The Railroad Bridges along the Pegnitz Valley in Bavaria

 

One of the Deck Truss Bridges spanning the River Pegnitz  Source: Roehrensee [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
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Starting in the Fichtel Mountains in northeastern Bavaria, the River Pegnitz snakes its way through steep cliffs and deep forests enroute to Nuremberg. It’s hard to believe that one could build dozens of bridges and tunnels to accommodate rail traffic. But that was part of the concept for the construction of the Pegnitztal Railway in 1874. Using the section of the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistral at Schnabelwald as its starting point, the project to build the line took three years to complete, ending in 1877 to provide direct access to Bayreuth from Nuremberg. Originally the Magistral went through Bamberg but railroad officials chose Bayreuth as the quicker alternative. At Schnabelwald, the line branched off to the east, reaching Marktredwitz and ending at Cheb in the Czech Republic by 1879.   As many as 23 railroad bridges and seven tunnels occupy the stretch between Schnabelwald and Hersbruck near Nuremberg. Many of them are of original construction. Two thirds of these bridges are truss spans mainly of Warren design.

Sadly, these bridges are in danger of being demolished and replaced. The German Railways (Deutsche Bahn) is planning to electrify the entire rail line to Nuremberg from Dresden (via Bayreuth and Hof) and Cheb (via Marktredwitz), respectively, to provide better and faster service among the cities. The plan is to have more passenger and freight service running on electricity by 2030, including Inter-City trains. And with that, all the bridges should be replaced.

Or should they? Residents of the communities have voiced their opposition to replacing the bridges due to their historic character, high costs for the concrete structures and the increase in noise in the region. Since 2012, the initiative to save the Pegnitztal Bridges has been in place with the goal of saving as many of the 23 structures as possible. There have been meetings, hiking events and the like since the initiative started and as of date, many people from the area have joined in the fight to protect these bridges and find more constructive ways to restore them and reuse them as part of the modern route.  To determine what these bridges are all about, here’s a tour guide video on the bridges along the Pegnitztal Railroad with close-ups of them all.

The fight to save them have been mixed. Engineering surveys have recommended five of the 23 structures to be rehabilitated and fit for further use. Yet sadly, five of them are scheduled to be replaced. While one of them, a short, 20 meter span, was replaced in 2013, the following three were replaced in 2018, as seen in the video below. Currently, temporary bridges are being built while designs for the new structures are being determined.  It is still unknown what will happen with the remaining 16 structures. But one thing is clear, the Initiative will continue to fight for every bridge until either the renovation or replacement job is completed. The German Railways have recently introduce measures to provide 180 billion Euros for rehabilitatinig bridges over the next ten years and have been able to compromise on some of the bridges. Yet still, they are baby steps in the name of progress, and more will have to be done to ensure a peaceful co-existence between a modern railline going northeast running on electricity and protecting the history of the structures, typical of the Pegnitztal Rail line, historically significant and definitely one that fits in the nature and is worth seeing while traveling along the Pegnitz.

Link with Information on the Bridges and the Initiative to Save them: http://www.bahnbruecken.info/ 

 

 

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The Bridges of Hof (Saale)

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Luftsteg at Hof Central Railway Station. Photo taken in 2017

Hof, in the far northeastern corner of Bavaria, is one of the most historically strategic cities in modern German history. The city, with a population of over 48,000 inhabitants, is located at two Dreiecken, with a history that dates back to the Cold War. To the southeast, there’s the Bayerische Dreieck near the town of Prex, where Bavaria, Saxony and the Czech Republic meet. To the northeast, there’s the Dreiländereck near Mödlareuth, where Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia meet. Until 1990, Hof was an isthmus surrounded by the Iron Curtain and with that, the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), with the borders barb-wired, walled and patrolled by soldiers to ensure that no escaped to the west. Hof was in the line of a possible invasion by Warsaw Pact Forces as they would’ve marched into West Germany via Fulda Gap, had the conflict reached the point where the first missiles had fired.

In 1989, when East Germans fled to the west via Prague in what was Czechoslovakia, Hof was the meeting point where trains loaded with refugees passed through before heading to West Germany. Gutenfürst, located 10 kilometers to the northeast, was its main transit station into Saxony. When the Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, tens of thousands passed through Hof to get their Welcome Money (Begrüßungsgeld) and buy western goods for the first time ever. Traffic jams of up to 50 kilometers at the Rudolphstein Viaduct were common until the Koditz Viaduct and the Motorway 72 opened to traffic for the first time in almost three decades.

Since the Fall of the Wall and its subsequent Reunification, Hof has transformed itself. It used to be a Cold War modern city with Americans stationed there. Businesses catered to the needs of the soldiers and those who successfully escaped. Nowadays, they have gone out of business, but life goes on in the now quiet small city which is situated between the Vogtland, the Fichtel Mountains and the Franconian Forest. It’s the third largest city in the regional district of Upper Franconia Franconia behind Bayreuth and Bamberg and like the two, it houses not only its own city government but also that of its district. Hof belongs to the Beer Mile where one can try over a thousand different sorts of beer in places like Bayreuth, Kulmbach and Bamberg. Hof is famous for its Schlappenbier, one of the strongest beers ever brewed. And while the Galleria Kaufhof has shut down since 2018, the historic city center, with classical houses lining up along the streets leading to the St. Michaeliskirche, is still bustling with activities with weekly markets and especially its Christmas Market (for more on that, click here.) The city is home to the University of Sciences, where over 5,600 students attend for classes.

While they play a very small role during the Cold War and thereafter, the bridges of Hof have undergone a transition of their own, just like with some of the architecture in the city. No longer known for their modern Cold War architecture, many structures have been replaced with post-Cold War modern architectures, where slabs of concrete built in the 50s and 60s are being replaced with fancier designs made of steel, wood or even a combination of the two plus concrete decking. This includes the likes of the Theresiensteg near the City Park and the Luftsteg at the railway station. Only a few historic structures remain in Hof, whether they are the truss bridges near Filzwerk, or the arch bridges at Obere Steinbrücke or the railway viaduct at Unterkotzau, the oldest bridge still standing. And while most of these structures can be found along the railway and the River Saale, each one has a history of its own that have yet to be discovered. Although the city has its own website and a page devoted on bridges, there is only information on the bridge projects that are either planned or completed, but next to none on the structure’s history in comparison with the one we know about; some of which are located at the former East-West German border.

Henceforth, a tour guide has been created with the focus on the bridges of Hof. Based on the author’s visit this year, they will feature pictures of every bridge photographed in Hof with the information that is known about the bridge, with some gaps that need to be filled with regards to the bridges’ history. They include the structures along the River Saale from Oberkotzau to Unterkotzau, as well as those along the railline, including one at the railway station. Click onto the pictures and if you know of the history of one or more bridges, contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact information by clicking here. The information will then be added in the tour guide that is powered by GoogleMaps. Old photos of the bridges (including the spans that are long since been replaced or removed) are more than welcome.

Hof has a wide selection of bridges in terms of style, materials and different eras. The question is what were the stories behind them? What were they like before World War II? This is where the podium is now open.

Click onto the tour guide, click onto the bridges marked and Good Luck! 🙂

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 61

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This week’s Pic of the Week is in connection with a “Never say never” moment regarding a historic bridge that is hard to get to, unless you fight through weeds, rotten wood and potholes on abandoned roads to get it what you want.

This was one of them. The Filzwerk Truss Bridge is located on the south end of Hof at the junction of Ascher Strasse and Hofer Strasse. Like the Alsenberg Truss Bridge seen in another Pic of the Week article (see here), the bridge is a Pratt through truss with welded connections, approximately 35 meters long and spanning the same river- the Saale. Both were built between 1900 and 1920, but we don’t know much about the two…..

Or do we?

This bridge is located on the south side of the Filzwerk factory, a company that produced textile products until its closure a couple decades ago. It was since that time, half of the company was converted into a cultural events center, which garners tens of thousands of visitors to Hof every year. The other half is still in operation but has seen better days with empty buildings and lots, all of which are fenced off to the public.

Even when walking to the bridge from the north side, outside the fenced area and through the weeds and thorns that are waist high, you will be confronted by security guards and told to leave for trespassers pose a security threat in their eyes.

On the south side, however, you can access the bridge at the junction of the aforementioned streets. Even though the intersection is officially a T, it used to be a cross-road junction with the road leading to the factory and the truss bridge. The road is no longer passable by car as it is chained off. Yet you can go by foot as you cross three steel beam bridges- each with a length of 10-15 meters- before turning right and going directly onto the through truss span! You will be greeted with trapezoidal portal and strut bracings as you go across. Yet the north portal side has been fenced off by the factory to keep trespassers from entering the complex on the bridge end. The best photo shots can be found at either the oblique or portal views as a side view may be impossible to get unless it’s in the winter time.

Unlike the Alsenberg Truss Bridge, the Filzwerk Bridge appears to be in a lot better shape with its wooden decking intact, and there is a potential to reuse it in the future, but at a different location. However little is known about the bridge’s history nor are there any concrete plans at the present time for the bridge, for three other structures in and around Hof are either being replaced or rehabilitated. Therefore the bridge will most likely sit in place for long time until there is potential interest for the structure.

And it is probably a good thing too. The bridge is one of those potential hideouts kids can use, as long as they are careful and the bridge is not harmed in anyway.

 

Do you know more about this bridge (or even the Alsenberg Truss Bridge), send us a comment and other information using the contact details by clicking here.

 

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World’s Longest Pedestrian Suspension Bridge to be Built

A rendering of the Lohbach Valley Bridge from the Lichtenberg side. The design and construction will be similar with the Höllentalbrücke. Source: Landkreis Hof/ OTZ

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Hof District Council Members vote unanimously for the 23 million Euro project.
Construction to start immediately; to be completed by 2022

HOF (BAVARIA)/ SCHLEIZ (THURINGIA), GERMANY- There is an old religious saying: As I walk in the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for the Lord will be here with me, helping my way through. Apparently, the Lord did find a creative way at the Thuringian-Bavarian border near the village of Lichtenberg to guide people through the valley (known as the Selbitz) but in mid-air.
The district council of Hof voted unanimously yesterday in favor of the project that will
feature the longest suspension bridge of its kind in the world. The vote count was 35 for and 15 against. Construction is expected to start very soon and is slated to be completed by the beginning of 2022 at the latest- a span of ca. 18 months.
As wide and steep as the valley of the Selbitz is, the project will feature two pedestrian
suspension bridges: one that will be 380 meters and suspended by cables, supported by two pylon towers, one of which will be anchored at the castle ruin Burg Lichtenberg. That will span the Lohbach Valley. The second suspension bridge will careen the valley of the Selbitz, eventually crossing it enroute to the Thuringian border near Blankenberg. Known as the Höllentalbrücke, the span of 1030 meters will break the record set by another suspension bridge in Germany, located in the Harz region in Saxony-Anhalt (see article here). That bridge was built in 2017. Both bridges will be built using solely steel and will feature spans resembling the letter „S“. A video depicting what the suspension bridges will look like can be seen below:

 

News on the Decision and the Opposition:

In addition to that, a tourist information center at Lichtenberg and viewing platforms will be erected to allow for tourists and hikers to enjoy the view of the forest from high above. The cost for the project is estimated to cost 23 million Euros- 14 million will be allocated to the two bridges, while the rest will be used for the platforms, the tourist information center, marketing strategies and lastly but most importantly, the protection of the natural habitat and the historic castle ruin at Lichtenberg- two major areas of concern that opposers of the project demonstrated at meetings, rallies and the like, prior to the vote yesterday. The costs will be financed by the Bavarian government (80%) and local municipalities (20%). This doesn’t include the cost for accessing the suspension bridge from the Thuringia, for the town of Blankenstein will have to shoulder, according to the OTZ-Newspaper.

 

Discussion on the Proposal:

 
With the project given the official go, the new suspension bridge will provide not only the visitors a chance to see the heavily forested and mountainous Franconian Forest, with a chance to see the Fichtel Mountains, the Länderdreiecken, the cities of Hof and Bayreuth on the Bavarian side as well as the Saaletal region where Lobenstein, Saalburg and Schleiz from the air.  It will also provide direct passage through the valleys, where „evil lurks“ by walking on air. That was the Lord’s plan to begin with and for many, it will be a blessing.  🙂

 

Map of the proposed bridges:

 

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1.  The Länderdreiecken refer to two points where three states meet. One is near the village of Prex (Bavaria), where the German states of Saxony and Bavaria as well as the Czech Republic meet. The other is near the village of Mödlareuth, where the three German states of Thuringia, Saxony and Bavaria meet. At both areas the former East-West German borders once separated Bavaria (American zone) from the Communist regions, where Saxony and Thuringia once belonged to East Germany (GDR), and the Czech Republic, which was once the western half of Czechoslovakia. That country existed from 1919 until the Velvet Divorce in 1993.
2. The District of Saale-Orla is considering many options to provide access to the suspension bridges from Blankenstein. One is providing E-service, but there may be more options on the table. Discussions with the Thuringian government has not yet begun as of this posting.

3. The Europa Suspension Bridgenear Randa in Switzerland, opened in late 2017, now holds the record previously set by the suspension bridge in the Harz Region, with a span of 494 meters.
4. The suspension bridge project is the second project along the former East-West German border that is in motion. The bike trail, which extends from the Dreieck near Prex to Blankenberg is also being built with vast stretches going along the route formerly known as the Death Zone. Much of it has been completed and open for use. This includes going through the village of Mödlareuth, where a museum devoted to the former border is located. More on that via links:

https://www.esterbauer.com/db_detail.php?buecher_code=ICTN3- Deutsch/Deutsch Radweg

https://www.merkur.de/reise/radtour-entlang-innerdeutschen-grenze-gruenem-band-zr-3653724.html

Deutsch-Deutsch Museum Mödlareuth: http://moedlareuth.de/

 

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 51

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Care for a game of hoops? There is a good place to play ball, right next to the viaduct. Located in the village of Unterkotzau, north of Hof, this viaduct spans the River Saale. It was one of the oldest viaducts along the Hof-Zwickau-Chemnitz-Dresden Magistrate as well as the Hof-Werdau-Leipzig Line, having been constructed in 1848. The 174 meter long viaduct is the only viaduct along the two lines that has pointed arches, resembling rockets. One can see the eight-arch viaduct from the vehicular crossing that is only 400 meters away to the northwest. From there, one has another six kilometers until reaching the next bridge at the Motorway 72 Viaduct near Koditz.

In either case, one will enjoy a good game of basketball while watching the trains cross the bridge. At least one train crosses every 20 minutes regardless of which direction, which makes it well- traveled

….and well watched from the passengers cheering on the home team.  We’re just missing the ref, though. 😉

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 50

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Our 50th Pic of the Week keeps us at the former West and East German border (now Thuringia-Bavaria) but takes us to what was one of the most important crossings during the Cold War.

The Rudolphstein Viaduct, known since 2006 at The Bridge of German Unification, spans the River Saale between the towns of Rudolphstein on the Bavarian side and Hirschberg on the Thuringian side. Another town that is even closer to the bridge is Sparnberg, which is only a kilometer away. The 255 meter long bridge carries the Autobahn 9, which connects Berlin with Munich, passing through Leipzig/Halle, Hof, Nuremberg and Augsburg. The bridge was the work of Fritz Limpert and Paul Bonatz, built in 1936 as part of the project to build the Autobahn that still connects the two major cities. It featured two identical bridges with eight arches made of granite stone, with a height of 35 meters and a width for each bridge of 22 meters. It was one of the first crossings and served as a polster boy for Adolf Hitler’s Autobahn construction project which expanded until 1942 and included dozens of bridges similar to this crossing. Another bridge nearby, the Koditz Viaduct in Hof, was built in 1940 as part of the Autobahn project connecting Hof with Chemnitz.

The bridge was severely damaged before the end of World War II with one of the arches having been detonated by Nazi soldiers in a desperate attempt to slow the advancement of American troops from the south and the Soviets from the east. The bridge sat idle for 21 years until 1966, when an agreement between both East and West Germany allowed for the bridge to be repaired and reopened to traffic. It served as a border control crossing until the Fall of the Wall in 1989. Seven years later, an extension was built which serves northbound traffic to Berlin. The original spans serve southbound traffic.

A lot of the relicts from this viaduct and nearby can still be found today. This includes a path where the Soviets and East German police patrolled the Thuringian side to ensure that no one attempted to cross the border over to Bavarian side. This includes a unique pic which can be found here. South of the bridge is a former Bavarian crossing point, which is now a rest area with convenience store, restaurant and souvenir shop. And then we have this pic:

 

This was found on the north end of the bridge. The question here is what was this part of the bridge used for? We do know that parking at this bridge has been banned since 1989, but what was this place used for prior to that? This question goes to any historian, local, traveler or the like that is willing to answer this .

 

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Pic of the Week Nr. 48

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As another series is starting alongside the ones in the running, this pic of the week takes us to the town of Hof. The city has 44,000 inhabitants and is located near the border where Germany was once divided into the eastern and western halves with borders and all. The town was on the western half and was once a key point for people fleeing to the west because of repression in the east. Since 1990, however, the town has slowly declined with many businesses and houses being abandoned and unemployment relatively high. Even some of the bridges in the area have seen better days, like we see with this crossing.

This bridge is located over the River Saale at the dam in Alsenberg in the south end of Hof. It’s a nine-panel Pratt through truss bridge with heel portals and strut bracings, built between 1900 and 1920. The structure appeared to have carried cars and pedestrians because it was built using thin metal and is light weight. The structure has been abandoned for over 40 years and is showing its age as we can see in this picture. The structure is literally getting covered in green moss and vegetation, with wooden planking rotting and the bridge unstable in general. A rather picturesque tunnel view shot but one that is a once in a lifetime shot. A new bridge is being built next to this one, and chances are, because restoration is out of the question due to excessive rust and corrosion, this bridge will be removed in the coming years. For sure the next flood will knock it off its foundations and wash it down stream.

So enjoy this pic while it lasts……

 

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