Sonnebrücke in Kirchberg (Saxony), Germany

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All  photos taken in March 2018

Between Schneeberg and Zwickau in western Saxony is a small town of Kirchberg. With a population of 8,700 inhabitants, Kirchberg straddles the Rödelbach River, which empties into the Zwickau Mulde River in Wilkau-Hasslau, approximately five kilometers north of the town. In addition to that, Kirchberg is known as the City with Seven Hills, as all seven hills surround the small community, protecting it from the weather extremities, especially in the winter time. Yet it is most difficult to get to the next available towns because of the winding roads one needs to go through. And Kirchberg is one of the most expanded communities with the least population density in Saxony, for 12 Kilometers of area in all directions belong to the community, including all of the small suburbs.

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While Kirchberg has a rather historic but sleepy town center (because buisness usually closes at 3:00pm on weekdays, non on Saturdays), a church on the hill and a couple notable historic bridges along the Rödelbach, one bridge in particular is the focus of this article because of ist unusual design and a classic example of a restored truss bridge. The Sonnebrücke Truss Bridge spans the Rödelbach on the east end of Kirchberg (see map below). The bridge, built in 1882, is unique because of its unusual design.

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For instance, the bridge is a pony truss built on a 45° skew. The skewed formation is easy to detect because one can see it from the main highway on ground level and from the hillside on the north bank of the river, it resembles a shoe. The harder part is identifying the truss type for from a distance, it appears to be a bowstring arch span. Yet when taking a closer look, the bridge is actually a Parker pony truss, mainly because of the slight bends of the upper chord per panel. The 24.5 meter truss bridge has nine panels with the highest panel being 1.7 meters tall.  How the bridge was built is the most difficult of all because you can only see the details up close while on the bridge. For instance, the bridge has welded connections, meaning that the beams are attached with gusset plates and welded nails. Given its age, this type of practice was first introduced in the 1880s and the Sonnebrücke is one of the first bridges built using this type of practice. It is one of the rarest bridges whose upper chord consists of a rare type that is seldomly found in truss bridges. While most truss bridges used H, I and T beams for their upper chords and end posts, this one has upper chords whose parts consists of L-shaped beams welded together making it appear like a cross-shaped beam. No truss bridge in the eastern half of Germany has such an unusual chord like that. It is even rarer when compared to the American Phoenix column, which was used on many iron truss bridges in the 1870s and 80s and has round-shaped columns with 4-8 points in the corners.

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The Kingdom of Saxony authorized the construction of the Sonnenbrücke in 1882 as part of the railroad project connecting Wilkau-Haslau with Carlsfeld via Kirchberg and Schönheide near the present-day Eibenstock Reservoir. From 1882 until its discontinuation in 1967, passenger and freight trains crossed this bridge daily. It was one of 54 bridges that the line went over, which included six viaducts in and near the Mulde River. Even though the line was discontinued in its entirety by 1980, the Sonnebrücke is one of only a handful of crossings remaining on the line, which has been dismantled in large sections but abandoned on other stretches of track, including the line between Schönheide and Carlsfeld. When the line was discontinued in sections and tracks were taken out, all the bridges and viaducts were removed with steel parts recycled for other uses. Attempts to save some of the viaducts were put down due to lack of financial resources and pressure by the East German government to support the communist system by making use of every resource possible. The Sonnebrücke remained hidden from view for another 40+ years until city officials collaborated with locals and a pair of restoration companies in Saxony to restore and repurpose the structure for recreational use. This happened in 2014 at a cost of 90,000 Euros. There, the bridge was sandblasted and repainted black, some parts were replaced because of the rust and corrosion, and a new flooring made of wood replaced the rail decking which no longer served its function.

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Today, the Sonnebrücke continues to cross the Rödelbach River but has a new function, which is to provide cyclists and pedestrians with an opportunity to explore the town along the river. This bridge and another crossing at the Hauptstrassebrücke are both part of the former rail line that had once had trains going through Kirchberg, stopping at two stations in town. Today, it carries as a bike trail and even though only a section of the former rail line is used as a rails to trails, the Sonnebrücke and the line that crossed over serves not only as a reminder of a railroad that had once been part of Kirchberg’s history and heritage but also as an example of an unusual truss bridge which had long since been forgotten but the city took care that it received a new purpose in life.  It definitely shows that even with a small portion of money, one can make use of it and make it like it was brand new.

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And with few historic artefacts left in our world, we need more examples of history being restored for generations to learn about. 🙂

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Draschwitz Brücke

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Location: White Elster River in the village of Draschwitz, 7 kilometers north of Zeitz in the state of Saxony-Anhalt

Built: 1891-2; Damaged during World War II in 1945, Rebuilt in 1946, Restored in 1999/2000

Type: Parker Pony Truss with subdivisions

Length:  ca. 30 meters

Status: Open to traffic on a weight limit of 6 tons

During a recent bike tour along the White Elster from Gera to Leipzig (all 90 kilometers of it), I came across this unique structure. After passing through Zeitz and having revisited some of its historic bridges (see link), one would expect to see more of these historic bridges along the river, especially as Saxony-Anhalt has a wide selection of historic bridges worth visiting. One needs to see the towns of Halle (Saale), Magdeburg, Quedlinburg or even the bridges in the Saale-Unstrut River corridor in order to gather the impression that the bridges are being cared for by the state; this includes using funding provided by the European Union but also by the federal government to restore them to their original form while ensuring that cars and bikes can use the bridge.

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The Draschwitz Bridge is one of these structures that received this kind of care, as it was restored in 1999/2000, which included new wood decking plus paint on the superstructure, as well as work on the foundations. Given its location on a less used road that is occupied mainly by cyclists and locals driving their cars across, the restoration was worth it, as the bridge serves a local road and the White Elster bike trail, which connects Hof (Bavaria) and Halle (Saale), running parallel to the river until its confluence with the Saale River, between Halle and Leipzig.

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But what makes this bridge unique is its unusual truss design. The bridge was built using welded connections instead of pinned connections, as seen on truss bridges in general. Welded truss bridges, together with those with riveted connections were starting to come onto the scene at the time of its construction, as vehicular traffic- namely trains, but also later cars and trucks- had increased since the expansion of the railroad. This prompted the introduction of a network of roads connecting towns on the local level, but later expanded to cities on the regional and in the end national levels. While pinned-connected truss bridges were able to handle light traffic on local roads, as traffic increased and highway systems were introduced, they were replaced with truss bridges with riveted connections. Welded truss bridges were introduced in the 1890s to replace the pinned-connected bridges for despite its biggest asset of dismantling and reassembling the bridge at a different location, missing or broken bolts and cracked eye-bars made it difficult to impossible to relocate the bridge. With welded truss bridges, one has the advantage of relocating the bridge without having to take it apart. Plus with the beams fixed together and welded with bolts, there is more resistance to weight that is on the bridge. The Draschwitz Bridge has this on not only the trusses themselves, but also the outriggers that support the two center panels- an anomaly given the fact that truss bridges usually have outriggers on every vertical beam and panel, especially those in the US built after 1900.

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Another unusual feature is the upper chord itself. Normal truss bridges have upper chords that are of either squared shaped beams, V or X-laced or those whose shape resembles the letters I, L and C. They are supported by vertical and diagonal beams that are up to half its size and width. For this bridge, the upper chord and the vertical and diagonal beams are of nearly the same size. However, even more unique is the angled bracings that weave along the top chord, the points sticking outwards by up to 10 centimeters. While some truss bridges in the US and Germany built prior to 1885 may have had features like this bridge, the Draschwitz Bridge is the only known bridge to have an upper chord, decorated with such unusual bracing.

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Apart from the renovations, nothing has altered the bridge, even when villagers installed a plaque on the western wingwall, indicating the high water mark set by the flooding in 1954. Chances are, the White Elster may have been rechanneled after that, raising the bridge to prevent it from being swept down stream. Yet, a curved beam connecting that wingwall and the pier raised some eye brows as we don’t know what this serves, except to support the bridge in one way or another.

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The Draschwitz Bridge is really a gem in the field when it comes to finding historic bridges. The structure continues to serve local traffic and the Elster bike trail to this day. It’s one of the landmarks one should see when passing through Zeitz and the Elsterau, also the last one to see as one bikes north toward Leipzig, but one that the quiet village of Draschwitz should take pride in, one that Saxony-Anhalt has taken great care of, just like the state’s other historic bridges, and one that historians, pontists, engineers should study further to find out more on its history and structural features. It’s the one bridge that a person can spend lots of hours with the camera and a picnic blanket, sitting and indulging at its beauty, surrounded by a historic and natural landscape.

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If you know more about this bridge, feel free to post your comment in the Chronicles’ facebook page or contact Jason Smith using the contact information in the About page.

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Draschwitz Bridge Near Zeitz, Germany

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Location: White Elster River in the village of Draschwitz, 7 kilometers north of Zeitz in the state of Saxony-Anhalt

Built: 1891-2; Damaged during World War II in 1945, Rebuilt in 1946, Restored in 1999/2000

Type: Parker Pony Truss with subdivisions

Length:  ca. 30 meters

Status: Open to traffic on a weight limit of 6 tons

During a recent bike tour along the White Elster from Gera to Leipzig (all 90 kilometers of it), I came across this unique structure. After passing through Zeitz and having revisited some of its historic bridges (see link), one would expect to see more of these historic bridges along the river, especially as Saxony-Anhalt has a wide selection of historic bridges worth visiting. One needs to see the towns of Halle (Saale), Magdeburg, Quedlinburg or even the bridges in the Saale-Unstrut River corridor in order to gather the impression that the bridges are being cared for by the state; this includes using funding provided by the European Union but also by the federal government to restore them to their original form while ensuring that cars and bikes can use the bridge.

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The Draschwitz Bridge is one of these structures that received this kind of care, as it was restored in 1999/2000, which included new wood decking plus paint on the superstructure, as well as work on the foundations. Given its location on a less used road that is occupied mainly by cyclists and locals driving their cars across, the restoration was worth it, as the bridge serves a local road and the White Elster bike trail, which connects Hof (Bavaria) and Halle (Saale), running parallel to the river until its confluence with the Saale River, between Halle and Leipzig.

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But what makes this bridge unique is its unusual truss design. The bridge was built using welded connections instead of pinned connections, as seen on truss bridges in general. Welded truss bridges, together with those with riveted connections were starting to come onto the scene at the time of its construction, as vehicular traffic- namely trains, but also later cars and trucks- had increased since the expansion of the railroad. This prompted the introduction of a network of roads connecting towns on the local level, but later expanded to cities on the regional and in the end national levels. While pinned-connected truss bridges were able to handle light traffic on local roads, as traffic increased and highway systems were introduced, they were replaced with truss bridges with riveted connections. Welded truss bridges were introduced in the 1890s to replace the pinned-connected bridges for despite its biggest asset of dismantling and reassembling the bridge at a different location, missing or broken bolts and cracked eye-bars made it difficult to impossible to relocate the bridge. With welded truss bridges, one has the advantage of relocating the bridge without having to take it apart. Plus with the beams fixed together and welded with bolts, there is more resistance to weight that is on the bridge. The Draschwitz Bridge has this on not only the trusses themselves, but also the outriggers that support the two center panels- an anomaly given the fact that truss bridges usually have outriggers on every vertical beam and panel, especially those in the US built after 1900.

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Another unusual feature is the upper chord itself. Normal truss bridges have upper chords that are of either squared shaped beams, V or X-laced or those whose shape resembles the letters I, L and C. They are supported by vertical and diagonal beams that are up to half its size and width. For this bridge, the upper chord and the vertical and diagonal beams are of nearly the same size. However, even more unique is the angled bracings that weave along the top chord, the points sticking outwards by up to 10 centimeters. While some truss bridges in the US and Germany built prior to 1885 may have had features like this bridge, the Draschwitz Bridge is the only known bridge to have an upper chord, decorated with such unusual bracing.

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Apart from the renovations, nothing has altered the bridge, even when villagers installed a plaque on the western wingwall, indicating the high water mark set by the flooding in 1954. Chances are, the White Elster may have been rechanneled after that, raising the bridge to prevent it from being swept down stream. Yet, a curved beam connecting that wingwall and the pier raised some eye brows as we don’t know what this serves, except to support the bridge in one way or another.

draschwitz12

The Draschwitz Bridge is really a gem in the field when it comes to finding historic bridges. The structure continues to serve local traffic and the Elster bike trail to this day. It’s one of the landmarks one should see when passing through Zeitz and the Elsterau, also the last one to see as one bikes north toward Leipzig, but one that the quiet village of Draschwitz should take pride in, one that Saxony-Anhalt has taken great care of, just like the state’s other historic bridges, and one that historians, pontists, engineers should study further to find out more on its history and structural features. It’s the one bridge that a person can spend lots of hours with the camera and a picnic blanket, sitting and indulging at its beauty, surrounded by a historic and natural landscape.

If you know more about this bridge, feel free to post your comment in the Chronicles’ facebook page or contact Jason Smith using the contact information in the About page.

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