Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 5: The Rechenhaus Restaurant Next to the Bridge

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Day five of the campaign to save the Bockau Arch Bridge and this one takes us to the place that has been both the chessboard of the project but also the place that will play a role in the future of the bridge and this is…..

a restaurant! 🙂 Not just an ordinary restaurant that serves food, but a restaurant that has a history behind it and serves the finest foods in the Erzgebirge. The Rechenhaus Restaurant.

Located on the northern bank of the Zwickau Mulde at the northern entrance of the Bockau Arch Bridge, the Rechenhaus Restaurant, which is owned by Rainer and Andrea Noack, is one of the oldest restaurants in the region, for even though the restaurant has been in business for over 62 years, the building where they serve their customers with food, has been in existence since the latter half of the 1500s. There is a story behind the building, which is currently protected by the German Preservation Laws (Denkmalschutzgesetz).

It all goes back to 1556 when the river was wild and the mountain region was plentiful with natural resources. Mining for gold, silver and copper was already underway, a civil engineer named T. Popel came up with the concept of constructing a canal going away from the Zwickau Mulde and going past Zschorlau (which is only six kilometers to the north) and emptying back into the main river at Schlema. Because of the extreme winding downstream and the approximate location of Aue, which is the junction of the Mulde and Schwarzwasser (Black Water), a shorter, straighter canal was needed to better transport wood and materials to their respective mills. On 18 June, 1556, Popel started the work on constructing a dam and canal to divert water away from the river. By April 1557, the canal had reached Schlema and water started flowing through the mills there. By 1559, the dam was built and barges were able to use the canal. The headwaters house at Bockau was built and the master was responsible for regulating the flow of water and allowing for traffic along the canal. This was the site of the present-day Rechenhaus. The first bridge, the predecessor to the Stone Arch Bridge, was built at the dam site in 1559. The dam was destroyed twice by floodwaters in 1661 and again in 1664 and was subsequentially rebuilt. It was later expanded but the decline in the use of the canal has already begun. By the beginning of the 20th Century, only the mills along the canal were in use to harness water and produce electricity. This included the one at Rechenhaus which had been repurposed. When entering the restaurant, you will be greeted by a large wooden painting depicting what the dam and headwaters house and mill looked like before World War II:

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The Rechenhaus was later converted into the army baracks, housing units fighting for Germany during the two World Wars, including the 11th Division during the second war. It was that division which eventually succumbed to defeat as one of the soldiers refused to blow up the Stone Arch Bridge, which is 200 meters from the building and dam and had been in service by then. After secretly transporting the bombs to Zwickau to blow up a temporary bridge, the Russians and Americans marched across the bridge and captured the place. The building was later used by Russian soldiers before it was given away to the owners who converted it to the present-day restaurant by 1956. In 1997, it was declared a historic and technical landmark by the Saxony government and its Historic Preservation Agency for its contribution to the history of mining and transportation in the Erzgebirge.

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When entering the restaurant, you enter a cozy environment where everything you see is all typical of the Erzgebirge. Apart from the wooden framed painting, there are chandeliers with wood carvings, a tiled fireplace, several wood carvings and displays of metal products all made in the region. The restaurant has rows of tables and a bar area, yet the hospitality and the typical Erzgebirgische Sächsische Deutsch spoken by many guests takes you to a typical home in the mountains. Like the Minnesotan dialect (where I come from), the Erzgebirgisch-Sächisich is rather funny-sounding, Jah! 😉

Erzgebirgisch-Sächsisch:

Minnesotan English:

The owners of the restaurant are friendly and can make the finest in homemade food that is typical for the region. When you look at their website, you should look at their menu (Speisekarte in German) and try one of their specialties upon visiting the restaurant (Link to the website is here). I had a chance to do that twice: during my first visit when meeting the members of the committee as well as during my wife and daughter’s stay in Schneeberg, where I work as an English teacher at the police academy. No regrets either time. 🙂  The restaurant also has a beer garden that overlooks the river valley and the Stone Arch Bridge. It also has a guest hall for weddings and other parties. For cyclists passing through along the Mulde Bike Trail and its branches to Bockau and Zschorlau, it was up until now the easiest and quickest stop to grab a bite to eat and linger over an Alsterwasser (shandy in English).

Since the closure of the Stone Arch Bridge in August 2017, the restaurant has suffered from a major drop in the number of customers stopping by. While it is somewhat out of the way and in the floodbed down the hill from the highway, the closure of the bridge and the highway leading to it has forced many drivers to detour for 12 kilometers on either side of the river, thus making the restaurant more out of the way than a stop on the way. The closure of the bridge itself (including being fenced off) has made direct access to the restaurant by crossing the bridge and turning left virtually impossible. Even though people have tried to go around the fence and cross anyway, a major obstacle is the removal of the northern approach to the Stone Arch Bridge.  Planners of the project to build a new bridge on a new alignment made exceptionally sure that everyone stayed as far away from the bridge as possible, using scare tactics claiming that the bridge is life-threatening. That means all paths and even the bike trails are fenced shut by up to 500 meters away from the bridge. This is rather overexaggerating and typically American, for such practices have been used successfully for at least three decades. This is the reason why the number of historic bridges in the States have plummeted by up to 95% since 1983; over 60% of which were either declared elgible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The closure of the bridge and the lack of accessibility to the restaurant has resulted in a loss of up to 60% of the number of customers visiting regularly and things are uncertain at this point, for the new crossing is expected to open by October 2019. Whether this restaurant will hold out by then remains to be seen. But in our meeting with members of the Saxony parliament on April 24th, we plan to plea with them to restore and reopen the bridge with one of the purposes being for local access to the restaurant. Even as a bike and pedestrian crossing will this direct access be of help for the restaurant, for the bridge can be tied in with the restaurant and its history with the hope that both will continue to serve customers in 2019 and beyond.

Reminder: Before our meeting on 24th April, we need your help. We need a lot of national and international support to save the bridge. Therefore, click here to sign your name on a petition to be given directly to members of parliament. Then click onto the Bridge’s facebook homepage (here) and like our site. There you can get more coverage and information and can join in our conversations about the bridge, its history and its future in the Erzgebirge. The bridge is still standing. We want it to constinue its use for generations to come. 🙂

 

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Sonnebrücke in Kirchberg (Saxony), Germany

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All  photos taken in March 2018

Between Schneeberg and Zwickau in western Saxony is a small town of Kirchberg. With a population of 8,700 inhabitants, Kirchberg straddles the Rödelbach River, which empties into the Zwickau Mulde River in Wilkau-Hasslau, approximately five kilometers north of the town. In addition to that, Kirchberg is known as the City with Seven Hills, as all seven hills surround the small community, protecting it from the weather extremities, especially in the winter time. Yet it is most difficult to get to the next available towns because of the winding roads one needs to go through. And Kirchberg is one of the most expanded communities with the least population density in Saxony, for 12 Kilometers of area in all directions belong to the community, including all of the small suburbs.

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While Kirchberg has a rather historic but sleepy town center (because buisness usually closes at 3:00pm on weekdays, non on Saturdays), a church on the hill and a couple notable historic bridges along the Rödelbach, one bridge in particular is the focus of this article because of ist unusual design and a classic example of a restored truss bridge. The Sonnebrücke Truss Bridge spans the Rödelbach on the east end of Kirchberg (see map below). The bridge, built in 1882, is unique because of its unusual design.

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For instance, the bridge is a pony truss built on a 45° skew. The skewed formation is easy to detect because one can see it from the main highway on ground level and from the hillside on the north bank of the river, it resembles a shoe. The harder part is identifying the truss type for from a distance, it appears to be a bowstring arch span. Yet when taking a closer look, the bridge is actually a Parker pony truss, mainly because of the slight bends of the upper chord per panel. The 24.5 meter truss bridge has nine panels with the highest panel being 1.7 meters tall.  How the bridge was built is the most difficult of all because you can only see the details up close while on the bridge. For instance, the bridge has welded connections, meaning that the beams are attached with gusset plates and welded nails. Given its age, this type of practice was first introduced in the 1880s and the Sonnebrücke is one of the first bridges built using this type of practice. It is one of the rarest bridges whose upper chord consists of a rare type that is seldomly found in truss bridges. While most truss bridges used H, I and T beams for their upper chords and end posts, this one has upper chords whose parts consists of L-shaped beams welded together making it appear like a cross-shaped beam. No truss bridge in the eastern half of Germany has such an unusual chord like that. It is even rarer when compared to the American Phoenix column, which was used on many iron truss bridges in the 1870s and 80s and has round-shaped columns with 4-8 points in the corners.

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The Kingdom of Saxony authorized the construction of the Sonnenbrücke in 1882 as part of the railroad project connecting Wilkau-Haslau with Carlsfeld via Kirchberg and Schönheide near the present-day Eibenstock Reservoir. From 1882 until its discontinuation in 1967, passenger and freight trains crossed this bridge daily. It was one of 54 bridges that the line went over, which included six viaducts in and near the Mulde River. Even though the line was discontinued in its entirety by 1980, the Sonnebrücke is one of only a handful of crossings remaining on the line, which has been dismantled in large sections but abandoned on other stretches of track, including the line between Schönheide and Carlsfeld. When the line was discontinued in sections and tracks were taken out, all the bridges and viaducts were removed with steel parts recycled for other uses. Attempts to save some of the viaducts were put down due to lack of financial resources and pressure by the East German government to support the communist system by making use of every resource possible. The Sonnebrücke remained hidden from view for another 40+ years until city officials collaborated with locals and a pair of restoration companies in Saxony to restore and repurpose the structure for recreational use. This happened in 2014 at a cost of 90,000 Euros. There, the bridge was sandblasted and repainted black, some parts were replaced because of the rust and corrosion, and a new flooring made of wood replaced the rail decking which no longer served its function.

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Today, the Sonnebrücke continues to cross the Rödelbach River but has a new function, which is to provide cyclists and pedestrians with an opportunity to explore the town along the river. This bridge and another crossing at the Hauptstrassebrücke are both part of the former rail line that had once had trains going through Kirchberg, stopping at two stations in town. Today, it carries as a bike trail and even though only a section of the former rail line is used as a rails to trails, the Sonnebrücke and the line that crossed over serves not only as a reminder of a railroad that had once been part of Kirchberg’s history and heritage but also as an example of an unusual truss bridge which had long since been forgotten but the city took care that it received a new purpose in life.  It definitely shows that even with a small portion of money, one can make use of it and make it like it was brand new.

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And with few historic artefacts left in our world, we need more examples of history being restored for generations to learn about. 🙂

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Bridge Beautification in Glauchau (Saxony), Germany

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Hirschgraben Viaduct at the Castle Complex to be Completely Rebuilt; Former Mulde Crossing to become Rest Area for Bikes

GLAUCHAU (SAXONY)-  While driving (or even Walking) through Glauchau in western Saxony in Germany, one cannot avoid several construction barriers and even downed trees in several places within the community of 24,000, located between Zwickau and Chemnitz. As part of the plan to beautify the city, several Buildings sitting empty or abandoned are scheduled to be repurposed or torn down.  And that applies to a couple of the city’s key crossings. A former site of a historic Bridge is about to become a rest area and picnic area for cyclists whereas a historic Bridge near the Castle complex is about to be demolished and rebuilt to mimic the original Bridge from the 1700s. Details about the two Projects can be found here:

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Hirschgrund Bridge to be completely rebuilt as part of the Castle beautification project

Connecting the Fordere and Hintere Glauchau Castles with the city park to the south, the 300+ year old Hirschgrund Viaduct is the oldest known bridge in Glauchau, let alone one of the longest and tallest of the city’s bridges. At approximately 75 meters long and 15 meters high, the bridge consists of five arches built mainly of brick and concrete, although it is unclear whether the concrete was added later or was part of the construction. The bridge has been neglected for over 40 decades and closed to all pedestrians for almost that long, thus causing it to decay rapidly, forming cracks in the concrete and exposing the red brick. Vines have been growing on the structure and some accounts in the social media have described the bridge as wobbling while walking over the deep ravine. All the vines, the wooden scaffolding to support one of the arches and other coverings are about to become a thing of the past, for the Glauchau City Council recently approved a 1.3 million Euro project to completely rebuild the viaduct. According to the Free Press, the entire structure is scheduled to be completely taken down, then using the materials from the old structure, will be completely rebuilt mimicking the 17th Century viaduct when it was opened to horse and buggy. The project is expected to last 1-2 years pending on any unforseen circumstances. The complete rebuild of the viaduct is part of the controversial project to beautify the Castle Complex- in particular the courtyard in front of the Fordere Castle on the east side. At the cost of 500,000, the courtyard is supposed to be converted to a multifunctional arena with shelter house, steel flower tubs, park benches, an aluminum pergola and electric outlet. The proposal has been met with hefty criticism because of the lack of taste and conformity with the castle’s surroundings. Even an article written by a local architect suggested alternatives to the proposal that is more appropriate and based on a total agreement by the parties involved (click here to read the article by Kathleen Scheurer).  Already, the trees at the courtyard have been removed giving the castle complex a bare-naked appearance:

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How the castle complex will look like, once the five-month project ends in October remains open.

 

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Meerane Bridge: new on the left and the old one on the right before its removal. Photo by Ulrich Schleife

Meerane (Upper Mulde) Bridge Abutment to become a Picnic/Rest Area

For over two decades since the construction of the current structure and the removal of the 1880s historic bridge, the remaining eastern abutment has sat in its place, covered with vegetation and garbage and looking like an eyesore. Come April, it will become an eyesore no more. At the cost of 10,000 Euros, the vegetation area will be removed and the eastern abutment will be repurposed as a picnic and rest area for pedestrians and cyclists. Included will be a bike stand, benches and garbage cans in and around the abutment near the pedestrian crossing at Meerane and Linden Streets. That portion of the project will take three weeks to complete, according to the Free Press. This is part of a bigger project which the shoreline of the Zwickau Mulde River will be cleaned up and converted into a park and trail setting, using land from abandoned buildings that either have been torn down or are scheduled to be removed in the near future. Already in the works is the plan to have a bike trail connecting the bridge with the Zimmerstrasse Covered Bridge, located near the Wehrdigt Elementary School. In the long term, the Mulde Bike Trail will go through Glauchau along the river instead of along the Diversion Canal, a plus for those wanting to see the city’s historic bridges along the river. One can also see the bridges leading to the Castle Complex from that proposed stretch of trail.  As for the Meerane Bridge, the east abutment is the remains of the 1880s Town Lattice truss bridge built by local bridge builder Heinrich Carl Hedrich, who was responsible for the construction of a diversion canal around Glauchau, Germany’s first water main systems as well as several dams, mills and bridges in Glauchau and along the Mulde. The bridge was replaced on alignment in the 1990s and subsequently removed once the new structure opened.

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Abutments as remains of the old bridge

With the ongoing changes that are happening in and around Glauchau also comes the updates in the Bridge Tour Guide of Glauchau. Several photos have been added on the castle bridges as well as the Wave, plus some updates based on the current developments which will be followed closely in the Chronicles. To see the updates, click here, which will take you to the guide again. There, you will find more pictures and information so that you can better get to know the bridges in and around the city.  Enjoy! 🙂

 

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Minneapolis Bridge Company- Minneapolis, MN (USA)

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Granite Falls Suspension Bridge, spanning Minnesota River. Built in 1933

During a period between 1870 and 1940, the United States experienced an exponential growth in the number of not only iron and steel truss bridges, but also the number of bridge companies and steel mills. Originating from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New York, companies were established in the 1870s but through consolidations and insider business training, the numbers expanded westward, reaching Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa by 1910.

With these expansions came the development of the schools of bridge builders. Consisting of family dynasties and strong ties among the builders, these bridge builders were established either as family businesses or businesses with closest ties- whose founders later established ventures out west as a way to compete with the giant monopolies, like the American Bridge Company. Many schools of bridge builders existed beginning in the 1880s, including ones in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Ohio, New England,

and this one in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders featured bridge builders having established companies in Minneapolis and points to the east. These bridge builders were either self taught, had ties with companies to the east or both, and had a close-knit network of family members and close partners who later established companies or contracted westwards in the Great Plains and western states. They included the Hewett Family (William, Seth, Arthur), Commodore P. Jones, Lawrence Johnson and Alexander Bayne. Jones and Bayne were responsible for the Minneapolis Bridge Company, which was the longest tenured bridge company in the Minneapolis School and one of the longest in the United States.

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Kilen Woods Bridge in Jackson County, MN  Built in 1913. Replaced in 2004.

Founded in 1887 by Commodore P. Jones, the Minneapolis Bridge Company has a unique history, some of which is still being debated by historians and scholars today. What is known is the fact that the bridge company operated under different ownerships as well as different names. According to the 1985 study on Minnesota’s bridges by Robert Frame, the company operated under Minneapolis Bridge Company from 1888 to 1898 and from 1913 to 1941, the Minneapolis Bridge and Iron Company from 1898-1910 and as the Minneapolis Bridge Construction Company 1941- ca. 1944.  Jones operated the company before he left in 1910 to join Seth Hewett (with whom he was partners in the bridge business some years earlier) and formed the Great Northern Bridge Company, which operated until 1922. It is unknown what happened to the company between the time span of 1910 and 1913, although some sources claim that the company was out of business by 1910 and was restarted in 1913. But more research is needed to determine whether this was the case. However, one of Jones’s disciples, Alexander Y. Bayne took over the company in 1913, and the Minneapolis Bridge Company resumed its bridge building business. Bayne was president of the company from 1913 to 1917, when his partner, Oliver Matteson took over the presidency and held it until 1926. Matteson had been an agent of the company up to 1917 as well as an agent for two other previous companies prior to the resurrection of the Minneapolis Bridge Company. Another bridge builder, Isak Helseth took over the operations in 1941 and presided over the company until it folded in 1950.  Assuming the bridge company was not closed down between 1910 and 1913, the Minneapolis Bridge Company relocated twice in its life span: first to the Met Life Building from its original location at the Lumber Exchange Building in 1913 and seven years later to 3100 NE 6th Street. The company was known to have constructed dozens of bridges during its existence. The 1985 study by Frame indicated that five were built by Jones and 27 by Bayne. However upon doing a count by the writer as part of a book project completed eight years ago,  31 bridges were constructed under Commodore Jones and dozens of others by Bayne.

Winona Bridge. Built in 1941

Several historic bridges remaining in the country were built by Minneapolis Bridge Company, almost all of which were under the operations by Bayne, even though he had another business in Canada. Examples of bridges built by the company that are still standing include the following:

Winona Bridge (Minnesota)

St. Mary Aqueduct (Montana)

Sorlie Memorial Bridge (North Dakota/ Minnesota)

Ortonville Arch Bridge (Minnesota)

Granite Falls Suspension Bridge (Minnesota)

Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter (Minnesota)

Ten Mile Road Bridge (Michigan)

Savanna-Sabula Bridge. Built in 1932. Demolished and replaced in 2018.

Bridges that no longer exist but were built by Minneapolis Bridge Company include the following:

Savanna-Sabula Bridge (Iowa/Illinois)

Kilen Woods Bridge (Minnesota)

Meadow Hill Drive Bridge (Wisconsin)

Walworth Bridge (South Dakota)

Rockdale Viaduct (Iowa)

 

Sources:

Frame, Robert III „A Report on Historic Bridges in Minnesota.“ St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society and Minnesota Department of Transportation, 1985

Gardner, Denis. “Wood + Concrete + Stone + Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008

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Savanna-Sabula Bridge a Memory

Photo taken in January 2015

Cantilever K-Truss Bridge Imploded on 9 March; Running Slough Bridge also to Disappear.

SAVANNA, IL/ SABULA, IA- The end of an era has come for residents of the towns of Savanna and Sabula. One month after the replacement span- a tied-through arch bridge spanning the Mississippi River opened to through traffic, construction crews brought down the Savanna-Sabula Cantilever Truss Bridge on 9 March. Over 300 charges in 21 different places were used to bring down the main span. The Savanna-Sabula Bridge was built in 1932 by the Minneapolis Bridge Company, one of the major bridge companies that belonged to the Minneapolis School of Bridge Building, which featured the likes of Commodore P. Jones, the Hewett Family (Seth, William and Arthur) and Alexander Bayne, to name a few. Jones founded the company in 1887 and at the time of the construction of this bridge, Bayne was president of the company. The bridge had a span of 2481 feet, its main span was 520 feet. The blue-colored cantilever span featured a K-truss through truss span, one of the rarest of its kind in the country. The portal bracings were X-framed but a plaque was located on the Illinois end of the span. A video of the drive across the bridge can be seen below:

Because of its narrowness, combined with the roadway being in a flood plain and problems with river navigation, officials from Iowa and Illinois agreed to build a new span in 2013 while trying to give away the bridge to a party wishing to relocate it (see article here) Unfortunately there were no takers and therefore, the bridge was condemned, however some pieces will be reused for an exhibit in both ends, serving as a reminder of the bridge’s time as a toll bridge, serving the Short Route, connecting Cedar Rapids with Chicago.

Several videos of the bridge’s demolitions were taken, as it became a pile of scrap metal as of 10:35am on Friday the 9th of March, 2018. Some examples are shown below:

 

The Pratt through truss approach spans to the main span will be dismantled and the demolition of the bridge will be completed by May. At the same time, another accessory connecting Savanna and Sabula, the Running Slough Bridge (as pictured below) is being removed even as this article is released. The Pratt through truss span with West Virginia portals was built at the same as the Savanna-Sabula span and was the entry point to Sabula. The bridge was originally scheduled to be replaced this summer. However the partial collapse of one of the approach spans has prompted Iowa DOT to move the timeline forward and remove the bridge right away. At present, the new span is to be built and opened by the end of May. Whether this date is realistic depends on the weather conditions, especially because of the harsh winter the region has had, combined with possible flooding caused by the spring thaw.

 

Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge- An American’s Perspective: Day One

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Nur Heimat gibts nichts- There is never just a homeland.

 

This is a comment that I remember during my first meeting with the committee to save the Bockau Arch Bridge. Located over the Zwickauer Mulde River six kilometers southwest of Aue in western Saxony, this 146-year old stone arch bridge is one of a few historic landmarks left in the town of Bockau, with a population of 2,100 inhabitants. Closed since the end of August 2017, I had the dubious priviledge of having to make a detour of enternity in order to arrive at our first meeting. This meant going up the hill along Bockau Creek (which the over 800-year old town was named after), then making a pair of sharp curves going right onto a narrow street which leads me out of town, but not onto the bridge that has been blocked off completely. I had to drive another 15 kilometers on a paved road full of sharp curves, potholes, cracks, ice, and wolves roaming about in the forest until I reached the Eibenstock Reservoir. There, I crossed the next bridge and backtracked on the main highway going on the opposite side of the river which led to the meeting place next to the closed bridge- The Rechenhaus Restaurant. There, I was greeted by the welcoming party, despite my 45-minute late arrival, with happiness and joy that an American was coming to help. 🙂

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The Rechenhaus Restaurant located on the north end of the bridge.

How did I end up here in the first place? And why do a documentary on an old stone arch bridge that no one really knows much about?

As the two pigs Piggeldy and Frederick would say “Nicht leichter als das.” (No easier than this):

I’ve been a bridgehunter since I was five years old, having photographed and written about tens of thousands of bridges in 14 countries (including the US) and 14 states in the US (including my home state of Minnesota). In Germany, I’ve covered all but three of the 16 Bundesländer. This includes Saxony, the region I’ve been touring since 2016. I’ve been running the Chronicles since 2010 and have worked with groups on how to not only restore historic bridges but also how to make them attractive for tourists. This includes my involvement with historic bridge conventions as coordinator and speaker and my use of social media to garnish the attention of interested readers and other history enthusiasts. I’m also a teacher of English, which I’ve been doing since 2001, and since August 2017, I’ve been based full-time at the Saxony Police Academy in Schneeberg, located only three kilometers from the Bockau Bridge. It was also the same time period as my time in Saxony that I’ve done tours in the region, be it in cities like Dresden, Rochlitz, Leipzig, Glauchau, Zwickau, Aue/Schlema and Chemnitz, just to name a few, or along rivers like the Mulde and Elbe. And it was these bridgehunting tours that got the attention of the regional newspapers, namely the Free Press in Chemnitz, whose news reporters at the regional offices led me to this group saving this particular bridge.

And as for the bridge itself, it has more history than many locals know about. It was built in 1872 and is made of natural stone from the Ore Mountains. It took approximately a full year with lots of manpower to construct a multi-span stone arch bridge that connected Bockau with Albernhau and Zschorlau on the opposite side. A local restaurant with the name Rechenhaus was the site of the dam and lock area and headwaters plant, which were built between 1556 and 1559. The flow of the water was ideal for transporting materials downstream, and workers constructed several canals in the mountain region less than 90 years later. Even the headwaters plant was once a mill before it eventually became the barracks for the 11th Panzer Division during World War II and a restaurant after that.

In an attempt to slow down the progress of advancing soldiers from the east, the 11th Panzer Division was ordered to detonate the bridge in April 1945. This is the same tank division of German army that had fought (and lost) at Stalingrad, Kursk and the Battle of the Bulge before retreating towards Germany. Yet a brave unknown soldier did the unthinkable and  relocated the bombs to a temporary bridge in Zwickau before blowing that bridge up. This allowed for the Soviets and Americans to easily cross the bridge with their tanks with ease while setting the people free in the process. The 11th Panzer surrendered in Passau on 2 May, 1945, six days before Germany capitulated.  The same bridge was used again 23 years later, as soliders from the Warsaw Pact armies, consisiting of mainly Russians and East Germans crossed this bridge enroute to Prague to quash the Spring Movement.

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Talking about history, politics and the future of the bridge.

Despite all the history that is involved with this bridge, the historical monument has become a stranger to people in the region, having somewhat lost its face in the eyes of the locals. The mayor of Bockau would like to see the bridge gone once its replacement opens. The same with the state of Saxony and the German government, both are championing a 6.4 million Euro project to replace the old bridge. And despite the petition going around for saving the bridge, a handful of politicians are interested in keeping the bridge for pedestrian use after the new structure is built- most of them with little affiliation with the region with the exception of the Green party.

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And this is where I come in.

Our first meeting at the Rechenhaus Restaurant, the historic building which once had the barracks but was originally the headwaters mill and dam complex. The restaurant has a very Erzgebirge taste to it, with a collection of incense men and wood-carved chandeliers. Opposite the entrance to the restaurant is a mahoghany-framed painting of the dam and mill as it was in the 16th century. Some in the committee would like to see it again as a way to slow the flow of the Zwickau Mulde. The river had flooded towns downstream on six different occasions since the bridge was built, with the worst of them having occurred in 1954, 2002 and 2013. Given its proximity to the bridge, many would like to see the restaurant as is. Yet its location during the construction period has become a painful inconvenience. Talking to the restaurant owner, he was deeply disturbed by the construction and stated that since the project started, he had lost up to 60% of his customers. Whether he can compensate once the new span opens remains unclear.

We were nine people minus the restaurant owner, each one with a new set of ideas on how to keep and possibly fix the bridge so that it can be used again. Yet as seen with the American historic bridges, money needs to be there in order for it to happen. Political connections needs to be there in order for it to happen. The same with the use of media and lastly support from the public. As with all historic bridges, the public is the first line of offence in pursuing the preservation of historic bridges. Whether it is with petitions, technical know-how or even planning events, they always have the ideas first before our elected officials. After that, we get the attention out there via social media. Through that and the events, the politicians come in with bills to approve measure to restore the bridge. Then the money comes in to pay for the costs.

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For our bridge in Bockau, we’re already at step one, which is public interest. A petition with 1700 signatures was sent to Dresden to the state parliament. Another one is in the works which includes an English version for people to sign and establishing a website. That will be my job for right now- an important one! Speaking from experience with the Green Bridge in Des Moines, gathering interest in social networking will make waves and influence the thinking of the higher-ups of politics and business. Once that is established and we have the English version to submit to Dresden, the next plan is to meet with officials in Dresden to discuss the situation and ways to make the historic pedestrian crossing a reality. A big plus is the fact that the bridge and the mill area are historic lanbdmarks which make it impossible to tear down unless ordered by the federal government. How that works will come in a later article. Then with the connections and planning will be the events. This is where the tough part comes in. How to make this bridge attractive to tourists of all age? We’ve looked at drawing contests, concerts and the like. But what else could be do there? And how can we raise money for the project? This is independent on any funding available for rehabilitating the bridge, which is scarce at the moment, but the search continues.

It’s a battle that one can lose but it’s better to die trying than to sit and do nothing. The mentality has increased in the US over the past decade, yet Germany does have a lot of pride in its history and culture, too much of it to just sit and do nothing.

And with that, I must set to work. I have my expertise to use and share, while others are garnering some more support from locals and interested people in the project. Therefore, what are we waiting for? Get to work!

More on my involvement in the preservation project to come. Stay tuned! 🙂

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The Preservation Committee including the restaurant owner.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 93: The Unusual Railroad Truss Bridge (or Bridges) in the Erzgebirge

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ERLA-CRANDORF (SAXONY); GERMANY- Not far from the towns of Markersbach and Schwarzenberg is our next mystery bridge. This one is located over the Schwarzwasser River in the small town of Erla. First mentioned in the history books in 1308, Erla and its neighboring village Crandorf are located three kilometers southwest of Schwarzenberg. Combined, they have a population of only 2000 inhabitants, with Erla having 850. The two communities had been a joint entity from 1925 until it became part of the Schwarzenberg consortium in 1999, which remains to this day. While Crandorf is located on top of one of the mountains in the Erzgebirge, Erla is wedged deep in the Schwarzwasser Valley and is easily accessible by rail and by highway, both leading to Johanngeorgenstadt, which is at the border between Germany and the Czech Republic.

This bridge is one of the most unusual through trusses one can visit. It is located 50 meters from the train station and right next to the steelworks, which has existed as long as the community. When looking at the bridge from a distance, it appears a duo span that are siamese twins, meaning one truss bridge is connected to a larger truss span. Upon further view, the bridges are indeed separate, but the spans are different in size and age. The only similarity is that they are both Warren trusses with subdivided vertical beams, yet the larger one has a Scharper design.

The larger span features a through truss span with a 45° skewed portal bracings, which stretches three panels on the right side of the truss. Both the portal and the strut bracings are I-beamed shaped, while the first left panel has a vertical bedstead endpost and 60° heel bracings supporting the first strut and the portal bracings. All beams are mainly I-beam, with the vertical beams being H-beam. All connections are riveted. Every panel has a heel bracing on the bottom end of the decking. The bridge is 25-30 meters long and about 10 meters wide. It is taller than the neighboring pony truss bridge by 2 meters. The bridge is much newer with the only engraving being the name of the steelworks company, the Friedrichshutte, based in Laubach (Hesse), which is east of Frankfurt (Main). It is very likely that the bridge was built after German Reunification and is between 10 and 20 years old. But when it was built is unknown.

It is just as unknown as the pony truss span  located right next to it. The bridge is definitely older, yet the question is how old. The Schwarzenberg-Johanngeorgenstadt-Karlsbad route was built in 1883, and the railroad was rerouted between Erla and Schwarzenberg in 1946, which included the elimination of the tunnel going underneath the castle in Schwarzenberg. The chances of the pony truss span being built during Communist times is likely as riveted and welded trusses began to take over trusses with pinned connections in 1910. Bridges built to replace those destroyed during World War II were built using this type of connections on the trusses. This pony truss bridge has welded connections as it was built using T-beams. Even the gusset plates are welded into the beams making it sturdier. What is unique about the pony truss span is its unusual skewed span. It appears that the skew is 60°+ or misaligned by four panels, which makes it unusual for a skewed truss span. The vertical beams feature a pencil-like thin trapezoidal design, where the beam’s width is 25 cm, yet the beams narrow to form a pencil chewed on both ends- with 40 cm from the top and 25 cm from the bottom chord. The truss is 2 meters tall and the width is about eight meters. Because of its age and narrowness, it was subsequentially replaced but never removed. Even though it has been fenced off, it appears that a bike or pedestrian trail may be in the works in the long term, especially as there is a bike trail already in existence between Aue and Schwarzenberg. If it is the case, it may be an advantage for those wishing to bike up the mountains.

A photo gallery of the two bridges is below. If you know more about the bridges, feel free to contact the Chronicles. The main questions to be answered are: What more do we know about the history of the bridges? What did they look like before 1945? When were the two bridges built? And in the case of the pony truss bridge, who was the bridge builder? Any ideas and help would be much appreciated.

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