Tearing down the Bockau Arch Bridge: Lessons Learned from the Loss

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I would like to start off this entry with this quote: If my uncle was rich and had a couple million dollars, enough to purchase and restore the historic bridge at the Rechenhaus, the Saxony Ministry of Transportation (LASUV) would double and even triple the price to make that purchase impossible. My uncle owns an arena football team in Texas known as the Jackalopes and has made a profit ever since taking ownership a couple decades ago. Like the states’ residents, the state of Texas takes pride in its historic bridges through policies and practice. One in three historic bridges have either been restored for reuse or bypassed by a concrete bridge with half of those having been restored at a later time. Whether my uncle would have tolerated LASUV’s price-jacking in an attempt to keep the bridge for the demolition crews would have been questionable, for Texas has one of the toughest legal systems that makes libel and fraud a crime punishable with prison. Having lived there for over four of his six decades of life, he has dealt with and used these laws wisely. In either case, the stench of libel and kickbacks would have set him off as much as our group, the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge, as well as locals who have followed us and expressed anger over this mishap.

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As of this entry, LASUV had it its way and our 150-year old stone arch bridge is no more. We had our send off on Tuesday of last week with a documentary by German public TV channel MDR. The next day, on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, the last of the four main arches was downed by the digger. Filming the scene with my camera, I had a difficult time trying to comprehending what had just happened. A mix of anger, sadness, confusion, perplexity and just being lost in translation flowed through me and it would be a small photo tour of the historic bridges in Zwickau and Glauchau that helped me regain my composure and find some lessons behind this debacle.

The whole theme behind this demolition was the fact that we had no chance. LASUV wanted it gone because no two bridges should be allowed to stand side-by-side, a concept that exists in many places due to policies and practice, like in Texas. The agency was determined to see the structure gone and was diligent enough to repel those interested in the bridge for reuse as a pedestrian and bike bridge. And despite attempts to bring the issue to the table, none of the communities wanted it- neither Zschorlau nor Bockau, where the old bridge used to cross, nor any of the communities in the Ore Mountain District (in German: Erzgebirgskreis), from Aue to Schwarzenberg. Even with the smallest of amount to purchase, all of them considered the bridge a liability even though the arch bridge was still structurally sound. All of them said: “We have the future generations to worry about.” In other words, Smartphone gaming and malls trump history and outdoor recreation.  I myself was about to turn to the people in Glauchau, in the Zwickau district for help. After all, they are rebuilding their own arch bridge in the Hirschgrund at the Castle Complex and they would probably have had some ideas of their own.  That idea vanished with every drill of the digger. And lastly, the state parliament in Dresden turned down our petition to save the bridge, days after the last arch of the bridge was gone.

And to put the icing on the cake, because of the lack of will to even talk about reusing the old bridge, the Rechenhausbrücke is the first bridge ever to be used as bait for a replacement project despite its historic status! That means when building a replacement on a new alignment, one has the option to demolish the historic structure even if it is a historic landmark. This practice is common in the USA for national historic landmarks, which make the laws very weak and forces locals to jump in to save the structure with their own funds, even though as a national landmark, grants and other financial incentives are available for restoring historic bridges. For Saxony, the only incentive to save and restore the Rechenhausbrücke is if an uncle has a couple million Euros to purchase it and even then, there’s no guarantee that the purchase will happen.

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So what can we learn from this experience to pass onto our future preservation groups? After all, there are other historic bridges that are under the loop for replacement and from this experience, no bridge that is protected by cultural heritage laws is safe when it comes to progress. It’s easy to point fingers, but it’s more sensible to learn some lessons for the next project even though they are rather tough to achieve. From my personal perspective, here are some items to keep in mind for those who have a historic bridge that is worth saving and repurposing for other use:

1. Start as early as possible. If you learn of a project to replace the bridge you want to keep, you have to begin as early as you can. The window of opportunity will close quicker than you think. This was probably one of the painful reasons we lost our bridge. We just could not keep up with LASUV and the politicians who wanted to turn a blind eye at any cost (and did so).

2. Get actively involved in the discussions. Do not stand on the sidelines nor allow others to influence you. We had voices but need more of them to bring the issue to a head. Not to mention a couple trips to Dresden to get some politicians on our side.

3. Create an organization to save the bridge. This one we did a bit too late but we gained some traction in the process. Your organization should have some people with deep pockets full of money and resources as well as a will to share your interest and help. This one we lacked a great deal but part of that was LASUV’s unfair hat trick.

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4. Have some capital with you if you want to (fight to) own the bridge. Despite the T-shirt idea, fundraising should be done once you create your group. However, that requires a lot of time and effort to achieve your goal. What is needed is money right away from sources that are willing to help you. Even grants and financial support from the private sector helps a great deal. That one we didn’t have in the end, even if we had the 1.7 million Euros LASUV offered.  By the way, the T-shirts are still selling. If interested in a memorabilia, click here.

5. Know your friends and the ways to repel your enemies. This one we learned the hard way for our organization did form a nucleus of friends, many of us will remain in contact. Yet we didn’t know who our friends from outside were. Especially at the April 2018 at the bridge, where despite the invitation to many members of three ministries and several parties, many of them were either clueless about the situation of the bridge or showed no interest in saving it. The latter was very obvious with a “behind closed door” meeting that occurred after our meeting between the head of the petition committee and the two mayors of the communities which the old bridge connected- two opponents of keeping the bridge.

6. Involve the parties at every meeting, including the media. This one we did a great job of, especially with Heike Mann at the Chemnitz Free Press, Aue Office, plus people at MDR-TV based in Leipzig-Halle and the Leipzig Glocal via Chronicles. Being a journalist on the side, it is difficult getting the information needed to write a great story on it. What I found disturbing was their exclusion from the meeting in April where they all waited about 50 meters away while we had a great debate going. Fortunately, I played Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers and bootlegged a story out of it as I could do it in English. Normally one’s head could get ripped off for that. However, we did forge great ties with our media correspondences and they were able to get it done objectively, which helps when they are involved in every phase of the project.

7. Know the preservation laws, the options in saving the historic places and the loopholes involved. I did some research on German preservation laws for a presentation in 2010 and compared them with the National Historic Preservation Laws in the US. Both have one common denominator involved: They are flawed! When you know them early enough, you can come up with a strategy to fill in the holes. Make sure every exit is covered and no wide receiver is open before the quarterback throws the ball.

8. If you are ready to buy the bridge, know your responsibilities. It’s like owning a car: your car, your responsibilities. If anything happens, make sure you have enough capital to fix the problem. I believe we had enough money to buy the bridge, yet the need to maintain and perhaps rehabilitate the bridge, would require help from outside, which was impossible to get, in the end.

9. If they argue for demolition, make sure they have clear cut evidence. Also with the historical documentations. This was one that irked us the most. The process from replacing the bridge to offering the old bridge to a third party lacked transparency and evidence to justify the reasoning behind the actions carried out.  We wanted to document the bridge before it was demolished. According to LASUV, it was documented, but there was no hard evidence. We wanted reasons behind the cost for rehabilitating the old bridge compared to demolishing it after the new one opened. We received numbers that were arbitrary and lacked evidence behind the facts and figures. The petition was supposed to be discussed in parliament- it was after the demolition had started! The arguments for demolition lacked hard and sufficient evidence to justify the claims. If you are not sure about them, ask them and have them provide you with evidence. Then compare with other projects to see if they are standard or fixed to their advantage. Chances are the claims against your arguments are flawed. Be empirical about the claims.

10. Involve the public- hold a referendum! This was never held although if it had, the outcome would have been different. There were no reasons behind not having held it except for the mayors to save their faces, which they have lost along with the bridge. Yet while they will certainly be voted out in the mayoral elections later on this year, you can force your city officials to hold a referendum. Petitions, active involvement, constant phone calls, that’s all they are needed to get the city officials to carry it out, even if it takes a lot of effort.

And lastly, know if you are in the right and fight for it! In the end, we knew we were in the right when we saw several flaws in the whole bridge replacement process. We saw the lack of flexibility and ability to compromise. We saw the lack of interest and will in saving the bridge and helping the group achieve the goal. And lastly, we saw the lack of enthusiasm that is needed for saving a piece of history and heritage. After all, a bridge is a bridge, but if it has history, unique design and character, it does have a chance to be saved.

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I’d like to end this entry with a quote by Sharad Vivek Sagar that best fits the ending of a tragedy of this story: “For too long, information, opportunities, and resources have been constraints, they need to be the bridges.”  We have been limited by the color of money, the lack of information on the laws protecting historic places, the lack of will to cooperate and compromise and the inflexibility, all in the name of progress and power. Learning the lessons the hardest way possible, we need to take these  and teach the next groups about the importance of our heritage and ways to protect them. In an ever-changing environment where everything is being modernized, preserving what is left of our history is of paramount of importance so that we can learn about our region and our heritage. It’s for the sake of future generations. Otherwise what do we have to teach our children?

 

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Tearing Down the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 2: The (Il-)Logic behind the concrete bed in the river

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Day two of the demolition brought more anger and frustration to a situation that has become more and more illogical. Let’s start with the logical portion: the concrete bed in the river.

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As mentioned in August, concrete was poured into the bed of the Zwickau Mulde, causing the river flow to be reduced to the two tunnels. This caused some outbursts from the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge group as well as locals who claimed that this was violating the environmental laws. LASUV’s claim was that it would allow for demolition crews to get to the bridge.

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Day two started to make more and more sense, but also more and more illogical at the same time.  One of the five main arches and the approach arch are now gone completely. Two diggers are at the scene, including a larger one. Yet as steep as the cliffs along the river is, many are wondering how the diggers are going to get to the bridge without tipping forward or on the side. It is just as logical as tryng to find out how to put the materials onto the truck to haul away. Just as logical as fencing off the main entrance to the houses along the river leading up to the still-existing -but-slowly-being- eaten- away- by- diggers- historic bridge.

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Driveway to the bridge is completely fenced off. Drivers have to detour a couple kms just to get to their houses from the new bridge

Just as logical as the reason for tearing down the bridge in this cold: When it’s colder, it’s easier to break away at the structure.  This came after the restaurant owner was talking to the demolition crew during the day prior to my visit in the afternoon.

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And we still don’t know why they didn’t start at the site of the new bridge……

Coming from Minnesota, where a polar vortex is bringing the coldest temperatures last seen in 1996, I really doubt that cold weather can break apart any structure- bridge or building alike.

Or can it?

Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 11: A Flicker of Hope?

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A Tale of Two Bridges: The Stone Arch Bridge in the foreground and the New Bridge in the background. Photo taken on 23 January, 2019

This entry starts with a little bit of irony. The bridge was supposed to be torn down beginning the 14th after the organization Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge was unable to purchase the historic stone arch bridge for 1.7 million Euros- a price that was considered too high and the figure to fictitious to anyone’s liking. Because of a massive snowstorm that brought life in Saxony and parts of Germany to a complete standstill, it was pushed back to the 21st. As of this entry and visit to the bridge on the 23rd, the old stone lady is still standing, with no digger, no crane, no driller, no construction worker. At temperatures well below zero Celsius, it makes the planned demolition impossible. And with more snow and cold in the forecast, chances are very likely that the planned work may not even commence until sometime before Easter.

And that is a long ways away. However, this may be that window of opportunity that we need to turn it around and pull off an upset- a hat trick that is even bigger than the bunny the Ministry of Finance and Transport pulled. Already suggestions from nearby communities in Saxony indicate that people don’t want to part ways from this historic bridge just yet. In the newly consolidated Aue-Bad Schlema for example, there was a proposal to divert funding for renovating a club to go to purchasing and renovating the bridge.  In Beiersfeld near Schwarzenberg, one official suggested at least leaving the bridge piers so that a wooden bridge is put in its place. If covered, it would be a first in over 150 years. And even in Berlin, the petition to save the bridge is being examined as the federal government still owns the bridge and the highway that crosses it, although it’s crossing a new bridge on a new alignment.  So in other words, while the state is dead set on removing the structure, attempts to pull an upset is in the works. And as long as Old Man Winter hovers over the Ore Mountain region, there is still some hope to pull this off.

But how to do it?

We’re looking for any ideas to halt the demolition process. Rallies are possible, for we’ve seen this at many historic bridges in the US and Canada. Concerts as well. There is a possibility to donate to the group Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge. But more importantly, we need some sources and people willing to step in and save a piece of history, one that can be used as a crossing for cyclists and pedestrians, fishermen and photographers, anybody who would rather see a piece of history in tact as is, and not in rubble.  The old bridge has potential, and is stable enough for use. We need some ideas and your help…..

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….as long as the snow is there and no green.

You can send your suggestions here, but you can also contact the following representatives of the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge (Freunde der Rechenhausbrücke) using the e-mails below:

 

Contact details:

Ulrike Kahl <ulrike.kahl@gruene-erzgebirge.de>,   Hermann Meier hermann.meier50@gmx.de , Günther Eckhardt <geck-art@gmx.de>

Please note that you should have your German language ready for use!

 

To close this, I would like to use a Cree Indian quote but adapted in this context, which goes like this:

Not until the the decking has been taken out

Not until the arches have been removed

Not until the piers are imploded

Not until the materials are hauled away

Not until we realize what we’ve done to our local history

That it cannot be replaced with memories.

We will fight until the last brick leaves Rechenhaus.

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For those who joined the Chronicles via Skrive, you can collect the information on the bridge by clicking here, and then following the updates so that you get a bigger picture and perhaps help.

Check out our facebook page here for photos and other information. You are free to follow and join in the conversation, regardless of language.

 

 

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Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 9: Concrete Bed in the River

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AUE (SAXONY), GERMANY-

A first in the Bockau Arch Bridge series since July and a lot has changed since then. It goes beyond the change in the color of the leaves in the fall, as you can see from the picture of the trees flanking the Zwickau Mulde from the old bridge.

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It goes beyond the fact that workers have poured the concrete on the new structure built adjacent to the old bridge. This was done in August and according to latest news from the Chemnitz Free Press, the new B-283 Bridge is scheduled to be open to traffic by Christmas, thus ending the detour of Highway B-283 between Aue and Eibenstock in the western part of the Ore Mountains, which has until now been rerouted through Zschorlau and Schneeberg.

It has to do with a finding that was discovered during our most recent visit to the bridge and our Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge Association Meeting on October 9th, something very unpleasant and will most certainly cause legal action because of the violations committed. Despite many headaches trying to download this clip from my camera, this 5-minute film tells all, even without the commentary in English…..

And after crossing the old bridge to get to the Bockau side of the span, we could see the “Schandfleck” in detail. A total “Schande” (shame) because of several reasons!

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According to several sources, the old bridge is supposed to remain in place until it is demolished and removed in the spring in 2019 with a pair of very important exceptions:

1. Since the bridge is still protected by the Denkmalschutzgesetz (German Culture Heritage Law), documentation of the structure will need to be carried out before its removal, which includes ist history, description and historical significance to the Region. If following the Guidelines that exist in the USA, that process could take 1-2 years to complete.

2. The Investigative Committee (Ausschuss), located in the state parliament in Dresden, which took on the petition to save the bridge back in March, has yet to decide on the bridge’s fate. At the present time, the association has three possible suitors that are willing to take ownership of the bridge once the new B-283 Bridge is completed. If Dresden says yes to the proposal, then the association has until March to name the suitor willing to take over ownership of the old bridge. If not, then the green light will have been given to proceed with the removal.

3. Even if Dresden says no, a copy of the Petition was forwarded to Berlin; specifically the Deutschen Bundestag (German Parliament) and the  Deutsches Nationalkomitee für Denkmalschutz (Geman National Committee for Cultural Heritage), for the bridge carries a federal highway and if therefore responsible for the ownership of the bridge, which is still protected by the Cultural Heritage Laws (Denkmalschutzgesetz). That Petition has been accepted and the bridge is being considered for a program to protect places of interest, thus providing funding for restoring and repurposing the bridge.

Having the concrete bed in the river, according to multiple choices may have violated these agreements and then some, for the Zwickau Mulde is protected by several natural preserve laws on both the state and federal levels. With the concrete bed in the water and despite the two pipes running underneath, it will have the potential to hinder the flow of fish flowing downstream, which could cause unrest from some of the local fisheries and fishing clubs along the river.  Despite the need for having the bed there for the eventual removal of the old bridge, having the bed there is too early and could possibly cause some violations that could result in some legal actions.  A gallery with pictures taken by the author will provide you with some Details.

Photo Gallery:

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To summarize, the old bridge is still standing and can be crossed despite being partially blocked off. Yet the concrete bed indicates that workers want to go ahead and demolish the bridge before Christmas. The new bridge is almost completed and will open between November and December. The fate of the old bridge falls in the hands of both Berlin and Dresden, yet as the bridge is the ownerhship of the federal government, Berlin will have a say, yet if and how the old bridge can be saved is still open. There are interested parties in owning the bridge but the group cannot push forward until the government has a say in the whole debacle. And even if the group gets the go ahead, the decision of who owns it has to be made before spring 2019. And even then, funding will be needed to rehabilitate and restore the bridge.

In other words, one has to happen after another in sequential order, yet some people are trying to make haste by putting the carriage before the horse- meaning tear the bridge down before the ownership transfership is approved and inspite of violations they make be committing.  This mentality is clearly American and has been the target of comments by the German far-right party AfD to compare modernization in Saxony at the cost of historic places of interest to the works of the Taliban in Afghanistan. This commentary, albeit very harsh, is not far from the truth, and should the old Bockau Arch Bridge come down too prematurely, it may serve as a basis for more voters to flock to the AfD and for the current government in Saxony to topple come the state elections in 2019. If the party uses the slogan “Remember the Rechenhausbrücke!” similar to the Alamo in Texas, the people in Saxony will understand why.

Membership to join the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge (Freunde der Rechenhausbrücke):

There are many ways to join the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge. To join and simply follow the page is as easy as clicking here and liking the page. But to really get involved and help out in saving and supporting the bridge financially and/or through other means, please contact Ulrike Kahl at this E-Mail address: ulrike.kahl@gruene-erzgebirge.de She can provide you with a membership application form and other information on how you can help. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles if you only speak English but still would like to join.

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Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 8: Update and Marketing Ideas

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It has been a few weeks since my last posting about the Bockau Arch Bridge and the fight against time and the elements to save the 150-year old structure. But as you can see here as well as on the Facebook page (click here), progress is being made in leaps and bounds to have the new structure, built on alignment, ready to go by next year. Already the piers and the concrete decking are in place, and a barrier is in place, permanently blocking access to the old bridge on the north end. Many have written off the old Bridge, however…..

….it’s not over yet. The decision regarding whether the state government will accept our petition and decision to allow for time to claim ownership of the structure before it is demolished in mid-2019 is still out. We’re looking at 4-6 weeks before Dresden decides.  Another petition going one level up further is in the making, an alliance to create a bridge association is being formed, and there is ever growing support for keeping the old structure in place, this despite the claims by the communities nearby that they will not take ownership once the new bridge is open.

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The author displaying the T-shirt with Pittsburgh’s bridges at our last Meeting at the Bockau Arch Bridge and Rechenhaus Restaurant

And then we have this marketing strategy, one of many that are being sought. 🙂

A friend of mine from Pittsburgh gave me this T-shirt containing all of the city’s bridges along the Allegheny,  Monongahela and Ohio Rivers before leaving for Niagara Falls during the road trip through the Great Lakes and the Committee Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge would like to have a Shirt similar like this, but with the bridges along the Zwickau Mulde River.

That’s right! We have 40 bridges to choose from, ranging from the Jähn-Brücke at Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz (named after the lone East German astronaut, Sigmund Jähn) to Paradiesbrücke in Zwickau; The Wave in Glauchau to the Göhren Viaduct in Lunzenau; The Bridges of Rochlitz to the Suspension Bridge in Grimma. But the question is which ones deserve to be on the T-shirt?

From now until September 15th, you have the chance to vote which bridge along the Zwickau Mulde deserves to be on the T-shirt. Go to the link provided below, which will take you to the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Facebook page and its photo album. Look at the photos selected and like the ones that are your favorite. If there is a bridge that is not listed but you want it on there, comment on it. The votes will then be tallied and the top 10-16  bridges liked on facebook will be placed on the T-shirt.

Link to the photo contest here.

For those who don’t facebook and still want to vote, you can also here:

The winners will be announced on the 17th of September. The T-Shirts will be designed similar to the one on the bridges in Pittsburgh, yet the colors will be different, reflecting on the region in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) as well as along the river. Right now, blue, green and white/grey are being considered, but we are open to other color combinations. Please send an E-Mail if you have a suggestion in colors that you would like to see appear on the T-shirts. Furthermore, as the Zwickau Mulde has one of the highest number of castles, competing with the likes of the Rhine and Rhone Rivers, each bridge will feature a place of interest in the background that is typical of the community. 

Once the design is complete and the T-shirts are available to the market, orders will be taken with proceeds going toward the Bockau Arch Bridge. You will be notified once the project is completed and available for sale.

In addition, postcards, coffee cups, a film about the Bockau Arch Bridge, another one on the bridges along the Zwickau Mulde and a book on the bridges in the region are being considered, but unlike the postcards and coffee cups, which are easy to do, the rest will need some time and planning for them to be realized. But we are starting to like this approach with the T-shirt. While more details are coming, you should really go out and choose your favorite bridges for the T-shirt project.

Good luck! 🙂

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Historic Structures and Glasses: Restore vs. Replacement in Simpler Terms

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Co-written with sister column, FF new logo

The discussion about the preservation and reuse of historic places has existed since the 1950s, thanks to the preservation laws that have been in place. The German Preservation Laws were passed in 1958, whereas the Historic Preservation Laws that established the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places in the USA were enacted in 1966. Both serve the lone purpose of identifying and designating places unique to the cultural identity and history of their respective countries. Furthermore, these places are protected from any sort of modernization that would otherwise alter or destroy the structure in its original form. Protected places often receive tax credits, grants and other amenities that are normally and often not granted if it is not protected or even nominated for listing as a historic site.  This applies to not only buildings and bridges but also to roadways and highways, windmills, towers of any sorts, forts and castles, citadels and educational institutions and even memorials commemorating important events.

Dedicating and designating sites often receive mixed reactions, from overwhelming joy because they can better enjoy the sites and educate the younger generations, to disgruntlement because they want to relieve themselves of a potential liability.

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Since working with a preservation group in western Saxony on saving the Bockau Arch Bridge, a seven-span stone arch bridge that spans the Zwickau Mulde between Bockau and Zschorlau, six kilometers southwest of Aue, the theme involving this structure has been ownership. The bridge has been closed to all traffic since August 2017 while a replacement is being built on a new alignment. Once the new bridge opens, the 150-year old structure will come down unless someone is willing to step in and take over ownership and the responsibilities involved. . Taking the structure means paying for its maintenance and assuming all responsibility for anything that could potentially happen. And this is the key here: Ownership.

Who wants to own a piece of history? To examine this, let’s look at a basic example of a commodity where two thirds of the world’s population wear on a regular basis- the author included as well: glasses.

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The author’s sunglasses: the older model from 2005 on top; the newest pair from 2018 at the bottom.

Ever since Marco Polo’s invention, glasses have been improved, innovated and modernized to not only make the person look great in appearance. It also helps them to better see the environment surrounding them, regardless of whether they are near-sighted or far sighted, have astigmatism or require bi-focals to read, or if they want protect their eyes from the sun in the form of shades. Glasses can be plastic or metal (or even both). And like the historic structures, the materials can be recycled if no one wants them. Yet by the same token, many of us love to keep them for the purpose of memories or give them away to those who need them. For over 30 years, I have worn nine pairs of glasses and two pairs of sunglasses; this does not count the eight years that I primarily wore contact lenses, which was during my time in high school and college. Like our historic structures, glasses have a life span. They are worn until the frames develop rust and corrosion, the vision changes or they are broken.

In some cases, many look for a new frames because they want to “look cool” in front of their peers. The “look cool” mentality has overtaken society to a point where it can be applicable to about everything: cars, clothing, houses and especially historic places and structures of interest. Basically, people just ignore the significance of these structures and things that had been built in the past, which hold memories, contribute to the development of a country, region or even community, or are simply fashionable. Still in spite of all this, one has to do something about the glasses, just as much one has to do something about the historic building.

So let’s take these two pairs of sunglasses, for example. Like in the picture above, the top one I was prescribed by an optometrist in 2005; the bottom one most recently in June 2018. The top one is a combination of plastic and steel- the temples, ends and hinges are made of steel; the eye wires are plastic. The lenses are made with Carl Zeiss branded glass with a sealcoat covering to protect it from scratches.  The bottom ones are plastic- frames, temples and nosepiece; the lenses are plastic but with a sealcoat protectant and dimmers to protect the eyes from the sun. The brand name is generic- no name.  The difference is that the changes in the eyes required new sunglasses for the purpose of driving or doing work outside.  As I wear the new sunglasses, which are not as high quality but is “cool,” according to standards, the question is what to do with the old sunglasses?

There are enough options to go around, even if the sunglasses are not considered significant. One can keep the old pair for memory purposes. Good if you have enough space for them. One can give them away to someone who needs them. If they are non-prescription lenses, that is much easier than those with a prescription. With the prescription lenses, one will need to remove them from the frame before giving them away. Then there is the option of handing them into the glasses provider, who takes the pair apart and allows for the materials to be recycled.  More likely one will return the old pair to the provider to be recycled and reused than it would be to give them away because of the factors of age, quality of the materials and glass parts and especially the questions with the lenses themselves. One can keep the pair, but it would be the same as leaving them out of sight and out of mind.

And this mentality can be implemented to any historic structure. People strive for cooler, more modern buildings, infrastructure or the like, but do not pay attention to the significance of the structure they are replacing in terms of learning about the past and figuring its reuse in the future. While some of  these “oldtimers “ are eventually vacated and abandoned, most of them are eventually torn down with the materials being reused for other purposes; parts of sentimental values, such as finials, statues and plaques, are donated to museums and other associations to be put on display.

The Bridge at Pointer’s Ridge. Built in 1910 by the Western Bridge Company of Omaha, NE. The Big Sioux River crossing was one of five bridges removed after years of abandonment in 2012. Photo taken in 1999 when it was still open.

One of examples that comes to mind when looking at this mentality are the bridges of Minnehaha County in South Dakota. The most populous county in the state whose county seat is Sioux Falls (also the largest city in the state), the county used to have dozens of historic truss bridges that served rail and automobile traffic. As of present, 30 known truss bridges exists in the county, down from 43 in 1990, and half as many as in 1980.  At least six of them are abandoned awaiting reuse. This includes a rails-to-road bridge that was replaced in 1997 but has been sitting alongside a gravel road just outside Dell Rapids ever since.  A big highlight came with the fall of five truss bridges between Dell Rapids and Crooks in 2012, which included three through truss spans- two of which had crossed the Big Sioux. All three were eligible for the National Register. The reasons behind the removal were simple: Abandoned for too long and liability was too much to handle

This leads me to my last point on the glasses principle: what if the structures are protected by law, listed as a historic monument?  Let’s look at the glasses principle again to answer that question. Imagine you have a couple sets of glasses you don’t want to part ways with, even as you clean your room or  flat. What do you do with them? In the case of my old sunglasses, the answer is simple- I keep them for one can reuse them for other purposes. Even if I allow my own daughter to use them for decorating dolls or giant teddy bears, or even for artwork, the old pair is mine, if and only if I want to keep them and allow for use by someone else under my care.  The only way I would not keep the old sunglasses is if I really want to get rid of them and no one wants them.

Big Sioux River Crossing at 255th Street: One of five bridges removed in 2012 after decades of abandonment. Photo taken in 1999.

For historic places, this is where we have somewhat of a grey area. If you treat the historic place as if it is protected and provide great care for it, then there is a guarantee that it will remain in its original, pristine condition. The problem is if you want to get rid of it and your place is protected by law. Here you must find the right person who will take as good care of it as you do with your glasses. And that is not easy because the owner must have the financial security and the willpower just to do that. Then the person taking it over does not automatically do what he/she pleases. If protected under preservation laws you must treat it as if it is yours but it is actually not, just like renting a house.  Half the places that have been torn down despite its designation as a historical site was because of the lack of ownership and their willingness to do something to their liking. Even if there are options for restoration available, if no one wants it, it has to go, even if it means taking it off the historic registry list to do that.  Sometimes properties are reclaimed at the very last second, just like the old glasses, because of the need to save it. While one can easily do that with glasses, it is difficult to do that with historic places, for replacement contracts often include removal clauses for the old structure, something that is very difficult to rescind without taking the matter to court.

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In reference to the project on the Bockau Arch Bridge in Germany, we are actually at that point. Despite its protection as a historic structure, its designation was taken off recently, thus allowing for the contract for the new bridge at the expense of the old structure to proceed. Yet, like with the pair of old glasses, last ditch attempts are being made to stop the process for there are possible suitors willing to take over the old structure and repurpose it for bike and pedestrian use. While neither of the communities have expressed interest, despite convincing arguments that the bridge can be maintained at a price that is 100 times less than the calculated amount, the group working to save the bridge is forming an association which will feature a network of patrons in the region, willing to chip in to own the bridge privately. Despite this, the debate on ownership and the bridge’s future lies in the hands of the state parliament because the bridge carries a federal highway, which is maintained on the state and national levels. Will it become like the old pair of glasses that is saved the last second will be decided upon later this fall.

To summarize briefly on the glasses principle, glasses and buildings each have a short lifespan because of their functionality and appearance. We tend to favor the latter more than the former and therefore, replace them with newer, more modern and stylish things to keep up with the pace. However, the older structures, just like the discarded pair of glasses, are downgraded on the scale, despite its protection under laws and ownership. When listed as a historical site, the proprietor works for and together with the government to ensure its upkeep, just like lending old glasses to someone for use, as long as the person knows he/she is “borrowing” it. When it is not listed , they are either abandoned or torn down, just like storing the glasses in the drawers or even having them recycled. However the decision is final if and only if no one wants it, and this could be a last-second thing.

The Bridge at Iverson Crossing south of Sioux Falls. Built in 1897, added to the National Register in 1996. Now privately owned. Photo taken in 1998.

We cannot plan ahead for things that need to be built, expanded or even replaced, for there may be someone with a strong backbone and staunch support who will step in the last minute to stake their claim. This applies to replacing older, historic structures with modern ones that have less taste and value. In the face of environmental issues we’re seeing globally on a daily basis, we have to use and reuse buildings and other structures to prevent the waste of materials that are becoming rarer to use, the destruction of natural habitats that may never recover but most importantly, remind the younger generations of our history and how we got this far. While some of us have little memories of our old glasses in schools with the exception of school class and party photos, almost all of us have memories of our experiences at, in, or on a historic structure that deserves to be recognized and kept for others to see. It’s just a matter of handling them, like the glasses we are wearing.

 

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Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 7: Don Quixote’s Windmills

April 24th, 2018. A beautiful day in the village of Bockau. A wonderful chance to photograph the Bockau Arch Bridge. But sadly this may be the last time doing it. While a total of 25 people gathered at the site of the Bockau Arch Bridge, the consensus is pointing towards the digger and wrecking ball to this almost 150-year old structure. Neither the mayor of Bockau, nor the one in Zschorlau want it left standing. A member of the Saxony Ministry of Construction and Transportation claims that the construction of the new bridge on new alignment and with that the demolition of the old bridge is a done deal. This is especially given because the new bridge was being constructed in a natural habitat and according to agreement, both bridges must not exist.  And given the aggression presented by members of the representatives from Dresden, it appears that they favor the transformation of Bockau into a modern village is more important than simply saving relicts of the past.  So this day may be the last I get a shot of this structure and a gorgeous view from on top, like these ones:

So with all the skepticism that I just posted, the question is why are we still fighting for the bridge if the State of Saxony wants it their way with the bridge?  As Piggeldy and Frederick would say: Nicht leicher als das:

Despite claims that the construction of the new bridge is a done deal and that the old structure would need to be removed, there are a few silver linings that were mentioned during today’s meeting. First of all, attempts to compromise were presented, some of which were to the disliking of one party or another, others were worth considering. The first compromise was presented by the mayors of Albernau and Bockau, where the bridge would be partially removed with the remaining two spans to be converted to an observation pier. That was completely rejected as it would be the same as demolishing the bridge plus the consensus is to keep the entire crossing over the river. As the bridge is protected by the Preservation Laws, it would be taken off the list if the bridge was altered in any way. To especially the mayor of Bockau who strove to see the bridge disappear, the suggestion to cut the bridge into bits is as bitter as eating pickled gizzards.

Onto option 2, which is redo the contract which would include keeping the bridge in its place. The reason behind it was the lack of communication behind what to do with the old bridge. When the contract was let for the new bridge, there was no information as to whether the contractor has the right to remove the old structure, nor was there any public input or even a referendum. Good idea but with one catch: The contract would need up to five years, and no further construction would be done on the new bridge. Furthermore, it needs approvement by both Dresden as well as the federal government, both of whom had originally given the green light for the current project. An attempt to partially redo the contract to omit the removal of the old sturcture is currently being considered.

And henceforth we look at option three, which is looking for new ownership. It is concluded that once the new bridge is open, the old bridge no longer will be the care of the federal government as it carries a federal highway (B 283). As neither Zschorlau nor Bockau want to take it, we must look at some interested third parties or partake on a joint public-private venture to own and maintain the bridge. Despite jumping the gun with claims that no one wants the bridge, there are enough parties in terms of persons and organizations who might take over. This include bike organizations as the bridge crosses the Mulde Bike Trail, a rails-to-trails route that connects Adorf with Aue. The person who takes over will need to ensure that the bridge is properly maintained and inspected and take over responsibility for any incidents and accidents that may happen. The advantage is the fact that if the bridge was handed over, it will be in the state as it was before it was closed, like this:

Originally, 1.2 million Euros would have been needed to refurbish the bridge which given its current condition it was not necessary. One needs to fill in the cracks and ensure the arches are ok, which they are:

The lone catch is that the clock is ticking. Since the meeting, we have not even a full year to find a new owner or come up with a reasonable concept that will be to the liking of the parties involved. Despite the claims of lack of feasiblity and the lack of want with regards to the bridge, we did conclude that if we could come up with a plan to keep the bridge in tact, the historic structure is ours for the keeping. The condition is that the north approach would need to be rebuilt to provide access for pedestrians and cyclists. Because of the Mulde Bike Trail and its potential to become a “bike-autobahn”, the bridge would be a perfect, easiest and safest crossing connecting two communities. However, all it needs is support from both the public and private sectors. No support, no plan, and that means no bridge.

And with that, no more photos of such a beautiful old stone lady……

…..holding a dandelion in its stone cracks……

waiting to give it to her supporters, including Ms. Ulrike Kahl, who was interviewed after the meeting.

And why Saxony needs a bike-autobahn along the Mulde, let alone how the German Preservation Laws work in comparison to the American one can be found in the coming articles. Stay tuned.

Help needed: What success stories have you had with public-private partnerships with bridges? What concepts would you present to convince all parties to keep the bridge in place? What practices have worked in the past. Any ideas, contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact form below:

Will accept all ideas in German, Spanish and French as well. All ideas are welcome.

 

A news story by German public TV station MDR was carried out on the same day and can be seen here.  Follow-ups will come. 🙂