The next pair of pics will take us to the Oblernhau/Marienberg Region, deep in the heart of the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) in south central Saxony. As a general rule, if you can master the tough terrain of steep hills, going up and down like a roller coaster, very sharp curves- mostly combined with bumps and cracks, cobblestone roads that have the potential of being slick when wet and lastly, wild boar running in front of you like a school of raccoons, then you can manage anything. And even more so, some surprises may await you.
In this case, I found one by accident. It’s a multiple-span stone arch bridge that spans a bumpy and curvy cobblestone Highway B 171, a hilly and bumpy road, a deep gorge which also has a river running through. All of it is located in the town of Zölbitz in the district of Rittersberg. The bridge is very difficult to photograph, and because of many cars racing underneath- breaking the 50 km/h speed limit in the process- it is rather dangerous to photograph, no matter at which angle. This was my experience when I photographed this structure. Even with the tree obstructing the view, the bridge presents a nice green and hilly backdrop that is typical for the Ore Mountains. The locals call the bridge Kniebreche not only because of the name of the road, but also because of the way the road is shaped like a bending knee. If one adds the driving portion to the mix, then the trip is definitely a knee-breaker if one is too careless driving in the mountains.
While the bridge looks rather abandoned because of many cracks and plus its dark brown color and vegetable overgrowth on the decking, the Kniebreche Bridge is indeed still in use. The 145-year old structure, measured at a length of 63.4 meters, is still part of the rail line that connects Marienberg with Flöha. In the past it had stretched to Reitzenhain at the Czech border. Yet as of today, the line ends in Marienberg, and the rest has been abandoned with the rails removed and plans of converting the former rail route into a biking and hiking trail with the goal of connecting the latter with the Kammweg Trail, an international route that connects Germany with points in the Czech Republic, Poland and elsewhere. That route runs through Blankenhain, where the Selbitz Bridge is located and the two suspension bridges are scheduled to be built.
Back to the railroad’s history, the line was built between 1872 and 1875. The Chemnitz- Chomotau Railroad Company was in charge of the project but contracted out to a company in Berlin. Given the narrow valleys along the Black and Red Pockau Rivers, bridges, viaducts and dams were built to accommodate two tracks but only one of them was used. The Kniebreche Viaduct was one of them. The line was the most difficult to build, not only because of the steep narrow valleys but also because of the financing. The financial crisis of 1873 forced the contractor in Berlin to liquidate, and the railroad company itself, which did the planning and layout of the railline, to finish the job.
The Kniebreche Viaduct is located in that area where two-track bridges were built even though the purpose was for having a one-track line. It’s location against the steep cliffs of the valley represent a classic example of the struggles the railroad company had in constructing the line. Given as many curves as the highway has, it is not a surprise that the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) have been using the “red worms” for regional service and leaving the long-distance trains, such as the ICE-trains off the tracks. These types of trains are better off for the long-distance routes, especially between Dresden and the cities of Chemnitz, Erfurt, Leipzig and Prague, for the landscape is flatter and the two-track lines more manageable.
This is the first video podcast of the bridge. The bridge is between 90 and 110 years old, spans a tributary of the River Zschopau south of Wolkenstein in central Saxony in the suburb of Niederau. The rest can be found by clicking here.
Author’s Note: For the first time in four years, a literary review is being introduced in the Chronicles. Previously, we had a Book of the Week that had existed from 2013-14, but due to time constraints, it was discontinued. This time we have the Book of the Month, where each bridge piece will be introduced for people to have a look at. You will find this and future pieces on the Chronicles. A page is being created where all the bridge literary pieces will be added, past and present. So without further ado……
Book of the Month: January 2019
The first ever book of the month takes us to the German state of Saxony, and to the community of Schwarzenberg. Located 10 kilometers east of Aue, deep in the Ore Mountains, the community of 23,300 prides itself on its traditional culture and its history for several historic landmarks are located in the old town, which features a castle and church overlooking the deep valley where the rivers Schwarzwasser and Mittweida meet. The town was one of the key hubs for railroads that met from areas high in the mountains. Today only one line exists from Johanngeorgenstadt to Zwickau, passing through this community. And while the mining industry almost no longer exists, other industries have taken over, thus making the city rather attractive.
While many cities in Saxony, such as Dresden, Leipzig and Plauen have prided themselves on their historic bridges because of popularity, no one has ever thought about the fact that a community, such as Schwarzenberg, would have an interesting set of their own.
Enter the Senior Citizens Club Haus Schlossblick in Schwarzenberg and their prized work, Schwarzenberg’s Bridges. The booklet was released in December 2018, with many copies having been sold during the Christmas markets and beyond. Even though the target language in this 53-page booklet is German, the booklet is laden with pictures of Schwarzenberg’s 44 bridges- both past and present- combined with years of research and photo collections all put together and presented in a form of a tour guide. The photos with the bare essential information is enough for people to read up before finding the bridges, especially as they are listed in the order going downstream for every river mentioned, minus the railroad crossings.
The booklet is different to another bridge booklet written in 2014 on the city of Aue. (For more, please click here to view the tour guide). While current pics of the city’s bridges were included, there was mainly text on the history of each of the bridges in the city of 16,000, located at the confluence between the Zwickau Mulde and the Schwarzwasser, as well as along the Flyover, connecting the city with the Autobahn 72. More pics on the previous structures, plus a better selection of information would have perhaps helped.
Going back to the bridges in Schwarzenberg, there are some interesting facts that are presented in the book, some of which will get the reader to visit them while in Germany. Here are the top five:
The Steynerne Bridge (pictured above) is the oldest bridge stilll existing in Schwarzenberg. It is also the narrowest vehicular crossing in the Ore Mountains.
The Topp-Müller-Arch Bridge was the oldest stone arch bridge ever built in Schwarzenberg, dating back to 1539.
Two railroad bridges used to carry a railline through the steep hills underneath the old town. It was bypassed in 1952.
The old railroad arch bridge east of the train station is one of the best examples of a restored historic bridge of its kind.
Each bridge has a medaillon on the railing, signaling the build and replacement dates, plus some of the symbols of the city.
Interesting is the fact that the author included the Markersbach Viaduct in the booklet. While that bridge is only a few kilometers away, it was included in the Chronicles’ tour guide (shown here). Still, the authors believe that it belongs to the Schwarzenberg ensemble, which is considered far fetched but ok. Also included is the Hammerbrücke, a covered bridge located in Lauter, which is three kilometers away.
A map with the location of the bridges in Schwarzenberg can be found below. I did a bike tour in the region on three different occasions and have therefore included photos in all but a couple of the city’s bridges. The rest of the information is from the booklet.
The book on Schwarzenberg’s bridges, which can be bought at the tourist information center upon personal visit for only six Euros, does bring up a question with regards to writing a book on bridges in such a community. While the book with sufficient information and photos on the bridges, like in Schwarzenberg, would be appropriate especially for readers who just want to know a bit on the bridges, the question is whether this book would fit for another community.
Which town would benefit from such a “picture book” with sufficient information?
Feel free to make your top five cities you would like to see a bridge book written on, either by choosing from the Chronicles’ tour guide page or adding some of your own.
My top five cities that deserve such a bridge booklet include: Glauchau, Zwickau, Dresden, Minneapolis and Des Moines. What about yours? Add your thoughts in the comment section.
This week’s pic of the week takes us to the town of Schwarzenberg, located 10 kilometers east of Aue in the Ore Mountain Region of Saxony. Located at the junction of the the rivers Schwarzwasser and Mittweida, the community of 16,000 inhabitants is famous for its castle on the hill and with it, the old town and market square. A visit to the Christmas market or even the City Festival in the summer is a must.
The city is famous for its bridges, and this is one of them, a focus of this week’s pic. The Railroad Viaduct is located east of the train and bus depot complex. It consists of a four-span stone arch bridge and according to the history books, used to serve rail traffic between Schwarzenberg and Annaberg-Buchholz via Cranzahl. Built in the late 1870s, it was abandoned in the 1950s. It took about a half a century until crews could rehabilitate the structure and convert it into a rails-to-trails route, which runs along the Schwarzwasser and is being used to this day.
This photo was taken on the cusp of dusk as I was on tour and looking for a broschure on the bridges in Schwarzenberg, for the book was released late last year. Fortunately I have a copy and will present this in the next column entries. But for now, enjoy the pic of the well-lit bridge, spanning the river and the park that was created a few years ago and people can enjoy some time down by the river. 🙂
Due to a short week because of the federal holiday in Germany, combined with an upcoming trip, I decided to move up our Pic of the Week to today. This Picof the Week takes us to the Ore Mountains at the German-Czech border and this bridge in Johanngeorgenstadt. Spanning the River Schwarzwasser just south of the train station and just north of the Czech border town of Potucky, this modern arch bridge, built a decade ago, features a rather pink color, which is on the one hand unusual for a metal bridge (which mainly uses green, black, silver, blue and brown coloring), but could be an interpretation. Since we use pink for our campaign to fight (breast) cancer, the color of this bridge may symbolize an effort similar to that. If the latter is the case, it would be unusual for a German bridge to have such a color.
Yet if that was the case, which bridge do you know deserves a good coat of pink to signal the fight against cancer (or any non-communicable disease for that matter? Think about it and feel free to comment!
Nur Heimat gibts nichts- There is never just a homeland.
This is a comment that I remember during my first meeting with the committee to save the Bockau Arch Bridge. Located over the Zwickauer Mulde River six kilometers southwest of Aue in western Saxony, this 146-year old stone arch bridge is one of a few historic landmarks left in the town of Bockau, with a population of 2,100 inhabitants. Closed since the end of August 2017, I had the dubious priviledge of having to make a detour of enternity in order to arrive at our first meeting. This meant going up the hill along Bockau Creek (which the over 800-year old town was named after), then making a pair of sharp curves going right onto a narrow street which leads me out of town, but not onto the bridge that has been blocked off completely. I had to drive another 15 kilometers on a paved road full of sharp curves, potholes, cracks, ice, and wolves roaming about in the forest until I reached the Eibenstock Reservoir. There, I crossed the next bridge and backtracked on the main highway going on the opposite side of the river which led to the meeting place next to the closed bridge- The Rechenhaus Restaurant. There, I was greeted by the welcoming party, despite my 45-minute late arrival, with happiness and joy that an American was coming to help. 🙂
How did I end up here in the first place? And why do a documentary on an old stone arch bridge that no one really knows much about?
I’ve been a bridgehunter since I was five years old, having photographed and written about tens of thousands of bridges in 14 countries (including the US) and 14 states in the US (including my home state of Minnesota). In Germany, I’ve covered all but three of the 16 Bundesländer. This includes Saxony, the region I’ve been touring since 2016. I’ve been running the Chronicles since 2010 and have worked with groups on how to not only restore historic bridges but also how to make them attractive for tourists. This includes my involvement with historic bridge conventions as coordinator and speaker and my use of social media to garnish the attention of interested readers and other history enthusiasts. I’m also a teacher of English, which I’ve been doing since 2001, and since August 2017, I’ve been based full-time at the Saxony Police Academy in Schneeberg, located only three kilometers from the Bockau Bridge. It was also the same time period as my time in Saxony that I’ve done tours in the region, be it in cities like Dresden, Rochlitz, Leipzig, Glauchau, Zwickau, Aue/Schlema and Chemnitz, just to name a few, or along rivers like the Mulde and Elbe. And it was these bridgehunting tours that got the attention of the regional newspapers, namely the Free Press in Chemnitz, whose news reporters at the regional offices led me to this group saving this particular bridge.
And as for the bridge itself, it has more history than many locals know about. It was built in 1872 and is made of natural stone from the Ore Mountains. It took approximately a full year with lots of manpower to construct a multi-span stone arch bridge that connected Bockau with Albernnau and Zschorlau on the opposite side. At approximately 200 meters in length, the bridge is the longest in the western Ore Mountains and second longest along the Zwickau Mulde River. A local restaurant with the name Rechenhaus was the site of the dam and lock area and headwaters plant, which were built between 1556 and 1559. The first bridge- a wooden covered span- was built in 1559 spanning the river and canal complex. The flow of the water was ideal for transporting materials downstream, and workers constructed several canals in the mountain region less than 90 years later. Even the headwaters plant was once a mill before it eventually became the barracks for the 11th Panzer Division of the German Army during World War II, where they used the bridge to march into Czechoslovakia and Poland.
In an attempt to slow down the progress of advancing soldiers from the east, the 11th Panzer Division was ordered to detonate the bridge in April 1945. This is the same tank division of German army that had fought (and lost) at Stalingrad, Kursk and the Battle of the Bulge before retreating towards Germany. Yet a brave unknown soldier did the unthinkable and relocated the bombs to a temporary bridge in Fährbrücke (south of Zwickau) before blowing that bridge up. This allowed for the Soviets and Americans to easily cross the bridge with their tanks with ease while setting the people free in the process. The 11th Panzer surrendered in Passau on 2 May, 1945, six days before Germany capitulated. The same bridge was used again 23 years later, as soliders from the Warsaw Pact armies, consisiting of mainly Russians and East Germans crossed this bridge enroute to Prague to quash the Spring Movement. By that time, the headwaters house, which had been the barracks, was converted into the Rechenhaus Restaurant, which still serves customers today.
The bridge was renovated in 1988 when concrete decking was added and the arches were reinforced with steel bracing. The bridge has been listed by the German Preservation Commission because of its cultural significance. Yet despite all the history that is involved with this bridge, the historical monument has become a stranger to people in the region, having somewhat lost its face in the eyes of the locals. The mayors of Bockau and Zschorlau would like to see the bridge gone once its replacement opens. The same with the state of Saxony and the German government, both are championing a 6.4 million Euro project to replace the old bridge. And despite the petition going around for saving the bridge, a handful of politicians are interested in keeping the bridge for pedestrian use after the new structure is built- most of them with little affiliation with the region with the exception of the Green party.
Our first meeting at the Rechenhaus Restaurant, the historic building which once had the barracks but was originally the headwaters mill and dam complex. The restaurant has a very Erzgebirge taste to it, with a collection of incense men and wood-carved chandeliers. Opposite the entrance to the restaurant is a mahoghany-framed painting of the dam and mill as it was in the 16th century. Some in the committee would like to see it again as a way to slow the flow of the Zwickau Mulde. The river had flooded towns downstream on six different occasions since the bridge was built, with the worst of them having occurred in 1954, 2002 and 2013. Given its proximity to the bridge, many would like to see the restaurant as is. Yet its location during the construction period has become a painful inconvenience. Talking to the restaurant owner, he was deeply disturbed by the construction and stated that since the project started, he had lost up to 60% of his customers. Whether he can compensate once the new span opens remains unclear.
We were nine people minus the restaurant owner, each one with a new set of ideas on how to keep and possibly fix the bridge so that it can be used again. Yet as seen with the American historic bridges, money needs to be there in order for it to happen. Political connections needs to be there in order for it to happen. The same with the use of media and lastly support from the public. As with all historic bridges, the public is the first line of offence in pursuing the preservation of historic bridges. Whether it is with petitions, technical know-how or even planning events, they always have the ideas first before our elected officials. After that, we get the attention out there via social media. Through that and the events, the politicians come in with bills to approve measure to restore the bridge. Then the money comes in to pay for the costs.
For our bridge in Bockau, we’re already at step one, which is public interest. A petition with 1700 signatures was sent to Dresden to the state parliament. Another one is in the works which includes an English version for people to sign and establishing a website. That will be my job for right now- an important one! Speaking from experience with the Green Bridge in Des Moines, gathering interest in social networking will make waves and influence the thinking of the higher-ups of politics and business. Once that is established and we have the English version to submit to Dresden, the next plan is to meet with officials in Dresden to discuss the situation and ways to make the historic pedestrian crossing a reality. A big plus is the fact that the bridge and the mill area are historic lanbdmarks which make it impossible to tear down unless ordered by the federal government. How that works will come in a later article. Then with the connections and planning will be the events. This is where the tough part comes in. How to make this bridge attractive to tourists of all age? We’ve looked at drawing contests, concerts and the like. But what else could be do there? And how can we raise money for the project? This is independent on any funding available for rehabilitating the bridge, which is scarce at the moment, but the search continues.
It’s a battle that one can lose but it’s better to die trying than to sit and do nothing. The mentality has increased in the US over the past decade, yet Germany does have a lot of pride in its history and culture, too much of it to just sit and do nothing.
And with that, I must set to work. I have my expertise to use and share, while others are garnering some more support from locals and interested people in the project. Therefore, what are we waiting for? Get to work!
More on my involvement in the preservation project to come. Stay tuned! 🙂
ERLA-CRANDORF (SAXONY); GERMANY- Not far from the towns of Markersbach and Schwarzenberg is our next mystery bridge. This one is located over the Schwarzwasser River in the small town of Erla. First mentioned in the history books in 1308, Erla and its neighboring village Crandorf are located three kilometers southwest of Schwarzenberg. Combined, they have a population of only 2000 inhabitants, with Erla having 850. The two communities had been a joint entity from 1925 until it became part of the Schwarzenberg consortium in 1999, which remains to this day. While Crandorf is located on top of one of the mountains in the Erzgebirge, Erla is wedged deep in the Schwarzwasser Valley and is easily accessible by rail and by highway, both leading to Johanngeorgenstadt, which is at the border between Germany and the Czech Republic.
This bridge is one of the most unusual through trusses one can visit. It is located 50 meters from the train station and right next to the steelworks, which has existed as long as the community. When looking at the bridge from a distance, it appears a duo span that are siamese twins, meaning one truss bridge is connected to a larger truss span. Upon further view, the bridges are indeed separate, but the spans are different in size and age. The only similarity is that they are both Warren trusses with subdivided vertical beams, yet the larger one has a Scharper design.
The larger span features a through truss span with a 45° skewed portal bracings, which stretches three panels on the right side of the truss. Both the portal and the strut bracings are I-beamed shaped, while the first left panel has a vertical bedstead endpost and 60° heel bracings supporting the first strut and the portal bracings. All beams are mainly I-beam, with the vertical beams being H-beam. All connections are riveted. Every panel has a heel bracing on the bottom end of the decking. The bridge is 25-30 meters long and about 10 meters wide. It is taller than the neighboring pony truss bridge by 2 meters. The bridge is much newer with the only engraving being the name of the steelworks company, the Friedrichshutte, based in Laubach (Hesse), which is east of Frankfurt (Main). It is very likely that the bridge was built after German Reunification and is between 10 and 20 years old. But when it was built is unknown.
It is just as unknown as the pony truss span located right next to it. The bridge is definitely older, yet the question is how old. The Schwarzenberg-Johanngeorgenstadt-Karlsbad route was built in 1883, and the railroad was rerouted between Erla and Schwarzenberg in 1946, which included the elimination of the tunnel going underneath the castle in Schwarzenberg. The chances of the pony truss span being built during Communist times is likely as riveted and welded trusses began to take over trusses with pinned connections in 1910. Bridges built to replace those destroyed during World War II were built using this type of connections on the trusses. This pony truss bridge has welded connections as it was built using T-beams. Even the gusset plates are welded into the beams making it sturdier. What is unique about the pony truss span is its unusual skewed span. It appears that the skew is 60°+ or misaligned by four panels, which makes it unusual for a skewed truss span. The vertical beams feature a pencil-like thin trapezoidal design, where the beam’s width is 25 cm, yet the beams narrow to form a pencil chewed on both ends- with 40 cm from the top and 25 cm from the bottom chord. The truss is 2 meters tall and the width is about eight meters. Because of its age and narrowness, it was subsequentially replaced but never removed. Even though it has been fenced off, it appears that a bike or pedestrian trail may be in the works in the long term, especially as there is a bike trail already in existence between Aue and Schwarzenberg. If it is the case, it may be an advantage for those wishing to bike up the mountains.
A photo gallery of the two bridges is below. If you know more about the bridges, feel free to contact the Chronicles. The main questions to be answered are: What more do we know about the history of the bridges? What did they look like before 1945? When were the two bridges built? And in the case of the pony truss bridge, who was the bridge builder? Any ideas and help would be much appreciated.
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels