2018 has presented itself with many surprises in all aspects. In particular with bridgehunting and bridge photography, where readers, followers and enthusiasts have been awed by many historic bridges abandoned for many years until discovered most recently, communities where historic bridges that are little mentioned are getting recognition, and historic bridges that are the spotlight for photographers and preservationists who worked successfully to breathe new life into them.
And with that, the 2018 Othmar H. Ammann is now open to business. Between now and December 3rd, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is now accepting entries of (historic) bridges and people who have worked to save them for reuse. Named after the Swiss bridge engineer who left his mark in bridge building in New York and the surrounding area, the Award is given out, both on the national and international levels in te following categories:
Best Bridge Photo
Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge
Lifetime Achievement (including post mortem)
Tour Guide- Communities, Counties, Districts with a high number of historic and fancy modern bridges
Best Kept Secret- Individual Bridge
Mystery Bridge and
Bridge of the Year.
More details can be found here. You can also find the results of the previous winners of the awards so that you have an idea which bridges, photos, etc. deserve to be entered.
Do you have a bridge, set of bridges, bridge photo(s) or even person(s) who has devoted time and effort to historic bridges that deserve recognition on the national and international levels? Send them here via form or e-mail:
You have until December 3rd to submit your entries. For bridge photos, please submit them using JPEG and keep it under 1MB, if possible. If you have any questions, please contact Jason Smith using the abovementioned form or e-mail address. Voting will proceed afterwards, ending on 8th January, 2019, with the winners being announced on the 12th. We will use the same scheme as before with polldaddy yet we may experiment with other options when we vote. More will come when the entries end and the voting begins. The contest is open globally. Anyone can enter. 🙂 If you have a bridge worth mentioning or a photo worth showing, let’s see it! 🙂
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.
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.
There are tourist traps and then there are tourist traps with historic bridges involved. The tour guide provided here clearly belongs to the latter, and it has a story behind it. As we were travelling north on Interstate 75 in the direction of the Mackinac Bridge, we came across a bilboard that directed us to Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. I had known about the first bridge on the tour guide prior to the US trip, yet we also learned about Bridgeport’s next door neighbor, Frankenmuth, a typical German community that was full of surprises. We decided to pull off first at Bridgeport and then head over to Frankenmuth and found more surprises than what we learned about. What will a tourist find in the bridges in Bridgeport/Frankenmuth apart from what is highlighted by links and in the Instagram pages will motivate you to spend a couple days in the region that is only 10 miles south of Saginaw.
State Street Bridge (Bridgeport): When travelling North on Interstate 75, one will come across a bilboard that says Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. A first where a bridge is a centerpiece, a tourist attraction, a magnet. However, from a bridgehunter’s point of view, together with his family members who were also armed and dangerous with Lumixes and Pentaxes, the city’s chamber of commerce was right and then some. 🙂 The Bridgeport Bridge spans Cass River at State Street. Built in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company, the bridge features a pin-connected, two-span Pratt through truss bridge with three-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings with 45° heels. The bridge is a distant cousin of one in Jackson, Minnesota at Petersburg Road, which was built a year later but was removed after flood damage in 1995. The difference is the length of the structure, which is nearly twice as long as the one in Jackson: two 126-foot long truss spans with a total length of 252 feet. Jackson’s was 130 feet, but the total length was 150. After serving vehicular traffic for almost a century years, the bridge was closed to traffic because the center pier was being undermined by the currents, causing the western span to tip over. Yet thanks to efforts conducted by Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org, who documented the Bridge in detail from 2004 to date, the Bridgeport community collaborated with the state and an engineering group, Spicer Group to conduct an in-kind restoration, overseen by Vern Mesler. This was done in 2010 and consisted of dismantling the two trusses off site, sandblasting the bridge parts, and reassemble the bridge exactly as it was built, but with new bolts and eyebars in many cases. The only “new” aspects of the bridge was the new center pier, new abutments, railings and the approaches to the Bridge. That was in addition to a picnic area and pavillion as a bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth was being constructed. The bridge today looks just like it was when it was originally built, including the wooden decking, thus presenting a historic appeal. Yet there are two more reasons to visit the bridge and pay homage to those who restored it. First of all, there is a historic town park on the eastern bank of the river, where a “revived” main street is lined with historic stores, church and houses dating back a century ago. The Bridgeport Museum, which owns the property, is located along this historic street. Yet it would be a crime to miss out on reason number two, which is the eateries that are located across the Dixie Highway from the bridge, going to the east. The Butter Crust Bakery is located on the corner of Sherman Road and Dixie, and from 6:00 in the morning until 5:00pm on all but Sunday and Monday, one can enjoy jelly-filled donuts, long-johns, mini-cakes and even a glazed ugly (caramel filled pastry with hazelnuts and/or almonds for a very low Price. All of them are locally made and use all natural ingredients- have been doing so for over a half-century. 🙂 An ice cream parlor at State Street just off the highway offers the finest ice cream in the region, including Rocky Road (ice cream with fudge, dark chocolate and marshmallows) and Michigan Pothole (dark chocolate with chips), the latter is named after a typical curse one will find on all Michigan’s roads- potholes, big and small. Both of which are highly recommended, whereas one can see the bridge from the parlor and can even enjoy watching people cross it from the inside. 🙂
Bridgeport (CSX) Railroad Bridge:To the north of the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street is another through truss bridge that gives the photographer on the State Street crossing a chance to get a few shots. The Bridgeport Railroad Bridge spans the Cass River, carrying the CSX Railroad, located approximately 300 feet away. The bridge is considered the longest of the bridges profiled here in the Bridgeport/Frankenburg area, for even though the main span- a Warren through truss with riveted connections and heel portal bracings- is 130 feet long, if one counts the trestle approaches, especially on the southern end, the total length is 530 feet. The bridge was constructed in 1908-09 by the American Bridge Company in New York. The 1908 date came from the concrete abutment, whereas the truss bridge was brought in a year later; the plaque is on the bridge. Together with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street, the CSX crossing is one of a handful of bridges that still has a railroad and a road crossing running along side or adjacent of each other, but are trussed. The bridge is basically an accessory to the other one nearby and all its historic places located next to it, that it is basically a win-win situation for bridgehunters and historians alike. One cannot photograph one without getting the other.
Gugel Bridge at Beyer Road:Spanning the Cass River, this unique crossing has had a share of its own history as the 114-year old structure is the oldest surviving bridge in the county. The pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracings and a pony truss approach span, was originally built to accommodate the Dixie Highway until 1919. It was then relocated to this site where it served traffic until it was closed down in 1979. 25 years later, William ‘Tiny’ Zehnder led efforts to restore the bridge to reincorporate it into the bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth. There are historic markers and benches at the bridge for people to relax when taking a break, while enjoying the natural surroundings of the Cass.
Frankenmuth Covered Bridge:
In the eyes of fans of iron bridges, this bridge is a modern “Schande” to the City of Frankenmuth. In the eyes of German tourists this bridge is too “Kitschisch” just like with the rest of the predominantly- German community whose resorts and restaurants resemble those in the Alps, even though the origin of Frankenmuth is from the Franconian Region of Bavaria. Yet in the eyes of covered bridge fans and those who have never seen Frankenmuth before, this bridge is considered the crown jewel for the community, competing with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street for the best historic Bridge in this tour guide.
Yes,the Frankenmuth Covered Bridge, built in 1979 byMilton Graton & Sonof Ashland, New Hampshire, is considered historic, even though in ten years time, it could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique truss design, its aesthetic features and its association with the community. The bridge is 239 feet long and has an A-Frame gable roofing which covers not only the one-lane road deck but also the pedestrian walkway that is on the outside of the bridge, separated by its Town Lattice truss design. Its gabled attic roofing on the sides make it resemble a covered Bridge in the Swiss For cyclists going from Zehnder’s Restaurant on the west bank to the Bavarian Inn Lodge on the eastern side it is best to push your bike across on the pedestrian walkway as this covered Bridge sees a lot of traffic on a regular basis. The bridge, which carries a weight Limit of 7 tons, is a backdrop to the scenery on both sides of the river. On the east end, there is the Bavarian Inn and Restaurants which includes a park and many acres of green. On the western end there is the Business district, which includes small shops, restaurants and an open-air stage where polka and Bavarian-style music are played daily. The bridge is next to the docks where boat tours are available to explore Frankenmuth. The Frankenmuth Covered Bridge has several names, but the most common is Holz Brücke (although the words are together in German), whereas Zehnder’s is also used for the masterminder behind the bridge was the town’s entrepreneur,William “Tiny” Zehnder (1919-2006). Zehnder was the face of Frankenmuth because of his establishment of the Bavarian Inn in 1959, which was basically an extension of one of the restaurants he had owned prior to that. From that time until his retirement in 2004, Tiny carved a place in the history of Michigan by turning original small-town businesses into that of a Bavarian-style architecture which not only revived the town’s Franconian heritage but also made the community of over 6,500 people a popular attraction. Tiny died in 2006, but his family still runs the Bavarian Inn complex today.
Frankenmuth Pedestrian Bridge Perhaps the most interesting bridge in Frankenmuth and on this tour guide that is worth mentioning is this pedestrian bridge. The bridge is the newest one on the block and can be seen from both the covered bridge as well as the Highway 83 Bridge leading into downtown. The bridge is a concrete pony girder, using a similar art Greco design and flanked by flags and ornamental street lanterns on both sides. The bridge is estimated to be between 150 and 170 feet Long and about 10-12 feet wide. The first impression was that with a design like that, it was probably 80 years old. Yet with the structure being between 15 and 30 years old, one could conclude that the bridge could serve as an example of fancy pedestrian bridges that can be built if engineers and city leaders would not worry about the costs but more on the Geschmack the community would like to live with. Not everything needs to be made of just a slab of concrete.
Bronner’s (Black) Bridge: When entering Frankenmuth from the south along Michigan Highway 83, this is the first bridge you will see. Bronner’s was once located over Cass River at Dehmel Road, having been built in 1907 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company. The bridge features a Pratt through truss design with A-Frame portals, whose top chord is decorated with curved lower-cased m and n patterns. The bridge has a total length of 180 feet with the main span being 151 feet long. The decking is 16 feet wide and the height clearance is 14 feet. After 75 years in service, the bridge was relocated to this site, over Dead Creek at Grandpa Tiny’s Farm, one of the ideas concocted by William “Tiny” Zehnder because of his years of farming, alongside his role as Frankenmuth’s well-known entrepreneuer. It has been in its place ever since then, yet it is heavily fenced and secured with cameras to ensure no one walks onto the property unless it is open to tourists. However, you can photograph the structure from both the highway as well as the road going past the farm, at Townline Road. The bridge is located only 500 feet from Bronner’s, the largest store in the world that sells Christmas ornaments and lighting. Regardless of which country and the nostalgia, if you are looking for as special ornament or lights, you will find it there. That includes bubble lights, an American past time that is trying to make its comeback yet they are rare to see.
There are more along the Cass River, but this tour guide will hopefully Show you the bridges you can visit while experiencing a mixture of German heritage on the part of Frankenmuth and local heritage on the side of Bridgeport. Being only six miles apart, the bridges are easily accessible, both by car as well as by bike or foot. The evidence can be seen in the map below as well as by clicking onto the highlighted links in the guide. There one will see that the Bridgeport/Frankenmuth Region is Michigan’s number one hot spot for bridges spanning over a century’s worth. It is definitely worth a stop for a few hours before travelling to the Mackinac Bridge and the state’s Upper Peninsula to the north.
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. 🙂
Our next bridge profile is a true rarity found in the US; in particular, in one of the most historic bridge-laden states in the country- Indiana. Three miles south of Aurora in Dearborn County, and a half mile west of the Ohio River is the Triple Whipple Bridge. The origin of the name comes from the fact that this 298 foot long through truss bridge is the only truss bridge of its kind left in the United States, whose diagonal beams pass through three panels instead of the two that are typical of the truss design invented by Squire Whipple. Normally, truss bridges have diagonals supporting one panel. The bridge was built in 1878 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company and used to serve a major highway until the 1950s. Restored in 2008, it still receives its lion’s share of pedestrians and cyclists today. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
A while back, History in Your Backyard did a documentary on this bridge, which includes an in-depth coverage of its history, let alone a detailed view of the bridge, both ariel as well as on the ground. Before explaining further about this bridge, one should have a look at the film and plan a visit. A map with the bridge’s location is at the end of this article. Tell us about your impressions of the structure. Recommend it to others, even if they are passing through. There you will see a prime example of how Indiana takes care of its artefacts for others to see while stopping by. Enjoy! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And with few historic artefacts left in our world, we need more examples of history being restored for generations to learn about. 🙂
There is a proverb that I’ve been going by while bridgehunting recently, especially in the eastern part of Germany: The smaller the community the more historic bridges one can find. While cities, like Chemnitz and Zwickau have numerous bridges, the number of century+ old structures are relatively small in terms of numbers and ratio compared to modern bridges, smaller towns like Glauchau, Aue and even Rochlitz have a higher number of historic bridges. The trend is similar in many small cities and towns in Europe which makes finding historic bridges much easier. Yet when a person finds such a small community that has an important historic bridge, like you are about to read about here, chances are more likely that the person will find more than what they bargained for in terms of finding other structures that are just as significant as the town’s centerpiece.
And this is where the tour takes us back to the Ore Mountains but this time, a bit further east of Aue by about 15 kilometers to a town called Markersbach. With a population of only 1600, the town lies deep in the valley of the Bigger Mitweida Creek, which effectively cuts the community and its neighbor Rauschau into two. First mentioned in the history books in 1210, it was part of the Cisterician Monestary and later the Peter and Paul. The Church of St. Barbara, built in 1610, is one of the oldest churches in the mountain regions. The water pump power plant is located at the upper basin of the Mitweida serves the region. The Jenaplan School, based on the concept created by Peter Petersen in the 1920s, is located in Markersbach but the community school’s origins dates back to the 1500s. Since 2007, Markersbach is a joint-community with neighboring Raschau, which has as many people as its neighbor. The city is served by a major highway connecting Schwarzenberg and Aue to the west and Annaberg-Buchholz to the east. A railroad line connecting Schwarzenberg and Annaberg rarely provides service.
And the centerpiece surrounding the community is also the highest viaduct in the region, the Markersbach Viaduct, nicknamed as the Matchstick Bridge, for the structure was built using thin but heavy steel parts. The bridge was the primary reason for my visit. However arriving there, I found three more significant railroad bridges, a few smaller bridges that are at least 70 years old, a highway viaduct that somewhat fits into the landscape with its color. That means five major bridges and a couple smaller stone arch bridges can be seen as one travels along the main street that runs parallel to the Bigger Mittweida. This large number of bridges was one of the factors in having a bridge festival in 2010, which included a tour of the viaducts by train and fireworks.
Yet given the number of houses and trees that are skewing the view of the bridges, combined with a lack of parking with the car, it is rather difficult to get to the structures without asking the property owners to climb onto the rooves of their houses just to get a good shot of the bridge. Or stand in the middle of the street ensuring one doesn’t get hit from behind by a car.
This tour will look at the bridges in Markersbach, beginning with the centerpiece, for it symbolizes the community’s history and existence, followed by the less mentioned ones but also have some charm to it. The information is scarce for all but the Matchstick Bridge and therefore will be updated as more people step up with their stories and facts about the bridges. One has to keep in mind that Markersbach can be easily passed over, thanks to the new viaduct (a.k.a. The Flyover) that has been in service for over seven years. Therefore before entering the viaduct, one has to turn off: to the right and down the hill past the loop before seeing the first bridge; to the left there is the grand view of…..
The Markersbach Viaduct is one of the key historic bridges in Saxony one needs to visit. The viaduct spans one of the tributaries that empties into the Bigger Mitweida. With a total length of 236.5 meters and a height of 36.5 meters, the viaduct is the tallest of its kind in the Ore Mountain region. Under the direction of bridge engineer Claus Koepke and built using steel manufactured by the Queen Marie Steel in Cainsdorf (near Zwickau), construction of the bridge took two years, with the completion being 1889, coinciding with the opening of the Schwarzenberg-Annaberg rail line. The line provided train traffic all the way to Leipzig and Berlin until World War II. It was later reduced to Zwickau and then later to Aue. The line no longer serves regular traffic but has special services that provides tourists with a splendid view of Markersbach, the valley and the mountain areas surrounding them. The bridge features nine spans supported by eight trapezoidal towers with X-laced framing. The spans are lenticular deck trusses, whereby the longest spans (two) have curved Warren trusses with 25m each, three 20m spans have polygonal Warren trusses and four 12.5 meter spans have camelback Warren trusses. For each truss type are the triangular panels subdivided. Photos of the viaduct are difficult to do due to the obstruction by the houses. Even getting up close to the bridge is difficult because it requires walking up narrow and winding streets, all but a couple of which are cul-de-sacs occupied by houses and cars. Getting to the opposite side of the viaduct is possible but only through walking through fields and forests. And even then it is hard to come by- one has to be lucky to get up close and personal with the bridge. However a grand view of the entire bridge can be found off the highway at the intersection where the bridge bypass and the road leading to Markersbach meet. That impromtu observation platform is nothing more than a road that used to enter Markersbach before the bypass and the highway viaduct were built.
Highway 101 Flyover Viaduct
In 2005, construction began to construct a nearly 2 km bypass to alleviate traffic going into and through Markersbach. The plan: To construct a tall viaduct which would not only “fly” over the community crossing the Mitweida Valley, but it would also make travel between Annaberg and Schwarzenberg much smoother, especially for trucks. Furthermore, it would provide passers-by with a splendid view of Markersbach, its prized viaduct and much of the mountain while driving “in the air.” 😉 The project was not easy as erosion, causing mudslides hindered consturction, the worst having occurred on the eastern slope in October 2006. The next problem was establishing a firm foundation for the pylons, which was discovered the following July. When the bridge finally opened in November 2011, it was four years behind schedule. However, the delay was worth it for the jeans-blue steel deck girder with cantilever features now hovers the community and its valley, narrowly surpassing the railroad viaduct by only 7.5 meters. The Flyover is 317 meters long and has two lanes totalling 25 meters. The cost for the project: 25 million Euros, twice as much as previously planned. Yet the Flyover is still most travelled today giving residents a piece of mind without having to worry about their children running across the street and risk getting hit by trucks and racing cars.
When entering Markersbach by turning off at the Flyover, one will be driving down the hill along the winding stretch of what was Highway 101 (German: B101), flanked by trees on both sides. Yet at at the loop where one crosses the Mitweida Creek, one enters the community, greeted by houses on both sides of the street and this bridge. One should not be fooled by its appearance. It is definitely not the Markersbach Viaduct because of its height. One can even see the difference from a distance- either at the observation point at the Flyover or even along the former highway on the left entering town. The Mittweidathal Viaduct is shorter in length but it is not just simply a bridge, whose characteristics are its curve towards the Markersbach Viaduct as well as its brick piers. When looking closely at the 86 meter long and 10 meter high viaduct, it features brick piers with quarzite-like stripes and six spans, each one featuring a deck plate girder supported by polygonal Vierendeel trusses. Because of the absence of diagonal beams they are not Parker trusses, yet they have an appearance of a lenticular truss. So to categorize the truss style, it is considered a half-lenticular polygonal Vierendeel truss with welded connections. The bridge has existed as long as the rail line itself. Yet because of its seldom use, age caused by weather extremities has taken its toll. Should the line be used again, either as train service or as a bike trail, some repairs will be needed to ensure the bridge continues to function in its original form.
St. Barbara/ Annaberg Street Viaduct:
About 400 meters away from the Mitweida Viaduct and following the former highway through Markersbach is this viaduct. The St. Barbara Viaduct was named after the nearby church- the oldest one in Markersbach- which is located on the same street as the viaduct crosses: Annaberg Street. The 70-meter long viaduct features four spans of deck plate girders, the longest is 30 meters and features a Camelback girder design which hovers over a side street that is opposite Abrahamsbach Creek) and runs pararell to Annaberg Street. Where that span crosses is near houses that line up along two sharp curves, which is dangerous for all vehicles. The viaduct looks like one of the newer spans that had replaced a previous bridge, but it is unknown when the replacement date was. We know that the bridge is 200 meters away from the Markersbach Viaduct and is located near some key points in the community: the afreoemntioned church, a Methodist Church, a park and the Jenaplan School. Even though the viaduct is seldomly used today, a curious question I have is how people tolerated living right next to the viaduct, especially during Sunday mass at church? 😉
The last bridge on the tour takes us one kilometer west to neighboring Raschau and this bridge, the Raschau Viaduct. Like the Markersbach Viaduct, the Raschau Viaduct is the most original of the bridges profiled here, as the bridge dates back to the construction of the rail line. This is especially noticeable as the seven-span viaduct, built on stone piers, features Town Lattice deck trusses, built using welded connections and a thick network of diagonal beams both in the inner and outer portions of the spans. The bridge has a total length of 112 meters, making it the second longest crossing along the Schwarzenberg-Annaberg rail line. The width is 12 meters. The height above the streets is four meters, making it the lowest crossing above ground level along the line as well. Height restrictions have been enforced to discourage truck drivers from using the streets. With the Flyover, combined with access on both ends of Markersbach and Raschau, the bridge has not sustained any damage, even though German laws have also played a role in forbidding overweight and oversized vehicles from using the road. Had this bridge been located in the States, with its lack of laws forbidding such vehicles, the Raschau Viaduct would not have survived such careless driving, and the driver would most likely have been forced to pay for a new bridge. However, because of its conformity to the landscape and its beauty, this viaduct will most likely remain for a long time.
There are a few single-span arch bridges but with the exception of a railroad overpass, these structures are only short spans and are difficult to photograph. A couple points of interest are worth photgraphing, which are noted in the Google Map. The bridges presented in this tour guide are examples of structures that represent a small community, whose history play a role in establishing the community and bringing it together. And while all but one are seldomly used today, the bridges at Markersbach are indeed diamonds in the rough, which is worth a couple hours of visiting and taking some photos. Even more so if the community has bridge festivals and other local celebrations throughout the year. 🙂