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.
While we are still in Iowa, here’s another Pic of the Week. Yet this time, we travel to Fayette County in eastern Iowa and the town of Eldorado. Located between Calmar and West Union along the Turkey River, the village is tucked away in the hills of the Bluffs Region, which extends from southeastern Minnesota into the eastern part of Iowa, where all creeks and rivers empty into the Mississippi River. Eldorado has about 200 people and a few historic buildings, but one unique truss bridge. The Eldorado Truss Bridge is a Camelback through truss bridge with M-Frame portal bracings. It was built in 1899 by J.C. Ratcliff, a local bridge builder based in Waukon in Allamakee County and is the only known bridge built by the engineer to date. The 130-foot long bridge has been closed to traffic for a couple decades, yet still remains its historic integrity to date. It can still be accessed from the State Street side and if one is lucky, one can find some shells along the Turkey River, which was my case upon my visit in August 2011. Despite record rainfall in the spring, which caused massive flooding along the Missouri River, water levels receded to a point where one could walk along the river and get a few shots from the river bed, something that was done on a perfect afternoon, while traveling through Iowa.
As a bonus though, there is one bridge nearby, whose mystery has yet to be solved. More on that in the next article here. 🙂
GLAUCHAU (SAXONY), GERMANY- Last week in the Chronicles’ Instagram page, there were a pair of photos of the progress that is being made with the Hirschgrund Viaduct, a multiple-span arch bridge spanning the ravine at the castle complex south of Glauchau’s city center. As I’ve been reporting up until now, the original bridge dating to the 1700s is being rebuilt after having sat abandoned for over four decades and having been in danger of collapsing under its own weight. With spring in the air, I took an opportunity to get a closer look at the bridge, apart from my usual vantage points, which were from both ends of the bridge. With all the scaffolding that has “encased” the bridge, this was the closest way to find out how it has progressed since my “sniper” shot of the red arches taken in the fall on the eve of a concert at St. George’s Church.
And with that I found a couple observations worth noting:
The bridge was being layered with slabs of concrete, bit by bit, filling in the arches and making its way up.
There was a pile of stones that are on the eastern side of the bridge- assumedly salvaged from the old structure and waiting to be reused and
More curiously, vertical posts were sticking out between the arches.
With number 3, I wanted to find out what they were used for, so I got ahold of the city and one of the engineers for an inquiry. This is what I received for an explanation per e-mail (after having it translated):
The load-bearing system of the bridge consists of transverse walls on the piers and self-supporting longitudinal walls, which are then veneered. The inside of the bridge is filled with lightweight porous concrete.
In simpler languages, the newly-rebuilt bridge will have a skeletal system featuring horizontal slabs supported by the vertical piers planted between the arches. All of them will be covered in layers of concrete and then masked to make it appear historic like its original form. Should this be the case, it would not be the “in-kind” restoration of an arch bridge, meaning building it beginning with the arch and then in layers, stone-by-stone and then filled in to make sure the structure is stabilized. Yet it would represent the modern form of restoring the bridge, as it has been seen with some of the bridges restored in Germany, including those in Thuringia, Berlin and Bavaria. That would still make the arch bridge historic but with “braces” to ensure it lasts longer and is able to withstand the increasing weight and number in traffic. With the Hirschgrundbrücke itself, when reopened, it will serve pedestrians, connecting the castle complex and the park across the ravine.
While there is no concrete date as to when the project will be finished and when the grand “re-opening” will take place, there are some other curious facts that will be mentioned in a tour that is scheduled to take place this weekend. On May 11th at 10:15, 11:00 and 11:45 there will be a tour of the construction site with many questions and photo sessions available. This is all part of the informational Meeting at the Castle Complex that will include what has been completed and what will be the next phases in renovating the castle- namely the grounds and the park. All of which will start at 10 and be finished after 12:00. A link to the page can be found here.
In either case, more updates on the Hirschgrundbrücke will come in the Chronicles. Stay tuned. In case you haven’t taken a look at Glauchau’s Bridge tour guide, check out this and others by clicking here.