Newsflyer 1 April, 2019

Kern Bridge in Mankato. Photo taken by James Baughn

Podcast can be found here.

 

Click on the highlighted links below to read more.

FB Page to save Kern Bridge in Mankato launched. Link: here

FB Page on Iowa’s Historic Bridges to be launched, replacing the Green Bridge page. Link: here

FB Page on Saxony’s Historic Bridges to be launched, replacing the Bockau Arch Bridge page. Link: here

Watts Mill Bridge being restored.

Freeway Bridge Collapses in Tennessee

Arch Bridge in Scotland a Death Trap for Dogs

Flensburg Files’ survey on Automatic Donors after Death.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or can it?

Biggest Bonehead Story: The Rush to Tear Down a Bridge- Without Thinking

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The title should have been Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 12, yet there is one problem: We lost our fight to save it. As of this date, the stone arch bridge is starting to come down, one by one. Even the cold and the large amounts of snow is not stopping the Saxony Ministry of Transport (LASUV) from getting the demo-diggers to go out there and eat away at the bridge.

But there is one exception: They are eating the wrong way!

Since the end of the summer, the northern end of the bridge where Albernau is located, let alone the Rechenhaus Restaurant, has been completely blocked off by the new bridge, for it was built 2-3 meters higher than the original roadbed of the bridge. This meant that the only way onto the bridge was on the south side where Bockau is located.

 

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Digger on this side eating up the first arch with the new bridge in the background.

And this is where the demolition has begun. A head-scratcher. If LASUV was obsessed with tearing down the Bockau Arch Bridge, would it not make sense to start on the northern side and then work their way toward the Bockau side? With a digger like this, the old bridge would still hold it. Otherwise if one easts the wrong end, it would be impossible to tear down the rest.  More ironic is the concrete bed that has been sitting in the waters of the Zwickau Mulde. It was meant to have cranes and other demolition equipment to tear the rest of the bridge down . Yet, the digger was the only one at the scene……

 

….tearing down the wrong side and not being able to tear down the entire bridge. The logical question is, why? Neither the journalist nor anybody else, who looked at the bridge, will understand.

To be continued…..

 

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BHC Newsflyer 27 January, 2019

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Collapsed Packard Skyway Bridge in Detroit. Photo taken by Tom Shumaker

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The podcast on the Newsflyer can be found by clicking here. The links to the following headlines are available by just clicking on them.

Grimma Viaduct east of Leipzig to be replaced

New Bonner Bridge in North Carolina to open later than planned

Buchler Bridge (between Ronneweg and Gare/ Railroad Station) in Luxembourg to be bigger

Packard Skyway Bridge in Detroit Collapsed   (Packard Company Redevelopment)

Two Historic Bridges over the Erie Canal at Brookport and Albion in New York to be Rehabilitated

Historic Stone Arch Bridge near Fulda (Germany) to be Rehabilitated

Röhrensteg Reopens after Rehabilitation (including the survey)

Winter weather delays demolition of Bockau Arch Bridge (Rechenhausbrücke)

 

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

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

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

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

But how to do it?

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

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

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

 

Contact details:

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

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

 

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

Not until the the decking has been taken out

Not until the arches have been removed

Not until the piers are imploded

Not until the materials are hauled away

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

That it cannot be replaced with memories.

We will fight until the last brick leaves Rechenhaus.

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

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

 

 

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Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 10: Pride in the Name of Progress; Shame in the Name of History

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I never thought I would say this in this entry of saving the Rechenhausbrücke, but I’m using an old line I learned from my time in high school in Minnesota:

Nuts and bolts! Nuts and bolts! We got screwed!

At the time of this writing, cranes are being put into place and the diggers are having their blades sharpened as the days of the Rechenhausbrücke are about to be numbered. In other words, the group wanting to save the old stone arch structure lost out, whereas politics prevailed but in ways that would make Donald Trump gleem and offer them burgers and other fast food just like he did with the men’s college basketball champions Clemson University in New York. We were blindfolded, our cars sabotaged and our houses torched- all in the name of progress!

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All along, state and local officials vied for replacing the bridge with a dull modern piece of concrete and taking out the old structure, claiming that two bridges standing side-by-side can harm the flora and fauna of the region of the Zwickau Mulde River. The new bridge was built on a new alignment, approximately 300 meters northeast of the old structure. The latter would not have stood in the way and if rehabilitated and converted into a bike crossing, would have served as a key crossing to the Mulde Bike Trail. There was no evidence of such laws that exist, nor were the political officials at our meeting on the Bridge in April were able to or willing to present that evidence. Furthermore, there are countless examples of new bridges that were built on a new alignment and the old one was left alone. In 80% of the cases, they were also converted into a recreational area in one form or another, even at a minimal cost and with some efforts from the volunteers even. Therefore, that argument of not having two bridges side-by-side is in my eyes is a straight out lie.

In addition, the design of the new bridge and the approach that went along with that was meant to straighten out the highway and reduce the number of car accidents. Looking at the video below, one can be safe to say that yes, we have a wide bridge, but the approaches on each end is worse than ever- more curves on the east side; an unresolved intersection on the west end, featuring a driveway to the Rechenhaus Restaurant and a winding road going to Zschorlau and Schneeberg. The structure opened on 22 December and in the first six days, four accidents were reported at the new bridge. Again, a promise that came away as empty as a full glass of lies.

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Furthermore, the new bridge is supposed to be more stable than the old bridge, as the politicians on the local and state levels have claimed. And the old bridge is not capable of carrying any traffic because it has deteriorated to a point where rehabilitation is exorbitant.  Let’s start with the first argument and the state of the new structure. Take a look at the picture below and ask yourselves how long until weight limits are imposed on this bridge, let alone the much needed measured to strengthen the bridge to hold traffic.  If I compare this with similar structures, including those in northern Germany, the new Bockau Bridge will have its first work done on it in 10 years, full rehab in 20 years and a full replacement in 40 years. That is about as long as the Europabrücke at Rendsburg in Schleswig-Holstein. The bridge is 45 years old and upon time of its replacement by 2030, it will be closer to 60. The design has flaws and it will definitely show. A lie that will show its ugly face by 2030.

And with regards to the second argument: counterarguments were presented on the old bridge by members of the Cultural Heritage Office and other engineers who conducted inspections on the bridge prior to starting the replacement project in 2017. All of them claimed that the arch bridge is structurally sound. The only stress on the arch spans was the new decking placed on the structure in 1990 that was made of concrete. The information presented at our bridge meeting in April was met with counterarguments saying that the bridge was at the end of its functional life and it would be a liability. Comparing the two, the counterarguments were very emotional and straightforward with little or no information that is relevant and truthful. The arguments for keeping the bridge featured facts and figures based on the bridge inspections carried out. If the bridge was not stable enough to hold traffic, then a trip to Glauchau to the Hirschgrundbrücke would have been an eye-opener. A lecture by those who have worked with rebuilding the 1700s arch bridge would have forced the opponents of keeping the old bridge to reconsider and spend time with the facts. If the old Rechenhausbrücke is very unstable, then the Hirschgrund should have collapsed years ago after having sat abandoned for four decades. Again, a set of lies combined with sensationalism.

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Most disturbing was the lack of involvement of the public. What I meant here was despite the media coverage and the founding of our group “Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge”, designed to attract more people, the interest in saving and reusing the of bridge was extremely low. Part of it has to do with the location of the structure in a cluster of small villages with dwindling populations. The other has to do with the refusal to allow for a referendum on the bridge by the public, even if it was a handful. Suggestions for that or at least a public forum were turned down by the mayors of both Bockau and Zschorlau, which the bridge connects the two communities. Their claim was that they have to worry about the next generation. The question is what do the next generations want themselves. The will of both are very different because the political will seems to be to do away with history, whereas the will of the public, from what I’ve witnessed so far in my coverage, has been to keep the old bridge for use. Not many of us are interested in sitting in front of the computer playing video games. In fact I’m sitting here venting my frustrations over a decision that was ill-informed and simply one-sided. With a referendum or more public involvement, one would see that the public interest is different than what the politicians want. Lies and deception painted in gothic here.

So what is the outtake on all this? Very simple. We had a lack of everything that was needed for saving the bridge. We lacked support because there was no chance for the public to express their opinions on the old arch bridge beyond our group. There was a lack of interest in saving the bridge because of the mindset that once the new bridge is built the old one must be decimated at any cost. There was a lack of will to intervene and allow for the public to express their input into the bridge. There was a lack of information on the costs and benefits of having two bridges, side-by-side, let alone rehabbing the old structure and repurposing it for bikes and pedestrians. And lastly, there was a lack of transparancy between the state and the public. Instead what we had were closed-door meetings where certain people were not invited, misinformation and lies about costs, etc., and tactics which were unfair to the people that wanted to keep a pice of history but can’t because of unjust assumptions.  And the icing was the pumped up, over-the-top costs which made us finally give up. Your rabbit did pull come tricks out of the hat and we will thank you for it.

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It may not be long until we learn of the first repairs done on the new bridge but further more, when people start talking about the old Rechenhausbrücke after it is long gone. And many of us will still be alive to tell the story of how we saved it but failed because of obstacles that were too high to achieve and people who cheated their way into having the final say in removing the old structure. All that will be left of this bridge once the demolition commences are pictures, memories and a good T-shirt. Only then when the T-shirts are worn, the pictures shown, the stories told and all, will Dresden and Berlin regret what they did to the Erzgebirge.

 

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