Bridging our past with the future by preserving our heritage in the present.
Category: The Flensburg Files
In early March 1945, German forces in France and the Low Countries were flooding back across the Rhine with American forces in close pursuit. Hitler intended to use the swift, deep, and wide Rhine River as a moat to stop the Allies while he concentrated on defeating the Russians in the East. He ordered all […]
The event happened 75 years ago and a memorial dedicated to the battle of Remagen can be found today. It features the remaining bridge heads and a museum, which opened in 1980 and is dedicated to this historic event. A celebration commemorating the event is scheduled to take place July 31- August 2 at the bridge site. A link to the website of the bridge and the events that follow can be found here.
Corona Special: The Cancellation of Bridge Festivals
In both the USA as well as Germany and other European countries, communities in the summer time host bridge festivals (in German: Brückenfest), where markets and festivities take place at their beloved historic bridge. This usually takes place on a weekend and attracts thousands of visitors from all corners of the world. Because of the pandemic CoVid-19, these events are either cancelled or are about to be cancelled or postponed because of the high risk of spreading the virus. And if the Oktoberfest in Munich gets cancelled for the first time since 1949, no bridge festival is safe. Hence the information in this week’s podcast, including links.
Note: Further cancellations of bridge festivals are likely as the virus progresses and planners remain concern about the safety of their bridges, communities and the people who visit them in large masses. The Chronicles will continue to provide you with updates through the Newsflyer podcast as they come.
To follow up more on the Corona Virus, go to the sister website, The Flensburg Files (click here.) There, you can read up on all the stories involving CoVid-19, including events being cancelled in Germany (and Europe) and people over there who are dealing with the virus and the restriction of movements.
Hof, in the far northeastern corner of Bavaria, is one of the most historically strategic cities in modern German history. The city, with a population of over 48,000 inhabitants, is located at two Dreiecken, with a history that dates back to the Cold War. To the southeast, there’s the Bayerische Dreieck near the town of Prex, where Bavaria, Saxony and the Czech Republic meet. To the northeast, there’s the Dreiländereck near Mödlareuth, where Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia meet. Until 1990, Hof was an isthmus surrounded by the Iron Curtain and with that, the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), with the borders barb-wired, walled and patrolled by soldiers to ensure that no escaped to the west. Hof was in the line of a possible invasion by Warsaw Pact Forces as they would’ve marched into West Germany via Fulda Gap, had the conflict reached the point where the first missiles had fired.
In 1989, when East Germans fled to the west via Prague in what was Czechoslovakia, Hof was the meeting point where trains loaded with refugees passed through before heading to West Germany. Gutenfürst, located 10 kilometers to the northeast, was its main transit station into Saxony. When the Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, tens of thousands passed through Hof to get their Welcome Money (Begrüßungsgeld) and buy western goods for the first time ever. Traffic jams of up to 50 kilometers at the Rudolphstein Viaduct were common until the Koditz Viaduct and the Motorway 72 opened to traffic for the first time in almost three decades.
Since the Fall of the Wall and its subsequent Reunification, Hof has transformed itself. It used to be a Cold War modern city with Americans stationed there. Businesses catered to the needs of the soldiers and those who successfully escaped. Nowadays, they have gone out of business, but life goes on in the now quiet small city which is situated between the Vogtland, the Fichtel Mountains and the Franconian Forest. It’s the third largest city in the regional district of Upper Franconia Franconia behind Bayreuth and Bamberg and like the two, it houses not only its own city government but also that of its district. Hof belongs to the Beer Mile where one can try over a thousand different sorts of beer in places like Bayreuth, Kulmbach and Bamberg. Hof is famous for its Schlappenbier, one of the strongest beers ever brewed. And while the Galleria Kaufhof has shut down since 2018, the historic city center, with classical houses lining up along the streets leading to the St. Michaeliskirche, is still bustling with activities with weekly markets and especially its Christmas Market (for more on that, click here.) The city is home to the University of Sciences, where over 5,600 students attend for classes.
While they play a very small role during the Cold War and thereafter, the bridges of Hof have undergone a transition of their own, just like with some of the architecture in the city. No longer known for their modern Cold War architecture, many structures have been replaced with post-Cold War modern architectures, where slabs of concrete built in the 50s and 60s are being replaced with fancier designs made of steel, wood or even a combination of the two plus concrete decking. This includes the likes of the Theresiensteg near the City Park and the Luftsteg at the railway station. Only a few historic structures remain in Hof, whether they are the truss bridges near Filzwerk, or the arch bridges at Obere Steinbrücke or the railway viaduct at Unterkotzau, the oldest bridge still standing. And while most of these structures can be found along the railway and the River Saale, each one has a history of its own that have yet to be discovered. Although the city has its own website and a page devoted on bridges, there is only information on the bridge projects that are either planned or completed, but next to none on the structure’s history in comparison with the one we know about; some of which are located at the former East-West German border.
Henceforth, a tour guide has been created with the focus on the bridges of Hof. Based on the author’s visit this year, they will feature pictures of every bridge photographed in Hof with the information that is known about the bridge, with some gaps that need to be filled with regards to the bridges’ history. They include the structures along the River Saale from Oberkotzau to Unterkotzau, as well as those along the railline, including one at the railway station. Click onto the pictures and if you know of the history of one or more bridges, contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact information by clicking here. The information will then be added in the tour guide that is powered by GoogleMaps. Old photos of the bridges (including the spans that are long since been replaced or removed) are more than welcome.
Hof has a wide selection of bridges in terms of style, materials and different eras. The question is what were the stories behind them? What were they like before World War II? This is where the podium is now open.
Click onto the tour guide, click onto the bridges marked and Good Luck! 🙂
The next Mystery Bridge article is in connection with the last Newsflyer article published last week on Lake Eder (in German: Edersee) and how the receding water levels are revealing relicts of the past, including a pair of bridges. To give you a brief summary of its location, Edersee is located in the district of Waldeck-Frankenberg in the northern part of Hesse, between the cities of Kassel and Warburg (Westphalia) in central Germany. One needs two hours from Frankfurt/Main in order to reach the lake. Edersee is an artificial lake that was built on orders of Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II beginning in 1911. The dam and reservoir, located near Hemfurth was completed in 1914, but not before three villages were emptied of their inhabitants and later inundated. One of the villages is Asel, where the village’s lone surviving structure still stands.
The Asel Bridge is known by many as the Bridge to Atlantis at Asel (in German: Aselerbrücke). The bridge used to cross the river Eder when it was built in 1890. It is a four-span stone arch bridge, whose builder is unknown. It used to connect Asel with Vöhl before it was inundated with the creation of the reservoir. Over time, the bridge could be seen when water levels were low during the warm months from April to August. However, in the past decade, the levels have been decreasing to a point where the bridge can be seen in its glory year round. Furthermore, access to the bridge is possible on both ends and people can see relicts from the village before its relocation up the hill. The bridge, which has seen increasing numbers of visitors annually, is a living example of the village that had to move aside in the name of progress, having survived the test of time for more than a century.
Yet another crossing, located towards the dam between Scheid and Bringhausen, was not that lucky and only remains of the structure can be seen at low water point. The Eder Bridge at Bringhausen was built in 1893, made of wood, but it is unknown what type of bridge it was before its destruction- whether it was a covered bridge, truss bridge or a beam bridge. We also don’t know who built the bridge and at what cost. What we do know is when Scheid was relocated and the village was destroyed, so was the bridge itself. Today, what is left are the approach spans- made of stone- and the piers that used to support the wooden bridge- made of stone and concrete.
And finally, the third structural ruins that is closest to the dam is the Werbebrücke. This was located in the village of Berich, which is two Kilometers southwest of Waldeck Castle on the North end. Berich was the original site of the dam, water mill and mine that were constructed in the 1750s. The 75-meter long, five-span, stone arch bridge, with concrete keystone arch supports followed in 1899, even though we don’t know who was behind the work. We do know that the bridge was inundated along with the rest of Berich when the Reservoir was created. It was only until 2010, when water levels started its constant drop, that scuba divers found the bridge remains and some relicts from the old village. Since then, one can see the relicts from shore, including the outer two of the five arches of the bridge.
Not much information on the three structures exists for they were either hidden somewhere or were lost in time due to the relocation and inundation to form the reservoir. As the dam at Hemfurth was one of four dams that were damaged extensively during the bombing raids of 1943, it is possible that fire and floods may have taken the rest of the documents. The dams were rebuilt after the end of World War II, using the Nazi prisoners of war as labor, as American forces rebuilt the area they occupied. Aside from their completion in 1947-49, they have been rehabilitated five times ever since.
Still the information presented on the three bridges at Asel, Berich and Scheid should be the starting point for research. What else do we know about the three bridges, aside from what was mentioned here? If you have some useful information to share, feel free to comment- either by e-mail or in the comment section below. To understand more about the Edersee, there are some useful links to help you. The facts can be found via wiki (here), but there is a website that has all the information on places of interests and activities for you to try (click here). There, you can keep an eye on water levels and plan for your next outing. A documentary on the history of Edersee via HNA can be accessed here.
The infamous Edersee bombing raid happened on 17 May, 1943, when the British Squadron Nr. 617 under the Command of Guy Gibson, used the roll-and-rotating bombs dropped at the reservoir to bomb the dams. Holes were created causing damage to the dams and massive flooding that reached depths of up to eight meters. As many as 749 people perished and hundreds of homes and factories were destroyed in the attacks. The Americans took over the region, together with Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg and started a rebuilding plan, using prisoners of war plus troops who remained in Germany. While the area was rebuilt in five years’ time, the process of rebuilding Germany to its pre-war state took three decades to complete due to complications from the Cold War with the Soviets, who occupied the northeastern part of Germany (today: Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Pommerania and “East” Berlin). This is despite the Britons and French occupying the rest of what became later known as West Germany.
Prior to the destruction of Berich, a new village was established in 1912, approximately 15 kilometers away. Neu-Berich is located near the border to North Rhine-Westphalia west of Landau. For more on its history (and to buy the book), click here.
Travelling along the Autobahn 115 heading into Berlin, one will be greeted with a lot of surprises in a form of relicts from the Cold War Days. Even abandoned buildings, lighting and pieces of the Berlin Wall have managed to remain in place after almost 30 years since the Fall of the Wall, which created the domino effect for the rest of eastern Europe and resulted in a reunified Germany. Some examples of such relicts include those at Checkpoint Bravo, located at the former border splitting Berlin into two at Dreilinden-Drewitz.
From 1969 until 1991, this was the former transit point for all cars entering West Berlin from the rest of East Germany. Patrollmen inspected the vehicles for dangerous goods- those on the East side for those wishing to smuggle themselves to the West at any cost. Restaurants, gas and service station, customs office and holding stations, all of which were the works of the architect mastermind Rainer Rümmler, flanked the Autobahn, which was christened the AVUS Transit during those days. Relicts from the past still exist today but are partially occupied by administrative offices serving Berlin and the rest of Europe. One can witness the eery feeling of emptiness combined with nostalgia when walking across the former complex that had greeted thousands passing through daily.
Yet, when looking 2 kilometers to the west, one will see relicts of another former crossing and bits and pieces of the older Autobahn, including a bridge spanning the Teltow Canal. This one has an even more adventuresome history which will be discussed in this tour guide on the bridges at Checkpoint Bravo. To give you an idea what we are looking at, let’s have a look at a pair of maps to help you:
To get there, there are several ways. By car, one can park at the former Checkpoint Bravo site or at some of the parking areas in the Düppel Forest, including the Campground Camping Freude Berlin, located on the south end of Teltow Canal. The nearest lightrail (S-bahn) and rail stop is Griebnitzsee, yet it is recommended to use the bike to get to the site because the former site is 2 kilometers to the east- that is unless you’re training for the Berlin Marathon, then you can afford the trek into the wild. 😉
I took the rental bike during my stay in Berlin and detouring past the US Consulate in Charlottenburg, I took the chance by biking down there to see the sites that belonged to one of the most important sites in post-war German history; second behind Checkpoint Charlie in the city center. After spending a couple hours there, one can conclude that Checkpoint Bravo and its sites are definitely worth a field trip for any history class in school. We’ll have a look at the reasons why beginning with……..
AVUS Bridge at Teltow Canal
This bridge is the piecemeal of the former East-West Berlin crossing from the southwest. The deckplate girder crossing is about 150 meters long and dates back to 1940. It was part of the first Autobahn that was built in Germany, dating back to 1922. From Funkturm in the city center to Grunewald, the motorway, known as AVUS, was solely used for car racing and for testing automobiles until the time of the Third Reich (1933-45) when they decided to use it for transporting people and goods while at the same time, extend the route to the south. The first segment connected the three-leaf interchange Nuhetal (with A-10 Berlin Ring) with the four-leaf clover interchange Zehlendorf in 1940. The second extended to the southern end of the race track and was completed in 1941. Counting the interruptions because of the last few months of the Second World War and the march on Berlin in 1945, the northern half of AVUS was used for autoracing until 1998. The AVUS Bridge at Teltow Canal, a.k.a. the Dreilinden Crossing was considered throughfare until after World War II, when Berlin was divided into West and East. Prior to Germany’s defeat, the Nazi soldiers had blown up the crossing to slow down the advancing troops. From 1948 onwards, the Dreilinden Crossing was considered a border crossing and would continue to function as that until 1969, when the East German government decided to shut down the border crossing and as a reaction, the West German government constructed Checkpoint Bravo. Prior to its closure, when people tried crossing between West and East, they were greeted by a restaurant, campground, car parking area and crossguards with patrol house. On the west end, there were flag posts where the flags of West Germany, the Allied Countries and Berlin once waved proudly. The flag post, road signs leading to West Berlin, a few street lamps and the bridge itself are still there today. The restaurant and campground have long since closed and are privately owned. The bridge used to be blocked off during the Cold War with the wall going right across the structure. That was subsequentially removed after the Fall of the Wall. Today, one can use the bridge to cross Teltow Canal and see some of the sites of what used to be the Dreilinden border crossing, but will not be able to see the restaurant and campground. The structure has been considered a historic landmark because of its association with the Cold War and the history of the AVUS. Ironically, the AVUS is the second oldest motorway in the world; the first one was built in 1921 in Italy (Milan-Laghi Autostrada) and was used exclusively as the motorway we know of today. AVUS was solely used as a testing ground and racetrack until 1935.
As many as four bridges used to span the original stretch of the AVUS from the time it was built in 1940 until the time the autobahn was relocated and the Dreilinden border crossing closed in 1969. This bridge is all that is left today, as it still spans what is left of the route. The bridge consisted of two railroad crossings, although given the unusual width of the brick piers, it might have for one time carried a street or multiple rail lines. However, records show that this bridge was a railroad crossing that carried the original Berlin-Potsdam-Magdeburg Railroad (BPM). The line was created in 1845-47 and used to run through Zehlendorf and Düppel. The rail line also included an S-bahn line that ran parallel between the BPM Route and the AVUS. The line survived for almost 120 years until two events sealed the fate of the Zehlendorf-Griebnitzsee portion of the BPM. The first was the construction of the Berlin Außerring in 1956, which rerouted all train service through Berlin-Wannsee instead of Düppel, Machnow and Stolperweg, all of which ran parallel and across the East-West German border. The second was the construction of the Berlin Wall and the strikes that followed. With the two developments, the line between Griebnitzsee and Düppel was cut off, and the original line was shut down by 1980. Relicts of the line still exist today including this bridge, whose remaining span consists of a single-track steel plate girder span, with an estimated length of 100 meters across the former AVUS. The other spans were removed and reused on other rail lines. Since 2000, there have been talks of revitalizing the original line yet the earliest they will be able to start rebuilding and reopening the line is 2030. While walking past the bridge, one will be greeted by grafiti that covered virtually the entire bridge and piers. 200 meters away of the bridge is a memorial for one of the victims who tried escaping to the western half but was shot on site by East German border guards.
On 15 June, 1965, businessman Hermann Döbler and his partner Elke Märtens were on a boating trip from Wannsee to Griebnitzsee when they tried to escape to West Berlin via Teltow Canal. The canal was heavily guarded by patrolmen on the East German side to prevent people from escaping. Still the two took the risk and tried to cross, only to stop 100 meters short of the border and turn around. As Döbler was turning around, two patrolmen opened fire on the boat, hitting him four times in the knee, torso and head and killing him instantly. Elke suffered a grazed bullet in the head but survived with permanent injuries. Döbler had tried to help others escape and even wanted to escape to the west after he was separated from his family because of the Wall. His family was already in the western half of Germany when the Wall was built. The person who shot him was later arrested in 1993 and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
The Friedhofsbahnbrücke is one of a few well-known relicts left of the train line that connected Berlin-Wannsee and Stahndorf. It was one of two light rail crossings over the border between West and East Berlin during the Cold War. Yet the bridge and the line go back a century. The Baltimore through truss bridge with riveted connections and closed heel bracings was built in conjunction with the creation of the line in 1913-14. While the line survived the first World War, it sustained considerable damage during the second World War, with the light rail stations, much of the 4.2 kilometer track and this bridge itself being destroyed before the end of the war. Attempts to rebuild the line were difficult for the bridge and the tracks were rebuilt, but tensions between the West (USA, France and Britain) and the Soviet Union resulted in splitting Berlin into West and East. Despite attempts to create a border crossing at Wannsee, connecting Stahndorf, the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 sealed the fate of the line, for the lone crossings left were at Drewitz (by car) and Wannsee (by train and light rail). During the 1970s and 80s, both governments dismantled the tracks, bridges and Train stations for they were rendered useless, plus for the western half, they wanted to renaturalize the area. Attempts to reactivate the line via petitions by the church organizations and locals during the 1990s fell on deaf ears because of the lack of financial feasibility of the line. Today, only small sections of the line on the former western end exist, together with a couple bridges, including this one.
Sadly though, the days of the Friedhofsbrücke are numbered. In 2013, the German Railways (Die Bahn) announced the removal of the bridge for safety reasons, citing the fact that because of its decades-long abandonment, combined with weather extremities and boat traffic passing underneath, the bridge has rusted and corroded to a point where rehabilitation was no longer an option. At the same time, the bridge and the property surrounding it was put up for sale in hopes to unload its liability. Up until now, there is no word as to whether the sale was carried out. During my visit in 2018, the bridge was still standing but the entire decking has been removed, leaving the 200-meter structure all but a superstructural skeleton. Combined with the extreme rust and corrosion on the structure, chances are likely that the bridge will be gone before 2020 latest. And with that, the remains of the Friedhofsbahn that had once benefitted the growing population of Stahndorf. The locals today still don’t understand the reasons for the line’s death nor the logic of the Bahn. Yet with German logic, there are some things that we don’t understand.
Author’s Note: After the visit, the abandoned bridge was removed at the end of November, 2018. The government of the affected suburbs agreed that the bridge was a safety hazard. It was taken off its piers and lowered onto a barge on the canal, before it was hauled away for scrap.
Autobahn 115 Bridge
Only 300 meters east of the Friedhofbahnbrücke, one will find the A115 Bridge. Consisting of a single-span tied arch span with three arches, built in a 40° skew, this 150 meter long span is located 250 meters south of the exit Dreilinden and Stolperstrasse. The structure was built in 1995, replacing a steel girder span that was built at the same time as the realigned Autobahn, which was built between 1967 and 1969. Because of the increase in traffic volume, especially after the Fall of the Wall in 1989, the steel structure was no longer able to handle the load and was therefore replaced. The arch bridge was built to the east of the old structure before it was slid into place at the expense of 60s structure. The bridge carries six lanes of traffic and still accommodates large sums of traffic without any problems to this day. And it is a good thing too, for Berlin has been growing by about 3% daily, especially in the outer suburbs. When entering Berlin from the south, one should exit at Dreilinden/ Stolperstrasse and turn left. There, one will find a museum with the name Checkpoint Bravo at the site of the former East German border crossing at Dreilinden and watchman’s tower. The crossing was built in 1969 when the AVUS was relocated and was preserved in 1998 and converted into a museum, where one will see a gallery, depicting the history of Checkpoints Bravo and Dreilinden and the way of life prior to 1989. One can learn more about this historic site by clicking here.
Königsweg Friedhofsbahn Overpass
The next bridge is very hidden- so hidden that in order to get to the structure, one has to get down and dirty and fight through the vegetation and rock climb his way down to get to the structure. And even then, it is recommended to do that in the winter time, when all the leaves are off the trees, and one can see the former S-bahn and bridge up close. The bridge is located parallel to the old AVUS, with the trail it carries running parallel to the highway before merging with the current Autobahn A 115 in the direction of Berlin. In the opposite direction, one will find it on the right-hand side of the former AVUS (about 100 meters away) before the Autobahn curves left in the direction of the former checkpoint at Dreilinden. The structure is a single span, closed spandrel, concrete arch Bridge spanning the former track of the Friedhofsbahn with a span of approximately 40 meters. With only one track, one span is logical, otherwise with two or more, one would have either added another arch span or, as practiced with most railway spans in Berlin, a through truss span. Even though we don’t know wo built the bridge, the arch span dates back to the time of the building of the S-bahn and has survived years of war, abandonment and weather extremities for over a century without a scratch. It carries Königsweg, a minimum maintenance road used mostly as a bike trail and pedestrian path connecting Griebnitzsee and Checkpoint Bravo. Sadly though, the bridge has seen better days for there is a restricted weight limit of 16 tons. Furthermore, the lane has been reduced to one lane to ensure that one vehicle can cross at a time. It is unknown how long the bridge will be in service before something happens to it. Even though track remains of the Friedhofsbahn can be seen at the bridge, chances are very likely that the span will be removed and the crossing filled in for the Bahn has shown no interest in reactivating the line, despite pleas from communities affected to have the Bahn reconsider.
Königsweg A-115 Crossing
Approximately 1.5 Kilometers to the east of the arch bridge is the newest of the crossings at the former Checkpoint Bravo and Dreilinden sites. Built in 1998, this bridge is located only 70 meters south of the “Hausbrücke” at Bravo and Features a rare form of a suspension bridge- a steel plate girder bridge that is supported only by the towers and no cables. An additional pier in the middle of the Autobahn is also included to provide stability for the structure, whose length is 61.2 meters and height is 1.65 meters. The architect for the bridge was Benedict Tonon, who had left his mark in Berlin with three other bridges: Marschallbrücke, Anhalter Steg and Hiroshimasteg. Krupp Steel (part of Thyssen Krupp) built the superstructure. While the bridge is obstructed by the Hausbrücke on the north end (unless one is inside that Bridge), one’s best shot for this bridge is on the south end or on the structure itself. The Königsweg was needed for the previous structure, built in 1940, was too short for the city’s plan to widen the A-115 from Potsdamer Chausee and areas to the south in Babelsberg and Potsdam. The 1940 structure, a concrete girder span, used to serve traffic to the residential areas nearby, which were popular during the days of the Cold War. After the Fall of the Wall and German Reunification, many West German residents abandoned the housing areas for newer and better properties in the former East, leaving some parts of the area to renaturalization. Today’s bridge, together with the next one on the tour guide, serves six lanes of A-115 at Bravo, but is mostly used for cyclists and hikers, while only a handful of cars pass through here.
Bridgehouse at Checkpoint Bravo
Apart from the Border Crossing Bridge over the Teltow Canal at Dreilinden, the Bridgehouse at Bravo is the second of the two masterpieces that depict the history of the East-West Berlin crossing at Checkpoint Bravo in full Detail. Like at the Dreilinden crossing, the Housebridge is part of the border Control complex that was built from 1968 to 1972 and was primarily a military base for American troops for over 20 years. It is located only 70 meters south of the Königsweg Crossing, approximately half a Kilometer south of the Potsdamer Chausee interchange, the first Exit when travelling through what was the former West Berlin. During the Cold War, travellers entering East Germany from West Berlin were greeted at Checkpoint Bravo, where their cars were thoroughly inspected to ensure there were no harmful materials that could cause unrest between East and West. Lines of cars along the AVUS were the norm and many had to wait either in waiting rooms at the customs Office or the holding rooms as well as at restaurants located on both sides of the AVUS. Westerners were allowed to enter and leave East Germany, whereas the East Germans were banned from entering West Berlin, as it was part of West Germany. There were many attempts to escape to the West from 1961, when the Berlin Wall was erected, until 9 November, 1989 when the Wall fell and the gates were opened to those who want to see it. Yet during that time, Checkpoint Bravo was also involved in (nearly) successful attempts of smuggling East Germans into West Berlin (and with that, the West).
One needs to remember that along the AVUS, there were two border crossings from 1969 to the Fall of the Wall: the East German border crossing at Checkpoint Bravo, located at the site of A-115 Bridge over the Teltow Canal and the West German border crossing at Checkpoint Bravo, which is this one. One needs to pass through both to cross. Both sites are considered historic monuments yet the Housebridge and the West Berlin side of Checkpoint Charlie was auctioned off, together with the restaurant in 2010. The Bridge, which was designed by Rainer Rümmler und Hans Joachim Schröder, together with the rest of the complex, is still standing and serves as a greetings and entry point to Berlin. The complex is still used for film scenes, yet there are no plans for converting at least part of the complex- bridge included- to a museum just like at the one at the East Berlin part of Bravo at Stolperstrasse. Yet anything is possible and it is doubtful that the whole complex- still preserved in ist original pre-1989 form- will disappear anytime soon, for Checkpoint Bravo is still a key part of the history of Berlin, Germany, Europe and the Cold War period, where the US and Soviets faced off for four decades until 1989.
After spending a couple hours by bike and by foot, I found a lot of interesting facts that made this area around Checkpoint Charlie a unique place to visit. While many people prefer a tour guide with simply fancy historic bridges with some historical facts and all, sometimes bridges play a role in the history of the region and possibly the country. The bridges at and around Checkpoint Bravo symbolized the need to connect East and West Germanys as well as Berlin. for the Wall and the division resulted in families being split up and enflamed conflicts between the US and its allies on one side and the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact countries on the other. And even though attempts to keep people from fleeing through Walls and patrol guards were made, one can see that when there is a will, there is a way to circumvent the barriers and bring the sides together. Officials in Berlin on all levels have been working to keep the relicts of the former Berlin Wall from either falling apart or being removed in favor of modernization for reasons that this part of history should not be forgotten. Already, the mentality is “History is History, We worry about the future” is starting to set in, especially with the younger generations. Therefore, it is important that such artefacts are kept in place and restored with the goal of ensuring that this part of German history is not forgotten forever. The Bridges at Checkpoint Bravo is part of that history, which together with the former crossings at Bravo and Dreilinden, people should understand about. After all, in order to learn about what is going on in the present which is effecting the future, one needs to look into the past to determine what actions that were done then can still be used now in order to have a future for younger generations to enjoy.
Looks can be deceiving, as we can see in this pic of the week. This was taken at Niagara Falls on the Ontario side looking at the Rainbow Arch Bridge. This bridge spans the Niagara River connecting the Canadian and American sides. When this was photographed, I decided to make it very grey, thus leading the people to think whether this river is completely dry and barren, or full but totally contaminated with thick chemicals that are strong enough to stop any boating traffic. You can have a look and judge for yourself.
Fortunately in reality, it was not the case, for we would not have done the boat tour towards the two falls and gotten soaked in the process. The boat tour started with a close-up of Horseshoe Falls (which was behind me when I took this) followed by a visit of American Falls, which is next to the bridge. As will be seen in my article about Niagara Falls in the sister column The Flensburg Files, if you are there for the Falls, you should see it at level, from Skylon Tower and on this boat tour. Why, you will find out for yourself. In the meantime, enjoy this pic as there are more to come. 🙂
The discussion about the preservation and reuse of historic places has existed since the 1950s, thanks to the preservation laws that have been in place. The German Preservation Laws were passed in 1958, whereas the Historic Preservation Laws that established the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places in the USA were enacted in 1966. Both serve the lone purpose of identifying and designating places unique to the cultural identity and history of their respective countries. Furthermore, these places are protected from any sort of modernization that would otherwise alter or destroy the structure in its original form. Protected places often receive tax credits, grants and other amenities that are normally and often not granted if it is not protected or even nominated for listing as a historic site. This applies to not only buildings and bridges but also to roadways and highways, windmills, towers of any sorts, forts and castles, citadels and educational institutions and even memorials commemorating important events.
Dedicating and designating sites often receive mixed reactions, from overwhelming joy because they can better enjoy the sites and educate the younger generations, to disgruntlement because they want to relieve themselves of a potential liability.
Since working with a preservation group in western Saxony on saving the Bockau Arch Bridge, a seven-span stone arch bridge that spans the Zwickau Mulde between Bockau and Zschorlau, six kilometers southwest of Aue, the theme involving this structure has been ownership. The bridge has been closed to all traffic since August 2017 while a replacement is being built on a new alignment. Once the new bridge opens, the 150-year old structure will come down unless someone is willing to step in and take over ownership and the responsibilities involved. . Taking the structure means paying for its maintenance and assuming all responsibility for anything that could potentially happen. And this is the key here: Ownership.
Who wants to own a piece of history? To examine this, let’s look at a basic example of a commodity where two thirds of the world’s population wear on a regular basis- the author included as well: glasses.
Ever since Marco Polo’s invention, glasses have been improved, innovated and modernized to not only make the person look great in appearance. It also helps them to better see the environment surrounding them, regardless of whether they are near-sighted or far sighted, have astigmatism or require bi-focals to read, or if they want protect their eyes from the sun in the form of shades. Glasses can be plastic or metal (or even both). And like the historic structures, the materials can be recycled if no one wants them. Yet by the same token, many of us love to keep them for the purpose of memories or give them away to those who need them. For over 30 years, I have worn nine pairs of glasses and two pairs of sunglasses; this does not count the eight years that I primarily wore contact lenses, which was during my time in high school and college. Like our historic structures, glasses have a life span. They are worn until the frames develop rust and corrosion, the vision changes or they are broken.
In some cases, many look for a new frames because they want to “look cool” in front of their peers. The “look cool” mentality has overtaken society to a point where it can be applicable to about everything: cars, clothing, houses and especially historic places and structures of interest. Basically, people just ignore the significance of these structures and things that had been built in the past, which hold memories, contribute to the development of a country, region or even community, or are simply fashionable. Still in spite of all this, one has to do something about the glasses, just as much one has to do something about the historic building.
So let’s take these two pairs of sunglasses, for example. Like in the picture above, the top one I was prescribed by an optometrist in 2005; the bottom one most recently in June 2018. The top one is a combination of plastic and steel- the temples, ends and hinges are made of steel; the eye wires are plastic. The lenses are made with Carl Zeiss branded glass with a sealcoat covering to protect it from scratches. The bottom ones are plastic- frames, temples and nosepiece; the lenses are plastic but with a sealcoat protectant and dimmers to protect the eyes from the sun. The brand name is generic- no name. The difference is that the changes in the eyes required new sunglasses for the purpose of driving or doing work outside. As I wear the new sunglasses, which are not as high quality but is “cool,” according to standards, the question is what to do with the old sunglasses?
There are enough options to go around, even if the sunglasses are not considered significant. One can keep the old pair for memory purposes. Good if you have enough space for them. One can give them away to someone who needs them. If they are non-prescription lenses, that is much easier than those with a prescription. With the prescription lenses, one will need to remove them from the frame before giving them away. Then there is the option of handing them into the glasses provider, who takes the pair apart and allows for the materials to be recycled. More likely one will return the old pair to the provider to be recycled and reused than it would be to give them away because of the factors of age, quality of the materials and glass parts and especially the questions with the lenses themselves. One can keep the pair, but it would be the same as leaving them out of sight and out of mind.
And this mentality can be implemented to any historic structure. People strive for cooler, more modern buildings, infrastructure or the like, but do not pay attention to the significance of the structure they are replacing in terms of learning about the past and figuring its reuse in the future. While some of these “oldtimers “ are eventually vacated and abandoned, most of them are eventually torn down with the materials being reused for other purposes; parts of sentimental values, such as finials, statues and plaques, are donated to museums and other associations to be put on display.
One of examples that comes to mind when looking at this mentality are the bridges of Minnehaha County in South Dakota. The most populous county in the state whose county seat is Sioux Falls (also the largest city in the state), the county used to have dozens of historic truss bridges that served rail and automobile traffic. As of present, 30 known truss bridges exists in the county, down from 43 in 1990, and half as many as in 1980. At least six of them are abandoned awaiting reuse. This includes a rails-to-road bridge that was replaced in 1997 but has been sitting alongside a gravel road just outside Dell Rapids ever since. A big highlight came with the fall of five truss bridges between Dell Rapids and Crooks in 2012, which included three through truss spans- two of which had crossed the Big Sioux. All three were eligible for the National Register. The reasons behind the removal were simple: Abandoned for too long and liability was too much to handle
This leads me to my last point on the glasses principle: what if the structures are protected by law, listed as a historic monument? Let’s look at the glasses principle again to answer that question. Imagine you have a couple sets of glasses you don’t want to part ways with, even as you clean your room or flat. What do you do with them? In the case of my old sunglasses, the answer is simple- I keep them for one can reuse them for other purposes. Even if I allow my own daughter to use them for decorating dolls or giant teddy bears, or even for artwork, the old pair is mine, if and only if I want to keep them and allow for use by someone else under my care. The only way I would not keep the old sunglasses is if I really want to get rid of them and no one wants them.
For historic places, this is where we have somewhat of a grey area. If you treat the historic place as if it is protected and provide great care for it, then there is a guarantee that it will remain in its original, pristine condition. The problem is if you want to get rid of it and your place is protected by law. Here you must find the right person who will take as good care of it as you do with your glasses. And that is not easy because the owner must have the financial security and the willpower just to do that. Then the person taking it over does not automatically do what he/she pleases. If protected under preservation laws you must treat it as if it is yours but it is actually not, just like renting a house. Half the places that have been torn down despite its designation as a historical site was because of the lack of ownership and their willingness to do something to their liking. Even if there are options for restoration available, if no one wants it, it has to go, even if it means taking it off the historic registry list to do that. Sometimes properties are reclaimed at the very last second, just like the old glasses, because of the need to save it. While one can easily do that with glasses, it is difficult to do that with historic places, for replacement contracts often include removal clauses for the old structure, something that is very difficult to rescind without taking the matter to court.
In reference to the project on the Bockau Arch Bridge in Germany, we are actually at that point. Despite its protection as a historic structure, its designation was taken off recently, thus allowing for the contract for the new bridge at the expense of the old structure to proceed. Yet, like with the pair of old glasses, last ditch attempts are being made to stop the process for there are possible suitors willing to take over the old structure and repurpose it for bike and pedestrian use. While neither of the communities have expressed interest, despite convincing arguments that the bridge can be maintained at a price that is 100 times less than the calculated amount, the group working to save the bridge is forming an association which will feature a network of patrons in the region, willing to chip in to own the bridge privately. Despite this, the debate on ownership and the bridge’s future lies in the hands of the state parliament because the bridge carries a federal highway, which is maintained on the state and national levels. Will it become like the old pair of glasses that is saved the last second will be decided upon later this fall.
To summarize briefly on the glasses principle, glasses and buildings each have a short lifespan because of their functionality and appearance. We tend to favor the latter more than the former and therefore, replace them with newer, more modern and stylish things to keep up with the pace. However, the older structures, just like the discarded pair of glasses, are downgraded on the scale, despite its protection under laws and ownership. When listed as a historical site, the proprietor works for and together with the government to ensure its upkeep, just like lending old glasses to someone for use, as long as the person knows he/she is “borrowing” it. When it is not listed , they are either abandoned or torn down, just like storing the glasses in the drawers or even having them recycled. However the decision is final if and only if no one wants it, and this could be a last-second thing.
We cannot plan ahead for things that need to be built, expanded or even replaced, for there may be someone with a strong backbone and staunch support who will step in the last minute to stake their claim. This applies to replacing older, historic structures with modern ones that have less taste and value. In the face of environmental issues we’re seeing globally on a daily basis, we have to use and reuse buildings and other structures to prevent the waste of materials that are becoming rarer to use, the destruction of natural habitats that may never recover but most importantly, remind the younger generations of our history and how we got this far. While some of us have little memories of our old glasses in schools with the exception of school class and party photos, almost all of us have memories of our experiences at, in, or on a historic structure that deserves to be recognized and kept for others to see. It’s just a matter of handling them, like the glasses we are wearing.
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:
BACH STEEL: Nels Raynor, Derek Pung, Lee Pung, Andy Hufnagle, Brock Raynor and Nathan Holth- Several Bridges saved through in-kind restoration (restoring to its original form, including Farm Lane, Paper Mill and Martin Road, as well as their newest project: Springfield Bowstring Arch.
Royce and Bobette Haley: Known as Bridge Road Warriors, this couple has found and photographed more bridges in a span of two years than anyone in his/her lifetime. More on their work here: http://bridgehunter.com/profile/roycehaleyIII
John Marvig: Before 2010, no one really dared to photograph railroad bridges, that is until John arrived. Since then, 10 states and thousands of bridges profiled and photographed as can be seen here: http://johnmarvigbridges.org/
Ian Heigh: For many years, this engineer has been responsible for maintaining the Scottish National Railway and especially the longest bridges in the country: Firth of Forth and Firth of Tay. More here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_vZjvTuSJw
Before voting, check out the information on the bridges being voted by clicking here. If any problems, please type in Mystery Bridge. The following candidates are numbered from 62 to 76. Two votes for the US and two for the international versions are allotted here.