Happy Birthday to Mouse TV (Sendung mit der Maus) in Germany

Statue of the Orange Mouse- The Star of the Show that is 50 years old. Source: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

COLOGNE, GERMANY- March 7, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the German-speaking children’s show „Die Sendung mit der Maus“ (in English: Mouse TV), which is officially presented as „Lach- und Sachgeschichte“ (in English: Stories for Laughing and Learning). On this day in 1971, the first episode of the Mouse was introduced on public TV through the West-German channel WDR, located in the city of Cologne.

Featuring the Orange Mouse, the TV show runs along the same pattern as our American counterpart, Sesame Street, which debuted two years earlier. Unlike the Muppet characters, like Big Bird, Kermit, Elmo, the Count and the Cookie Monster, who take up most oft he show’s time through conversation and lessons, the Mouse features only three characters- the Mouse himself, the Blue Elephant and the Yellow Duck, yet the show features various cartoon clips from other shows but half the time is spent showing the viewers how things are built and how certain devices work- in live time. Like in Sesame Street, the Mouse is televised in many languages and can be seen even on American TV.

The Mouse has garnered dozens of awards, some of which have gone to two of the moderators who have been with the mouse for as long as the show: Armin Maiwald and Christoph Bienmann. While we’re talking about how things are being built in live time, I stumbled across some films that featured the bridge, while I was finding some older series to be presented in another commentary in my other column, the Flensburg Files. Some were quite funny and even if they are over 30 years old, some people will get a laugh out of them. Yet there are some that educational and quite useful for everyone to watch. We’re going to show the Chronicles‘ greatest bridge hits that were presented by the Mouse over the years. While the target language is German, the videos presented here speak more volumes than what is spoken in any language. 🙂

In the first video shown above, there are the many attempts of Christoph trying to cross the river All of the attempts were worth the laughs. Yet given the fact he was an exchange student in the United States prior to joining the Mouse in 1972, he added some American flair to the film, which was released in 1982.

The next bridge video was the first to show the actual bridge building process. This two-part series, released in 1994 takes you through a step-by-step process from planning to the actual building of the viaduct that now spans a road, river and railroad tracks.

Then there’s the bridge replacement aspect with a focus on replacing the motorway bridge in Leverkusen. Started in 2014, the series is ongoing and there will be much more to come as the project progresses, for the bridge replacement is expected to take a decade to complete.

And lastly, we have the newest among the bunch, the slide-in replacement of a railroad bridge near Cologne and the process that took a full weekend to complete, yet the filming was enough for one episode.

Especially in the past decade, the videos on building bridges have become more popular for people of all ages for much of the infrastructure is getting older and becoming unable to handle today’s traffic in terms of volume and weight. Nevertheless, they are interesting to watch as each structure is inspected and when it is concluded that replacement is inevitable, the planning, design and construction is carried out.

Even if one is not interested in bridges, the Mouse presents virtually every aspect of manufacturing or making the basics for every day life with the purpose of making it entertaining but most importantly, educational.  I started watching the Mouse when my daughter was born in 2008 and since then, it has become a cornerstone to our Sunday ritual: Mouse TV with pancakes for breakfast, all on the sofa in the living room, something that many of us in Germany enjoy doing on a Sunday morning when the show is televised on TV, either on ARD or KIKA.

And therefore, the bridge community and this columnist of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Mouse a happy golden birthday and many thanks to Armin, Christoph and crew many thanks for making the show a „bridge building“ experience for all ages, especially those who wish to become engineers in the future.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag/ Happy Birthday!

Book/Documentary of the Month: A Tour of the Rhine in NRW

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Hollernzollern Bridge at Cologne. Cologne and the River Rhine Region in NRW won the Bridge Tour Guide Award for 2013. Photo taken in March 2010

There are many ways to write a book on bridges, let alone do a documentary for a TV program. One can focus on one bridge and its history, but that is more for locals who are closely attached to the bridge. One can focus on a region with a handful of bridges, like writing about bridges in a county or district. Again, the main focus would be the locals, but it would draw some attention from other bridge enthusiasts. As the region gets bigger, so do the number of people who are closely tied to the bridges, and the people from outside who are interested in these sturctures.

However, if you want to focus on bridges along the river, like we have here along the Rhine River, this is where one has to be walk a fine line. While documentaries like the one televised by German Public TV Station WDR can draw hundreds of thousands of viewers to the region, one has to be careful that the people do not become bored with each and every single bridge that is documented and told in the language that everyone can simply understand. This does not mean that it is impossible to talk about a tour of bridges along the rivers. The problem is when the length of the rivers are longer and there are more crossings, then one really needs to divide the project into segments dealing with region, history and in a certain degree, importance to the community.

One of the most successful projects is a two-volume book written by a former Iowa teacher, Mary Costello, on the bridges of the Mississippi River. Her book featured sketches of bridges she drew while on tour and some history to each one, yet it was divided unto the bridges along the Lower Mississippi (Gulf of Mexico to Iowa) and the Upper Mississippi (Iowa to Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river began). But what about another long river, the Rhine River?

The Ludendorff-Brücke at Remagen after American troops conquered the Rhine Region in March, 1945. It collapsed two months later. Photo taken by unknown soldier, credit to US goovernment as public domain

For 1200 kilometers (or 760 miles), the Rhine starts in the Swiss Canton of Grisons in the southeastern part of Switzerland in the Alpine region and makes its way north, forming borders with Liechtenstein and Austria before entering Lake Constance and forming the border with Germany. After Basel, the river creates a border between the Bundesrepublik and France before flowing into Germany after Karlsruhe. After passing through Mannheim, Mainz, and Frankfurt, the river creates a deep gorge which slithers its way from Bingen to Bonn and later through the industrial metropolises of Duesseldorf, Cologne and Leverkusen.  After turning west from there, it enters the Netherlands, where after passing through Rotterdam and Utrecht, it creates a delta where the river empties into the North Sea near Katwijk.  Nearly 100 bridges cross the Rhine, half of them in Germany. Each of them has a history of its own, not only in terms of its design and construction, but also its involvement in history.

When WDR (an arm of Berlin-based German public TV channel ARD with its branch office in Cologne) produced the two-part documentary on the Rhine River crossings in 2010, it was aware of the fact that it had to narrow its focus to only a few bridges, for each one had its own personal history to it, and the broadcasters there were aware that they could not afford to lose their audience with too many bridges, nor get into conflict with other German public TV stations who could benefit from this experience, like HR, which covers Hesse and Rheinland Palatinate and SWR, which covers the Saarland and Baden Wurttemberg. Therefore, WDR focused its bridge documentary on just the bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, covering the bridges of Cologne, Duesseldorf and Duisburg.

The End Result?

A two part series where the first part focuses on the historical aspect. The story there starts in 1945 where the Nazis, in a desparate attempt to fend off the Allied Troops that were enchroaching the country, blew up any bridges along the Rhine that were not destroyed. Yet the mission was unsuccessful because of one of the last standing bridges at Remagen, the Ludendorff Railway Bridge, which the Americans captured on 7 March, 1945. Yet the bridge collapsed 10 days later but not before the troops constructed the bridge heads on both sides of the Rhine so that they could construct a pontoon bridge in its place. The original bridge heads were kept in place and is now a memorial.

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Hollernzollernbruecke and Cathedral in Cologne Photo taken in March 2010

The bridges laid in ruins together with the cities that were bombed out. Yet, one bridge, the Hollernzollern Bridge was rebuilt, using the through arch spans that were bombed off the piers and were sitting in the Rhine. Originally consisting of two three-span arch bridges, an additional one was added in the 1950s and today is the key link for trains travelling to Frankfurt and points to the east of Cologne Central Station. The Bridge serves as a symbol of love, as the railings are covered with padlocks with signs of love written all over them. Legend has it when lovers meet, the padlock was locked on the fenced railing with the keys thrown into the Rhine.

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Love locks on the Hollernzollern Bridge

But the first part also featured a tour of the bridges, inspected by the city engineer on a regular basis to determine how stable the structure is and what repairs are recommended. Marc Neumann, the city engineer serving Cologne provided a tour of the inside portion of the Zoo Bridge in Cologne, one of the most heavily traveled vehicular bridges in Cologne that was built in 1962 and is a box girder bridge, the first built in Germany at that time. Other highway bridges in Cologne have dealt with problems with increased traffic and the city has desperately tried to keep up the pace by constant maintenance of the bridge, as shown with the Severin Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge that was the first post-war modern bridge built over the Rhine in Cologne. The 1959 structure was the focus of structural issues with its stayed cables, which needed to be replaced with the rest of the bridge being painted lime green afterwards. The purpose: to protect the bridge from the salt and other debris that have a potential to make the bridge rust and corrode.

Oberkasseler Brücke in Dusseldorf  Photo taken by V. Janssen

The second part of the series focused on other bridges in the state. Apart from the ones at Remagen, there were many cable-stayed and steel arch bridges that were mentioned in the documentary. While the Theodore Heuss Bridge, built in 1957, was the first cable-stayed suspension bridge built in Germany, there are two bridges are worth mentioning: The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg and the Oberkasseler Bridge in Duesseldorf. The Oberkasseler Bridge was built in 1973 replacing an ornamental arch bridge built in 1909 that was structurally deficient. The bridge was built alongside the old structure on the south end and after the old bridge was razed, the entire cable-stayed bridge featuring a set of towers planted in the middle of the roadway, was moved 47.5 meters to the original location of the 1909 bridge, a feat unimaginable for a bridge of that size and length, at 617 meters.  The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg was built in 1950 replacing a similar bridge built in 1936. Yet the name stamms from a group of protesters who blocked traffic to the bridge to protest the closing of a steel plant nearby. From 10 December, 1987 until 20 January, 1988 the workers walked the picket line on the bridge and the nearby company they had worked, resulting in the state government discussing about the crisis in the steel industry and the bridge being renamed at the request of the protesters. A unique action that one can rarely see today unless one is in southern Europe protesting the European Union’s bailout package with the conditions, as seen in Spain, Greece and Cypern.

Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg. Attribution: © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons) 

The Rhine Bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia are unique in a way that one has to go beyond the appearance of each structure to look at its history, how they were built and rebuilt, and how they are integrated into the lives of the people today. While focusing on safety and history were the key elements of the document series, the report also looked at how the people and their bridges go together, whether it is a person living inside a bridge or if there are musicians performing inside or underneath the bridge- both were found at Zoo Bridge in Cologne. The Rhine bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, once a pile a rubble because of the war, are now a part of the lives of the residents who use it regularly to get from point A to point B. And even if we are in the post-modern era where sleek modern designs dominate the land and cityscapes, the memories of the bridges, how they looked like in the past and how they look like now will remain in their memories for generations to come.

With this in mind, I would like to close with a couple questions for the forum, and for those interested in producing a thorough and history and culturally enriched documentary similar to what was produced by WDR on the Rhine Bridges of North Rhine-Westphalia. The documentary covered many key points that were important for people to know about bridges, infrastructure, safety, culture and history, giving them some interest and perhaps an incentive to pursue something that is similar to what was shown on TV. But the questions posed here are something different from what was profiled here. Keeping the documentary in mind:

1. How would you do a documentary on bridges along the river? Would you chop the river up into segments or keep it the same? Which aspects would you include?

2. When looking at the documentaries enclosed below (in German), what is your opinion of the documentary? What words of advice would you give to people wanting to do what WDR did with the Rhine? This applies not only to the Rhine itself but other rivers.

3. Which other rivers would you imagine doing a documentary on apart from the Rhine and Mississippi Rivers?

Links:

http://www.wdr.de/tv/wdrdok_af/sendungsbeitraege/2013/0222/Brueckengeschichten_vom_Rhein.jsp

http://www.wdr.de/tv/wdrdok_af/sendungsbeitraege/2013/0301/brueckengeschichten_vom_rhein-helden.jsp

Rhein River Crossings to see (in NRW):

Ludendorff Bridge

Severin Bridge

Hollernzollern Bridge

Zoo Bridge

Theodor-Heuss Bridge

Bridge of Solidarity

Oberkasseler Bridge

Griethausen Railway Bridge

These are the bridges mentioned in the TV documentary. There are dozens of others that were not mentioned but should be visited. Please click on the Rhine River Crossings for more details.

 

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A Documentary on Bridges

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Jordan Drive Bridge in Saegertown, PA  Photo taken in 2010

 

A few days ago, German Public TV Channel ZDF, one of two stations based in Berlin, released a documentary on bridges in general for children. Loewenzahn (which is German for Dandelion), with its star Fritz Fuchs and his faithful companion Keks, a Saint Bernhard dog, took the viewers on a tour of bridges, how they were constructed, and how stabile they should be for people to get across. This was all in connection with the plot of the story, which was the fact that a bridge was removed for safety reasons, keeping the children from crossing the creek and entering the soccer field for practice. Fritz received the call for help in building a new bridge from one of the players and despite the criticism from another person working for TÜV (an agency which tests the safety of buildings and cars), he found a way to build a new one for the kids. A whole episode of Loewenzahn can be found below. As the episode is all in German, it provides people with a chance to learn (or brush up on) a little German:

This was the second episode produced on bridges in two weeks. ARD and its satellite station WDR, based in Cologne, had produced a two-part documentary on the Rhine Bridges in North Rhein-Westphalia, which will be featured in a separate article. But it did get my mind to thinking about how to educate the public on bridges, ways to restore and maintain them, and the historical perspective of these crossings. Despite the expertise we have available from engineers, preservationists and experts in restoration, there seems to be a gap between those who know about how to preserve a historic bridge, let alone build a bridge with high aesthetic value but a safe crossing and those who do not know about bridges and ways to build, maintain and restore them for people to use, let alone awe in their structural beauty.  Even more alarming is the fact that the majority of the public would like to save and restore a historic bridge but they do not have the know-how on how to do it. Or even if they do, the quest for knowledge on how to restore bridges is blocked by those who want the bridge removed at any cost.

As many people from the older generations (those born in 1987 and earlier) have become aware of historic bridges and have taken action towards saving them, there is a trend that indicates that even the younger generations have taken interest in the topic of bridges, how to build them, and how to restore them. While public awareness has mostly been successful through presentations, public forums and events and through news stories, there seems to be a lack of medium as to how bridges work and how they are restored to last longer. This means that more TV documentaries on these aspects are needed for the TV-viewers, using information that is neutral, practical and useful for people to learn from. If programs, like the ones mentioned here are being televised for people of all ages here in Germany, then it is a sign that the interest is there and increasing.

Keeping this in mind, here are a pair of forum questions for you to consider and discuss either with your own friends or through the online forums facebook and linkedIn:

1. Do you know of a TV-documentary on these bridges? If so, when and where was it televised? Do they deal with a tour of a city with bridges? What about the historical aspect of these structures? On a scale of 1-10 (1 being best) how would you rate it and what are your reasons?

2. If you want to produce a documentary on bridges to be televised, what content would you put in to interest the audience? What examples of bridges would you use for the documentary? Which TV channel would you release the documentary on?

3. Could you imagine a children’s documentary on bridges on TV similar to that of Loewenzahn’s? Why or why not?

 

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The Dandelion series was conceived by its original host Peter Lustig in 1979 and first televised in 1981. The children’s series featured Lustig and each episode dealt with a theme that is current but child-friendly, with diagrams and scenes produced and demonstrated by the actor. Despite a scare with lung cancer in 1983 (which almost took his life), Lustig produced 200 episodes until he retired in 2006 and was replaced with Guido Hammesfahr who has hosted the episode ever since, under the name Fritz Fuchs. Helmut Krauss, who plays the neighbor Paschulke, is the only actor left from the Lustig series that still appears in the Fuchs’ series.  The series spun-off into a pre-school series in 2012 and was produced as a film in 2010 as part of the 30th anniversary celebration. More information on Loewenzahn can be found here.

 

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