Europabrücke in Rendsburg Coming Down

Underneath the Europabruecke near Rendsburg. Photo taken in May 2011
Underneath the Europabruecke near Rendsburg. Photo taken in May 2011

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RENDSBURG, GERMANY- It’s one of the longest and highest bridges in Schleswig-Holstein: 1457 meters long, 30 meters wide and 50 meters high above the Baltic-North Sea Canal. The Europabrücke, locally known as the Rader Hochbrücke, is one of the most heavily travelled bridges in northern Germany, carrying the main artery connecting Flensburg and all points in Scandanavia to the north and Hamburg and all points to the south, the motorway A7. Built in 1972, the cantilever deck bridge has reached the end of its useful life.

Unlike the April Fools joke involving neighboring Rendsburg High Bridge in 2013, this is a serious matter.

According to sources from, plans are in the making to replace the bridge with a wider and sturdier structure with plans to have the structure replaced in 12 years’ time. Two factors influence the decision by the Ministry of Transportation in Berlin and the state authorities in Kiel to replace the 43-year old bridge. First and foremost, inspection reports revealed wear and tear on the bridge’s deck, caused by extreme weather conditions, salt and debris from the canal it spans and lastly, too much traffic on the bridge. The bridge was closed for several weeks in 2013 because of spalling cracks in the concrete that needed to be patched. This resulted in chaos for travellers needed to detour through the tunnel in Rendsburg, the transporter portion of the Rendsburg High Bridge in order to get across or even the ferries near the city, just to name many alternatives.  The second factor for the bridge replacement is because the motorway is being widened from its present four lanes to six lanes, between Hamburg and Flensburg. Already underway is the stretch between Neumünster and Quickborn, the widening process will include replacing over four dozen bridges built in the 1950s, widening the present lanes and adding one additional one in each direction to ensure that travelling this stretch is safer than before. This stretch of A7 has been notorious for several accidents and traffic jams, especially near Hamburg. The bridge replacement will be part of the next stretch of highway to be widened.

While the design-phase is in its infancy, the plan is to build one half of the replacement span wide enough for four lanes of traffic. After shifting traffic onto the new span, the old span will be torn down and replaced with the second half of the replacement span. The plan is to have the bridge completed by 2027.

Yet pressure is being applied by German Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt to start construction of the new bridge as soon as possible, giving designers up to 18 months to complete the process before construction starts. The project is being considered for federal support by officials in Berlin. How long the designing process and the impact surveys will take place as well as when construction will start remains open. But given the critical situation of the bridge and the motorway, the bridge will most likely move up the priority ladder quickly so that work can start at the latest next year.

Judging by the bridge’s modern appearance, from the photographer’s and pontist’s  point of view, the bridge appeared to be functioning great and its sleak design makes it one of the crossings worth seeing while biking aling the Grand Canal. However, looks can be deceiving when looking at the cracks in the concrete. Given the recent bridge collapse in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, politicians and engineers are wasting no time getting the project moving forward in Rendsburg.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest with the bridge. Together with sister column The Flensburg Files, a series on projects in Schleswig-Holstein is being produced to give travellers an idea what to expect in the coming months.

Oblique view of Europebruecke near Rendsburg. Photo taken in May 2011
Oblique view of Europebruecke near Rendsburg. Photo taken in May 2011

Author’s notes:

A series on the Bridges along the Baltic-North Sea Canal was produced by the Chronicles. The Europabrücke is found here.

The Flensburg Files is doing a quiz series on the 16 German states as part of the country’s 25th anniversary celebration. The first one on Schleswig-Holstein you can find here. The answers will come on 24 March.

And like the Files, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is currently undergoing an upgrade to internet status. Articles will continue to be posted during the construction proces, which is expected to take a few weeks to complete. So stay here and enjoy the articles to come.



What to do with a Historic Bridge: Bridge 2628 in Jackson County, Minnesota

Photo taken by Sam and Anna Smith in 2012

Jackson County is pursuing plans to replace the first concrete through girder bridge in the State of Minnesota. Public discussion on its future to be planned soon.

Jackson County, Minnesota. Apart from my place of childhood, where I grew up and graduated, the county was once a place laden with historic places people like me grew up with. We had the roller skating rink south of Windom, the National Guard Armory in Jackson where we played basketball in high school, the Jackson High School Complex across from the county courthouse, plus many historic farmsteads that were scattered across the landscape.  It was here where my interest in historic bridges took shape, as I grew up having seen and crossed dozens of pre-1920 bridges, six of which crossed the Des Moines River, including the Black Bridge (the Milwaukee Railroad Viaduct), one of three steel bridges that existed in Jackson.
Yet like it has done with the aforementioned artifacts, the historic bridges are disappearing like flies, with the county pursuing a merciless plan to modernize the landscape to beyond recognition and attempts to save what is left are being quashed by political tactics and pressure by those with enough power to have things their way.  Bridge 2628, spanning Okabena Creek at Township Road 183 in Alba Township is one of those bridges standing in the way of progress, and unless attempts are made to halt it, the 60-foot long bridge will be gone by 2017.
When looking at the bridge for the first time, one could perceive it as just an ordinary bridge. Yet the 1917 structure has a history of its own, which justifies its listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the need to preserve it.  The bridge was built during World War I, where steel was scarce for it was being used for the war efforts. Originally a Warren pony truss was supposed to be in its place. Yet with no steel available, the State Road Department (the predecessor to today’s Minnesota Department of Transportation) decided for a bridge variant built using concrete.  While box culverts were used prior to 1917, using art deco railings, the state vied for an experiment, which later justified its expanded usage for both rail and vehicular traffic: the girder bridge. Reason: the girder bridge featured railings that supported the roadway instead of the piers and abutments, as found with beam bridges.  The first concrete through girder bridge was constructed and opened to traffic in the summer of 1917 and has remained in service ever since. This is symbolic for no bridge had been constructed which was 60 feet long or more. It set the stage for the use of concrete bridges for long-span crossings, which commenced after 1920 in Minnesota and after 1940 in Jackson County.
Yet the situation is looking bleak for the structure. The county engineer wants the bridge replaced with a wider and sturdier one, citing age and structural deterioration, weight limit and the structure’s narrowness as the main reasons. The county has already taken a look at alternatives, none of which have circumvented the inevitable plan decided upon to replace it outright. This included constructing a replacement alongside the original one (the argument against that was because of the dangerous curves presented in bypassing the road around the bridge), rehabilitating it (which would be too expensive), leaving it alone and closing it (which would cause a hindrance to the 20+ vehicles crossing the bridge every day.)  Being located in a sparsely populated area, it would make sense to have farmers and passengers go the extra mile to get to their destinations, thus allowing the bridge to be left in place with permanent barriers. Having a park in the vicinity of the bridge would be possible, yet money would be needed for a shelter house, picnic area, playground and especially trees. It would actually go well with a bike trail along Okabena Creek. Yet with the recent opposition by county residents to construct bike trails along the Des Moines River connecting Jackson and Windom due to issues of property easements and increase in costs, the idea of having a bike trail along Okabena Creek connecting Heron Lake and Brewster with many pre-1940 bridges long gone would send many to the barracks to arm themselves.
Yet because the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, there is hope that a solution can be reached so that the bridge can have another life after serving vehicular traffic for almost 100 years. The county will need to conduct environmental impact and cultural significance studies as required by law concerning all historic places. In addition, public input will be needed to determine what to do with the bridge. This will buy some time for the bridge as well as for the parties willing to do something with the 60-foot structure, including securing funding for rehabilitation and possible relocation.
Relocation. An option for a concrete bridge?
The idea sounds absurd, but it is doable.  As seen in the Ammann Awards entries from last year, the first ever prestressed and pretensioned concrete bridge in the world, constructed in 1938 over a motorway in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia was relocated to a rest area near its original site and now serves as a monument.  Yet a pair of more local examples include the relocation of two arch bridges in Iowa. The first ever reinforced concrete arch bridge, designed by Josef Melan and built by Fritz von Emprenger in 1894, was spared demolition and relocated to its current site, Emma Sater Park in Rock Rapids, 50 years ago. It was one of the first structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which occurred in 1970. A Keystone stone arch bridge in Pocahontas County, built in the 1880s, was relocated from a small creek to a park outside Pocahontas in 1980. Both structures are about the same length as the girder bridge in Jackson County.  As the construction of bike trail extensions are underway in and around Jackson, such a historic bridge could be relocated to a site along the way, to serve either as a crossing or a monument.  Even its relocation to one of the parks in Jackson, Lakefield or Heron Lake to serve as a monument would suffice as well. This would perhaps be the best alternative to it being bypassed and/or left alone as is, being a forgotten relict with a fruitful history and its contribution to the development of concrete bridges after 1920 and the state infrastructure as a whole.
Bridge 2628 is one of two remaining historic bridges left in Jackson County, yet its future is in doubt as the county wishes to replace the structure with a longer, wider and even sturdier bridge.  Given the number of pre-1930 bridges that have dwindled in numbers, it would not be surprising if Jackson County joins McLeod, Swift, Waseca and Douglas Counties in a couple years with absolutely no bridges left over, unless action is taken to save the remaining two structures (ironically, a Queenpost pony truss bridge is the other structure left in the same county and in the same township, only seven miles upstream). Given its structural and historical importance, it is essential that something is done for the bridge without destroying it, setting the example of other remaining historic bridges that are in need of the same treatment as given to the county courthouse in Jackson, as well as the historic business districts in Jackson and Lakefield, to name a few.  After suffering a harsh setback with the fall of the Middle School building in 2011, it is now more important than ever to save what is left of the county’s history before it is too late.

Photo courtesy of MnDOT, taken in 1965

For more information about how to save Bridge 2628, please contact the Jackson County Highway Department and the Jackson County Historical Society for more details and pay attention to the upcoming public meetings pertaining to the future of the bridge.

Information can also be obtained by the US Army Corps of Engineers under  Linda Pate, using the following contact details:
Linda Pate Cultural Resource Historian Regulatory Branch U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District 180 Fifth Street East, Suite 700 St. Paul, MN 55101 (651) 290-5970 (o) (651) 245-8276 (c)
Author’s Notes:
Jackson lost the 1928 Armory Building in 1999 (now replaced with a bank), the Jackson Junior and Senior High School Complex in 2011 (the 1909 half was demolished in 1982 and was not replaced, the 1938 half in 2011 despite protests and litigation, and replaced with a modern building), and the 1975 First National Bank Building in 2012 (replaced).

The author would like to thank Sam and Anna Smith as well as Pete Wilson at MnDOT for the use of the photos. Originally, they were used for the book on Jackson County’s historic, whose abbreviated version can be found in the county’s 150th anniversary book, published in 2007. The extended version is being edited and will be made available for purchase once it is finished. An article on the Lost Bridges of that county is in the making for the Chronicles, together with some information on the girder bridge.

Mystery Bridge 39: The fallen Burwell (Nebraska) Bridge


A few weeks back, we received a photo with some information pertaining to this bridge. Located over the North Loup River on what remained of 7th Avenue at present-day Riverside Park, the Bridge at Burwell (coined as Old Burwell Bridge in the website) has some mysteries of its own to be solved- in particular, what the bridge looked like and when it was built. What is clear, according to records from the Nebraska Historical Society, floodwaters washed out this bridge- deemed as the lone crossing going in and out of Burwell- on 25 June, 1939. The Nebraska Department of Roads and Irrigation responded by constructing a new crossing a year later, featuring a steel plate girder crossing located 3/4 mile east of the original crossing, where Highways 11 and 91 cross today.

The fallen north portion of the original bridge is all that remains of the Old Burwell Bridge today. Judging by its Art Deco design, the crossing must have been built between 1912 and 1920, when concrete girders, using similar designs, were used either as a substitute to steel or even as a complement to the material that had been used almost exclusively for bridge building up until then. Already, the standardization of bridges had started, where state road departments introduced strict standards in bridge building, including new bridge designs made of concrete, like the girder as seen in the photo above.

Bolson Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. The 1924 bridge represents an example of standardized truss bridges used during this time. Photo taken in 2007

The question is whether this crossing had been a full-blown concrete girder bridge with more than one span, or whether the fallen span had once been an approach span for another bigger bridge type, like a riveted truss bridge, for example. For the second argument one needs to add the fact that truss bridges were built using riveted connections instead of pinned ones, but despite its sturdiness, they are sometimes prone to flooding, where the span is washed away. Many truss bridges had girder approach spans as they were sturdier than wooden ones, and they enabled passengers to cross the bridge safely.

Keeping these arguments in mind, we have a couple questions to answer with regard to the Old Burwell Bridge:

1. Was the crossing a full fledged concrete beam or girder bridge or was it an approach span to another bigger bridge type, like a truss bridge?

2. When was this bridge built and who was the bridge builder?

3. What were the dimensions of the bridge before flooding washed it away?

Answers to this question can be posted here or on the Chronicles’ facebook page. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at Inquiring minds would like to know about the bridge’s history, and the Chronicles is there to help solve the mystery.


Die Letzte Klappe (The last word/span): The Herrenbrücke in Lübeck, Germany


It has been a few months since writing a review on a bridge book due to many commitments. But this first book review fits nicely with the topic on the Bridges of Lübeck in northern Germany, for it focuses on a landmark that should have been standing, but is no longer extant.

Located 6 kilometers north of the city in the suburb of Kucknitz, the Herrenbrücke has a history that is unique for the region and Europe. Located over the Trave and once hailed as the last bridge over this river before it empties into the Baltic Sea in Travemünde, only ten kilometers away, the Herrenbrücke was the only bridge in Germany that featured two single-leaf bascule bridges per roadway- four single leaf bascule spans all in all! Each span was 70 meters long. The height of the span over the Trave is over 50 meters tall. If one adds the approach spans, the total length of the bridge was over two kilometers. All in all, the Herrenbrücke was the largest bridge in Europe when it was bult in 1963 and opened to traffic at the beginning of 1964. Yet the 1964 span was the second crossing it this site. The very first crossing dates back to 1902 when a two-span swing deck truss bridge, using a Pratt design, was built. It was partially destroyed in a collision with the Swedish ship in 1909 and was rebuilt afterwards. In 1916, the bridge was electrified, allowing streetcars to cross the bridge providing a key connection between Siems and Kucknitz. The service was discontinued in 1958 and three years later, the suburbs and the City of Lübeck signed off on a contract to build the Herrenbrücke. Shortly after the new bridge was open to traffic, the steel truss swing bridge was removed.

But why did the bridge last for such a short time and had to be removed? Rainer Wiedemann, who lived near the bridge, documented the entire history of the bridge in his book, “Die Letzte Klappe: Abschied von der Herrenbrücke” (German for: The Last Word/Span: Farewell to the Herren-Bridge), which was published in 2011 and is available for ordering here. Mr. Wiedemann, who was born and raised in Lübeck and was a school teacher, documented the entire bridge prior to and during the removal process in 2005-06, which included detailed photos of the bridge, research into the bridge’s history (which included records of the bridge construction, old photos and postcards) and interviews with locals, city council members, and people who designed and built the Herren-Tunnel, the replacement of the Herrenbrücke which has been in service since 2005. Through this research, Wiedemann was able to look at the Herrenbrücke from all angles, including the reason why the Herrenbrücke had to be replaced after a short period in operation. The book is comparable with other books that were written about giant, popular crossings, such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge (75th anniversary book published in 2007), the Verrazano-Narrows and Brooklyn Bridges in New York City (former published in 2003, latter in 2013) and the Firth of Tay and Firth of Forth Bridges  in the United Kingdom (published in 1991), where several aspects were combined into one- technical, sociological and historical- and formulated in a way where there is an equal balance of photos and text that is simple to understand, and even the reader who is a non-native speaker of German can follow the progress on the bridge’s history from start to finish.

This explains the reason behind the decision of the City of Lübeck and the suburbs to replace the Herrenbrücke with the Herrentunnel, which Wiedemann found substantial amounts of information on the bridge’s problems which dated back to shortly after the opening in 1964. In a nutshell, despite its popularity among its residents within a 20-km radius and beyond, the bridge was nothing but trouble for the city council. Technical problems resulted in a bascule span to not work resulting in a complicated detour. Traffic jams being 5-10 km long. But what doomed the bridge were the amount of cracks and corrosion on the bascule spans as a result of gas emitted from passing ships, weather extremities and salt used on the roadways. Despite undergoing rehabilitation on the bridge in 1981 to strengthen the concrete approaches and sandblast the bascule spans, it only delayed the inevitable, which was decided in 2001 in favor of a tunnel, financed solely by the private sector. Yet the process came at a price: many residents were displaced as their houses at the site of the tunnel were razed. Businesses were bought out, including the ship-builder Flender-Wirft, which was in business for over a century until it was bought by private investors in 2002. Almost immediately after the purchase, diggers and wrecking balls brought down the almost 400 square facility, reducing the warehouses and manufacturing buildings to a pile of rubble. This company was near the site where the 1902 swing bridge was located.

After the Herrentunnel was completed in July 2005, the Herrenbrücke was given its last hurrah on 26 August, 2005 the same time as the opening of the tunnel. Afterwards, it was demolished starting with the removal of the basule spans, then the approach viaduct spans and lastly the abutments and control tower- a process that took over two years to complete. There is almost nothing left of the bridge except for a pair of green cranes that have been placed there.

The author’s title is the subject for debate, depending on how the reader looks at the information. The Letzte Klappe could mean the last span, meaning the bridge stood the test of time, despite all the problems it had, and it stood to the very end, although its life was cut too short. Yet it could mean the last word, meaning the decision was final to get rid of the bridge, even if it was at the expense of more houses and businesses. But from the author’s standpoint, it could also mean the last word in terms of memories of the bridge and the area that is all but a ghost town. Siems and Kucknitz were affected by the bridge in a way that it became a key point that was replaced by the tunnel. But the tunnel came at the price of memories of the bridge and the businesses that once served the communities. As Wiedemann mentioned, Siems is almost non-existent, whereas Kucknitz has not fared better because of the tunnel. But progress can also bring its advantages, and perhaps the tunnel was for the best for commuters and tourists alike. Still to this day, people are trying to cope with the change, which will take getting used to.

And eventually people will adapt to the change, but the memories of the bridge and the region that once existed will remain, even through this book, which has become a must-buy for locals and pontists wanting to know about the Herrenbrücke, its rise and fall, and its legacy that will forever be part of Lübeck’s history as well as that of Schleswig-Holstein’s and Germany’s.

Grade:  A+  (1,0)- for a well-detailed work on an iconic landmark that is comparable to other key bridges in Europe and the US. For engineers in Germany, a head-start for learning German! 🙂

Bridges of Stone, Wood, Concrete and Metal: The History of Minnesota’s Bridges

Cedar Avenue Bridge over Long Meadow Lake in Bloomington with an airplane descending towards the Twin Cities Airport. Built in 1929, the bridge has been abandoned since 2002 and its future is in question. Photo taken in August 2011

Book of the Month for August 2012: How Gardner’s book brings the materials together in chronological order

In the summer of 2008, while compiling a book on the bridges in my county of childhood, Jackson County, Minnesota, Denis Gardner, a historian at the Minnesota Historical Society, published a book on the history of bridges in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, where I was born and raised. I purchased the book not only for the use of information for my book, but also to find out more about the development of the bridges in Minnesota from the time of its statehood in 1858 to date. Furthermore, I wanted to find out more about the I-35W Bridge Disaster in 2007 and its effect on the future of the remaining historic bridges in the state. After all, Gardner was in the finishing stages of his work when the Minneapolis Bridge disaster happened on 1 August, 2007 and some information on this event was mentioned in the work. Yet, the book deals with the historic aspect of the bridges that helped shape the way people traveled throughout the state, thanks in part to the bridge builders that contributed a great deal to the state’s infrastructure. Yet the way Gardner structured the book, he may have set the precedent for other bridge book authors to follow.

Stone Arch Bridge at St. Anthony’s Falls in Minneapolis. Built in 1883 for the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Manitoba Railway, it is the longest stone arch bridge in the state and one that features an S-shaped curve. The bridge is now open to pedestrians. Photo taken in August 2011

Gardner divided his piece up into materials that were used for the development of bridges in the state: stone, wood, iron/steel and concrete, and arranged them in chronological order for a simple reason: these were the materials that were readily available for use. When the materials were exhausted or had enough flaws to cause potential disasters, they were replaced with newer materials that were sturdier and lasted longer.  While it was used mainly for log cabins, wood was abundant and also used for the first bridges designed to bring commerce to the settlement and visitors to the farmsteads. Stone was also used for bridge crossings, but they needed to be quarried and transported, which took an ample of innovative efforts, money and especially, manpower. Both were prone to natural disasters, with wooden bridges being destroyed by the spring thaw and floods and the stone arch bridges failing due to erosion. Then there was the usage of iron and steel for bridge construction, whose advantages included being lightweight and can be (re-) assembled, yet the problem with these structures have to do with rust and corrosion caused by not maintaining (and painting) the bridge on a regular basis. Then there is concrete, which most bridge builders use today, despite the fact that the lifespan of these bridges are shorter than those made of metal.

The Anoka-Champlain Bridge over the Mississippi River north of Anoka. The bridge used to carry US Hwy. 169 before it was bypassed in the 1990s. Photo taken in August 2011

Gardner connects the usage of materials with the development of bridges in the state, and the bridge builders and engineers who contributed to the construction of these structures. While some background information on the bridge types (as with the diagrams) were deemed necessary for the readers to understand, Gardner focused more on the role of the bridge builders in Minnesota, for the state became a primary breeding ground for bridge building empires to rise and dominate the landscape west of the Mississippi River beginning in the 1890s. This includes the empire consisting of  Commodore P. Jones, the Hewett Family (Seth M., William S. and Arthur), Alexander Bayne and later Milo Adams. These gentlemen established numerous bridge companies based in Minneapolis and were in business for a total of five decades. There was also Horace Horton before he emigrated to Chicago, and Lawrence Johnson, an immigrant from Flensburg (Germany) who later became a politician after establishing his own bridge company. Gardner takes the reader behind the scenes to reveal how these bridge companies filled the vacuum that was left behind after many bridge companies based in Chicago and eastward became part of the American Bridge Company consortium in 1901 and for the most part, left the bridge building scene in Minnesota afterwards.

Looking inside the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, spanning the railroad yard northwest of Minneapolis. Built in 1925, it is one of a few multiple span bridges featuring a 30° skew on the portal bracings. The Warren truss span features six spans. Photo taken in September 2010

Gardner presented many examples of historic bridges in the present that are historically significant because of their design and connection with the bridge builders of that time, but are in danger of being replaced, especially in light of the I-35W Bridge tragedy of 2007. Most helpful was a directory containing a list of bridges that are either listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places with information about its design and history and (for most cases), bridge photos accompanying them. This provides the reader with an opportunity to examine them, plan a trip to these structures (assuming they are still standing, for the number has dropped dramatically since the book was published), and further their research on bridge builders and other bridge designs for their own projects.

Broadway Street Bridge over the Minnesota River in St. Peter. Built in 1931, it is the only two-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge left in the state and one of a few in the country whose spans are adjoining and not separate. Photo taken in September 2010

Gardner made sure that the bridge book was not too technical and that the history behind the construction of these bridges and the photos that accompanied the examples presented were easy for the people to understand. As a pontist, this book is very easy to read in comparison to the works written by authors that were too technical and lack the photos and diagrams  needed to support their arguments. But for a non-pontist, the book provides some easily accessible information on the history of bridges in the state and how it contributed to the history of the USA in general.  There have been many books written on the bridges in certain states. Yet this one brings bridge building and history together, putting the materials used for bridge construction in chronological order and bringing historic bridges home to the people who grew up knowing them, people who knew about them and the people who want to know more about them for their own purpose.

Note: The author submitted the interview questions to Denis Gardner via e-mail prior to his departure for the north of Germany two weeks ago and as soon as the interview is completed, it will be posted.