot of knowledge of the history of Lahr, its suburb of Friesenheim and Heiligenzell and the Black Forest region of Baden-Wurttemberg. It is also open to those who know a lot about Roman history and the role of the Romans in Baden-Wurttemberg. But it is also open to all who are interested in the research on the bridge, and everything else that goes along with that. The Chronicles did a podcast on this on June 20th. Now come the details and photos.

The rest falls to those who are interested. Good luck and let the author of the Chronicles know what you find. Thanks! 🙂

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Author’s Note: Special thanks to Ekehard Klem for the photos and the background information on the bridge and the surrounding area.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 130: 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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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 102

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Our 102nd Pic of the Week tells a story of how a bridge became a tunnel and how no one but the biker could tell of the change.  This bridge-converted-to-tunnel is located in Jena, in the eastern German state of Thuringia and spans Ammerbach Creek, which runs through the southern suburbs of Ammerbach and Winzerla before it empties into the River Saale near the Ernst-Abbe-Sportsstadium.  It was constructed during the same time as the railroad that connected Weimar with Gera with a regional hub station at Jena-Göschwitz- namely 1876. The stone arch span is no longer than 20 meters and has a height of six meters.

So how was the bridge „converted“ into a tunnel?

This was in connection with the reconstruction of the rail line between Weimar and Jena-Göschwitz and it had to do with a nearby bridge that was built in 1935, spanning Kahlaische Strasse, which was a combination of car and tram services. Because of structural instability due to age and the low clearance on the street, workers built a new bridge off site that was a meter higher and twice as long as the main span of 30 meters over the street. This does not include a tunnel on the west side of the street.  The entire structure was then torn down, and the new span slid into place.

At the same time, this short-span crossing in the picture was rehabilitated and an additional one meter of railroad bedding was added in order to smooth the grading between the two bridges. A double-concrete railing was added on each side to allow for electrical wires to run through the top railing and to capture the falling rocks by the bottom railing.

This whole conversion and nearby bridge replacement happened from the fall of 2016 until the middle part of 2017 and resulted in detours of all kinds, from rail traffic all the way to the bike trail, which the now-converted tunnel crosses.  Living in Winzerla for 15 out of the 20 years I spent in Jena, one can find the detours rather annoying unless you know some short cuts and detours to the city center by car or bike. But this was one that was part of the mega-project on several routes through Jena that brought 70% of the city’s total  traffic to a  standstill and increased the blood pressure of every driver and biker by an average of 45%! It was a bit over the top and still to this day, management could have been better.

In either case, with the water under the bridge, one can still enjoy this scenic view of the tunnel, now covered with vegetation after a a couple years of bare concrete and rock. Like the bridge, this tunnel comes up fast when you bike between the city center and the south of Jena, and one cannot see it right away- unless you make a stop, like I did with my family. This photo was taken last year, in 2019. And the weather was perfect for the pose. The original arch is still there, covered by bushes and trees. However, it is obvious that the structure has been converted into a tunnel.  😉  Nevertheless, one can enjoy the scenery with just the trains passing by. A real treat when you bike through Jena and along the River Saale.  🙂

 

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The Holzlandbahn provides direct connection between Dresden and Düsseldorf via Chemnitz, Glauchau, Gera, Jena, Erfurt and Kassel. While regional trains run on this route mostly, plans are in the making to electrify the railline completely so that InterCity trains can use them by 2030.  More information on the line’s history can be found here.

 

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Wartime Bridge Story: Prinz Heinrich Brücke in Kiel

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Wartime Bridge Series

Film clip

These are the first bridges you will see while biking along the Baltic- North Sea Canal: the twin spans featuring the Olympia Bridge on the left and the Prince Heinrich Bridge on the right. The bridges are located at Highway B-503 at the entrance of the locks at the Baltic Sea side and appear to be totally identical.  Yet the Olympia Bridge was built in 1972 and the Prince Heinrich was built in 1996. It is the one on the right that was a successor to the original Prince Heinrich Bridge. The bridge was built by Friedrich Voss in 1912 and featured a single span continuous truss bridge with trestle approaches on each side. The bridge lasted for 80 years until it was torn down in 1992.

According to a new documentary by German public TV station NDR however, had it not been for the courage of two people, Heinrich Magnus Ivens and Hermann Storm, the bridge would have succumbed much earlier and there would have been a new structure built much earlier than the Olympia Bridge in 1972.  On May 5, 1945, with the war long since a lost cause, seven Nazi soldiers were carrying explosives to the bridge in an attempt to bring down the structure into the canal. At the same time, British troops were marching into Kiel, where residents and soldiers, tired of all the fighting, surrendered unconditionally.  Desparate to avoid the inevitable, the soldiers at the foot of the bridge tried to set up the bombs. On the bridge itself, however, the British troops were negotiating with the locals to end the war.  One of the two negotiated with the troops, the other stopped the troops from performing the act and thus saved the bridge from its doom.

The rest was history. Even though the war was lost and the troops that were stopped cried at the end, Germany capitulated to the allied troops two days later on May 7th, 1945. With that, a piece of history that would have succumbed with the rest of Kiel was saved and would later become a major crossing over the canal going north towards Flensburg, Denmark and all of Scandanavia, even when a twin crossing was added and the bridge itself, a victim of severe corrosion plus wear and tear would be replaced.

A documentary, which features a summary of the event plus a film provides you with the details of the event. Even though it is in German, the pictures and interview presented in the film will tell a story.  Click onto the link below:

https://www.ndr.de/fernsehen/sendungen/schleswig-holstein_magazin/zeitreise/Zeitreise-Erinnerungen-an-Prinz-Heinrich-Bruecke-in-Kiel,zeitreise2668.html

Furthermore, you can read up on the history of that plus the bridges in a link on the Bridges of Kiel-Holtenau, where this bridge is located. There you will find all the infomration on the crossings, both past and present, including the neighboring Levansau Bridge and some of the crossings along the Alt Eider Canal. The information has been integrated into the bridge tours written in English.

Link:http://www.apt-holtenau.de/holtenau-info/history/bruecken.htm

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The Bridges of Westchester County, New York

Goldens Bridge. Photo taken by Kent Findley in 2017

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New York City and its boroughs are well known for their iconic crossings which have stood the test of time. When people think of the largest city in the US, the first bridges to come to mind are the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro Bridges along the East River, the Triborough Bridges and the structures built by Othmar H. Ammann, including the Bronx White Stone, Bayonne, George Washington and the Verrazano Narrows, the last of which is still the longest suspension bridge in the US.

Yet going north away from New York is Westchester County. If there is one county that has a wide array of historic bridges spanning different bodies of water in the state, Westchester would be in the top five in the state. It’s well known for two of the crossings over the Hudson River- the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Mario Cuomo Bridge (which replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge in 2017).  Little do people realize is that the county has several bodies of water where one can find many historic and unique crossings scattered all over the place. For starters, northeast of the Cuomo Bridge is Rockefellar State Park, where as many as six stone arch bridges spanning the Pocantico River can be found within a five mile radius of each other. There’s also the Croton River, a major source of water for the New York City area. There one can find a large batch of bridges along the river, including those along the New Croton Reservoir, like the AM Vets Memorial Bridge, Gate House Bridge and North COuntry Trailway. Also included in the mix are Goldens Bridge and Plum Brook Road Bridge at Muscoot Reservoir, which also belong to the Croton River crossings. Four historic bridges including Deans Bridge in Croton Falls round off the tour along the Croton River before the river crosses into Putnam County. As many as a dozen historic arch bridges built in the 1930s spanning historic parkways and four historic bridges along Annsville Creek round off the tour of Westchester County’s finest bridges, that feature as many as seven different bridge types and a span of over a century and a half of bridge building that started in the 1870s.

Deans Bridge. Photo taken by John Reidy in 2016

Sadly though, the number of historic bridges in Westchester County is dwindling. Many bridges that have been out of service for at least 20 years are scheduled to be removed. Three of them- Deans Bridge, Goldens Bridge and Plum Brook Road- are scheduled to be torn down by sometime in the next year. Each crossing has some unique characteristics and historic value that justify not only their listing on the National Register but also rehabilitation and reuse for recreational purposes. Goldens Bridge has a Whipple through truss design with Phoenix columns. Deans and Plum Brook have unique portal bracings that are rare to find in the state, let alone the US.

Yet the bridges in Westchester County are very popular among locals and one of them even produced a gallery of paintings of these unique structures. That with some facts fan be found in the Gallery of Paintings of Westchester County’s Bridges, available via link. A whole list of crossings, both past and present, can be found in the bridgehunter.com website- the link is found as well.

It is unknown whether these galleries will help preserve these structures, but by looking at them, it will bring attention to the readers who may want to visit them in the future. May through a visit and a tour will the interest in saving them for future use increase substantially, even in these hard times like we’re having at present.

Plum Brook Road Bridge. Photo by John Reidy

So have a look at two sets of galleries and enjoy! 🙂

 

Links to Tour Guides:

Gallery courtesy of Bridgehunter.com: https://bridgehunter.com/ny/westchester/

Gallery of Bridge Paintings: https://bridgesofwestchester.wordpress.com/gallery/

Muscoot Reservoir Bridge. Photo taken by John Reidy

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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

 

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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:

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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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Jastrowie Rail Bridge in Poland

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Source: https://gramho.com/media/2315186164545818312

Film clip

Wartime Bridge Series

Our next Wartime Bridge story takes us to northeastern Poland and to the town of Jastrowie. With a population of 8900 inhabitants, the community is located on the edge of the Gwda River valley. Germans have translated the river’s name into Küddow. During World Was II, Jastrowie was a stronghold for Nazi soldiers especially as a railroad line had existed and it was needed to ship war supplies and other materials to the areas needed, especially as soldiers on the eastern front tried to invade the Soviet Union and were only 60 kilometers away from Moscow by the end of 1941.

By the beginning of 1945, with the Nazis fighting a losing battle with the Allies encroaching Germany and its capital Berlin from all sides, Soviet troops were making strides as the soliders, tired and worn out from the fighting, were fleeing towards Germany, marching through Poland along the way. Despite Adolf Hitler’s orders to fight to the very end, there were only three options for the Nazi soldiers:

1. Fight until death,

2. Slow the advancement of Soviets to buy time to retreat and eventually regroup or

3. Desert the army and if caught, accept the terms of surrender with the hope of returning home to their families.

In the case of this bridge at Jastrowie, it was the attempt of carrying out option 2  that went as awry as it could be.  The railroad bridge was built in 1914 and spans the River Gwda east of Jastrowie. It can be seen from the State 189 Bridge as it is approximately 300 meters away to the south. While it is unknown who built the bridge, the inscriptions on the truss beams indicated that a Union Steel Company may have fabricated the steel parts to put together the polygonal Warren deck truss design.  Because Poland was part of the German Empire until the end of World War I, it is most likely that the company came from the German side.

Attempts to blow up the bridge to slow the advancement of Soviet troops happened on 2 February, 1945 as Nazi soldiers tried to bring the bridge to the ground using explosives. Unfortunately, due to a lack of explosives and other materials needed to destroy the bridge, combined with the quick advancement of the encroaching soldiers and opposition from locals in the area, only one side of the bridge came down, the other was still attached leaving the truss span hanging on one side. It has been in this partially collapsed position ever since. A video shows the partially collapsed span in full detail:

While the Soviets captured the city on the same day, they would remain in the region for another 44 years. Although Poland was reestablished as a country, it became part of Soviet control through the Potsdam Agreement of 1945, when Germany, and eventually the rest of Europe was divided into East and West.  While under Soviet control, residents of Jastrowie were forced to resettle further westward as much of the population were of German descent. It was part of the practice by the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries that had been under control of Nazi Germany but were later reestablished as individual states. People of German descent were rounded up and deported to what later became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), their assets seized and redistributed among the native populations, including the Polish in Poland and the Slavics in what later becamse Czechoslovakia.

Because the town was emptied, the bridge and the rail line were both abandoned and have remained ever since, thus making it an important and popular tourist stop for bridge enthusiasts and photographers. Even some Polish bloggers have written about the bridge, one of which can be found here and is loaded with detailed photos of the bridge. More information about the bridge is found there but in Polish.

The Jastrowie Bridge is one of many historic structures that survived the Nazi attempts of being blown up for the sake of stopping the advancement of troops and delaying the inevitable. It is however one of the community’s prized historical treasures that serves as a reminder of how the residents survived two different occupations- one of which included the forced deportation to East Germany following the end of the war. It is also fortunate that the bridge has remained in tact for the purpose of future research on its history. While the chances of it being restored and reused as a bike trail crossing along the River Gwda is slim, historians can take the opportunity to learn about the structure’s history, not only tracing the history of Union Steel but also find out who was behind the construction of its unique design.  A relict as a memorial makes a community stand out as one that has gone through a lot over the years. And that in itself makes it an attraction for historians, bridge fans, photographers and tourists alike.

 

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Poland was occupied three times since its establishment in 1595: The Polish Partition happened from 1795 to 1918 in which the country was divided into three parts: the eastern part belonged to the Russian Empire, the southern part to the Habsburg Empire (Austro-Hungarian) and the western part to Prussia, which later became the German Empire through its creation in 1871. After being reestablished via Versailles Treaty in 1918, Poland was an autonomy until September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded and eventually captured the country. It remained under control until the Soviets drove them away in warfare successfully in 1945. After being part of the administration, Poland became a puppet of Communism until free elections of 1989, which led to it becoming an independent country. For more information on Polish history, click here.

 

BHC 10 years