The Bridges along the Baltic-North Sea Canal Part II: The Rendsburg High Bridge

Rendsburg Bridge
Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany Photo taken by the author in April 2011


Location: Baltic-North Sea Canal at Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

Description: Main span: Cantilever Warren through truss with transporter (main span), steel trestle approach span (south) and loop approach (north)

Length: 7 km (total) Of which: 2468 main span; loop approach 4.5 km

Built: 1913 by Friedrich Voss and  C.H. Jocho of Dortmund

Travelling north to Flensburg on the Schleswig-Holstein-Express (the SHE) one evening in May 2010, I was chatting with four passengers heading home to the Rum capital of the world, talking about break-ups, broken marriages and partners cheating on them, when we suddenly found ourselves taking off from the ground. To think that most of the German state is flat consists of mainly farmland and coastal areas, to go from travelling on the ground to travelling in the air in a matter of seconds is like Eliott and E.T. flying in the air by bike. Yet the sound of metal to metal contact, especially when going over the steel towers revealed that whatever we were crossing was huge, the spectacular view of the lights of the town below and the body of water covered in emerald green lights was gorgeous.  After going through the steel truss mechanism, we made our descent in a curly-Q fashion before touching the ground and stopping at our next station. Our conversation had stopped in favor of the structure’s admiration, a sign that homage needed to be paid to a gigantic symbol that bridges the past with the present, the lover on one place with one in the other, and the impossible with the reality.

Especially the last one is what describes the Rendsburg High Bridge, spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal in Rendsburg, located between Hamburg and Flensburg. The bridge was the masterpiece of Friedrich Voss, who had built two other structures along the Grand Canal at Hochdonn and Kiel as well as numerous others in the northern half of the country, concluding the two-span arch bridge at Friedrichstadt. It took 1.5 years to build the main attraction along the canal, which after 104 years, it still serves as the anchor that makes the Grand Canal and Rendsburg the place to visit.  What Voss did with the bridge was unthinkable, impossible and even insane in the eyes of many locals during that time. While steel trestles and a through truss design were his signatures for long-span structures like the aforementioned bridges, Voss needed a main span that would carry both horse and buggy (and later cars) as well as rail traffic. Henceforth as one of the feats, Voss chose the cantilever Warren span, whose roadway would serve rail traffic connecting Hamburg and Neumünster to the south and Flensburg and Scandanavia to the north. Hanging from the main span is the transporter span, which even today carries cars, bikes and pedestrians across the canal between Rendsburg and Aldorf. The transporter operates four times an hour in both directions during the day and takes 4-5 minutes to cross, half as long as when crossing the entire bridge via SHE.


Even more unique is the north approach. Already in existence was the train station for it served rail traffic between Kiel and Husum, the problem came with how the approach span should descend from 50 meters above water to just over zero. This was where Voss referred to the history books and chose the loop approach. Using the Hastings Spiral Bridge as reference, the loop approach provides travelers with an opportunity to gradually glide down from the bridge, making a circle of 360°. The 1895 bridge over the Mississippi River was the first bridge to feature this loop approach for engineers and bridge builders at Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works had the problem of the bridge extending into Hasting’s business district, which already had numerous buildings and traffic at that time. Therefore, the south approach consisted of the loop approach, thus encouraging cars to glide down into the city center like a marble.

The problem was similar with the north approach, as it consisted of much of Rendsburg’s city center and housing area, combined with remnants of the old canal and the harbor area connected with the new canal. Therefore, Voss and his men devised a plan where a loop approach would feature first a series of steel trestles at the height of between 40 and 50 meters above water level, followed by earthen berms with concrete arch spans crossing main streets,  after the descent of 40 meters. A Warren deck truss span crosses the rail line as it approaches the end of the loop. The total length of this loop approach alone is 4.5 km. The area the loop encircles consists of housing and therefore was later named Schleife.

On 1 October, 1913, after 1.5 years of work, Voss and 350 of his men from the bridge-building firm C.H. Jucho of Dortmund completed the work, and the bridge was open to traffic. The bridge and transporter complex has operated almost unaltered ever since, sustaining minimal damage in World War II. The bridge was rehabilitated with rust protectant being added to the steel bridge between 1993 and 2012. The rail line was electrified in 1995, which resulted in the portal and strut bracings of the through truss span being lifted. Instead of the two-rhombus portal bracing, the main span now had A-frame portals, high enough for trains to pass through. Sadly though, the transporter portion of the bridge is being replaced even as this article is being reproduced for this page. On 8 January 2016, the transporter collided with a ship as it was passing underneath the bridge. The boat operator and another passenger were injured in the wreck. After thorough investigations by the local authorities and the Ministry of Transportation, it was concluded that the transporter could not be salvaged and was therefore removed from the bridge. A replacement replicating the original transporter is currently being constructed and should be installed by 2017/18.


I had a chance to visit the bridge again in 2011, this time filming the crossing of the bridge and its transporter, but also following the path of the bridge from the start of the loop approach on the ground to the main span. While I never got a chance to see the Spiral Bridge as it was torn down in 1951, the Rendsburg High Bridge is nothing anyone has ever seen before. It is amazing just to be in a small suburb that is encircled by the loop approach, listening to trains cross it on an hourly basis. Its tall and towering trestles cannot be missed when travelling through Rendsburg. But the main span is just as amazing, for it has a total height of 68 meters, visible from 20 kilometers, making it one of the tallest structures along the Grand Canal.  But I also noticed that the bridge with its wonderful work of art has not yet been recognized on the national and international scale. With the Vizcaya Bridge being nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, the Firth of Forth Bridge scheduled to be nominated in 2015, the Rendsburg High Bridge Complex should be considered another UNESCO site as well because of the engineering feats that Voss accomplished in building this superstructure but also because the bridge still functions as a normal crossing of its kind today, just like it did when it opened to traffic in 1913. This is something that has made Rendsburg famous and makes it one of the wonderful works of art in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and central Europe. Already it was given the Historische Wahrzeichen der Ingenieurbaukunst in Deutschland Award (Historic Recognition of the Works of Engineering in Germany) in 2013, on its 100th birthday. Chances are, more accolades will follow for this iron lady, whose total length of 7 kilometers (2,400 m main span) still makes it the longest railway bridge in Germany.


To close this documentary about this bridge, the third and most important part of the Tour along the Grand Canal, there is a saying that applies to any bridge enthusiast. You are never a true pontist unless you visit at least a couple key engineering works. In my book, one should really pay homage to the Rendsburg High Bridge. It is an engineering work of achievement that is underrated and something that awes every engineer to this day. Every engineer has his creative talents, which Voss had when building this bridge. It has withstood the test of time and is still a work of art one should see, when visiting Germany. It is hoped that it will one day be a UNESCO site. It will eventually for it deserves this honor.


Author’s note:

You can view the photos of the Rendsburg High Bridge via facebook site. Click here to have a look at every aspect photographed during my visit in 2011.

Some videos of the bridge can be viewed below as well:

And some links to provide you with some more information on the Rendsburg High Bridge:

This bridge was used as a logo for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles from 2011 until its retirement and replacement with the current logo in 2015 using another Schleswig-Holstein bridge in its place, the Fehmarn Bridge. This is what the Rendsburg variant looked like.



The location of the Rendsburg High Bridge and the train station can be found on the map here:


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Transporter of World-Renowned Bridge to Be Replaced

Another bridge

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Original of 1913 Transporter part of the Rendsburg High Bridge irreparable; German government plans reconstruction.

RENDSBURG, GERMANY- Relief but also with mixed reaction from the residents of Rendsburg, as well as those in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein and many preservationists and pontists alike regarding the city’s prized architectural work, the Rendsburg High Bridge. The transporter portion of the cantilever Warren through truss bridge, built in 1913, sustained substantial damage in a collision with a ship on 8 January.



Despite campaigns to rebuild the original transporter and operator’s house, the German Ministry of Transport has just announced that because of the extensive damage, it cannot be salvaged. Instead, a brand new transporter will be constructed in its place.  A sigh of relief or a sign of disappointment for the people who are attached to the bridge?  According to an interview with the newspaper SHZ, Rendsburg’s mayor Pierre Gilgenast, the reaction is mixed. On the one hand, he and many others are disappointed that the original transporter cannot be replaced. On the other hand, building a brand new transporter will eliminate the need to have a ferry trafficking people across the Baltic-North Sea Canal (a.k.a. The Grand Canal). Since June 7th, two ferries have been bussing people across the heavily travelled canal for eight hours daily on workdays only, and on weekends during the school summer break. This is a temporary relief for commuters who have been using the Rendsburg tunnel and the Europabrücke at Motorway 7 to cross.



A lot is at stake for the Rendsburg High Bridge. At the moment, neither the timeline of the construction of the new transporter has been given nor has money been earmarked for the project, yet the mayor and other parties are working with authorities in Berlin to have a concrete plan as to when the new portion will be built. Gilgenast is hoping that the plan and the project will start as soon as possible.  In addition to that, the damage to the transporter has hurt the chances of this unique superstructure to be listed as a World Heritage Site by the international organization UNESCO. Originally, the bridge was expected to be listed at the earliest 2017. The city is hoping that the replica being planned is exactly like the original that was destroyed in the collision.  For almost 20 years, the structure has been declared a Technical Heritage Site on the national level. It is hoped that the accolade reaches the international level, but all of this depends on when and how the transporter is rebuilt.



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Built in 1913, the Rendsburg High Bridge is the centerpiece of  the architectural works of famous German engineer, Friedrich Voss, whose credit also goes to the building of the Hochdonn Bridge, the Arch Bridge at Friedrichstadt and the now demolished Prince Heinrich Bridge in Kiel.  The Rendsburg High Bridge features a loop approach span north of the Grand Canal built using brick arch and steel trestle spans, inspired by the construction of the now demolished Hastings Spiral Bridge in Minnesota. The main span features a cantilever Warren through truss, which carries rail traffic between Flensburg and Hamburg. Underneath the truss span is the transporter span, which had carried pedestrians and cyclists across the canal prior to its collision with the freight ship in January. An article with videos and photos, written by the author of the Chronicles, can be found here.


Part of the reason behind the push for the new transporter has to do with the reconstruction of the Europabrücke. The 1971 bridge is scheduled to be replaced beginning in 2018 to accomodate six lanes of traffic along Motorway 7 between Hamburg and Denmark via Flensburg. The project will be conducted in phases with one half of the new span being built alongside the old span, followed by the demolition and replacement of the old span once traffic shifts onto the portion of the constructed new span and finally the construction of the new approaches and the widening of the motorway once the other portion of the new span is constructed and open to traffic. It’s expected to take eight years to build.  More on that bridge as well as other structures along the Grand Canal can be found in an SHZ article here and in the Chronicles here.

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Rendsburg High Bridge’s Transport Ferry to be Dismantled

Rendsburg High Bridge’s Transport Ferry to be Dismantled

Unknown if and how the ferry can be repaired- damage substantial. UNESCO application threatened.

A few years ago, I pulled an April Fools joke on the members of the historic bridge community by writing about the Rendsburg High Bridge coming down because it was unsafe for all traffic and the need of the German Railways to build a new, modern and larger crossing.

The Rendsburg High Bridge is still coming down- just the transport ferry portion though.

Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany Photo taken by the author in April 2011
Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany Photo taken by the author in April 2011

After sustaining substantial damage to the ferry because of a collision with a ship this past Friday, the Office of Waterways and Shipping (German: Wasser- & Schiffahrtsamt- WSA) on Monday decided to dismantle the entire ferry at the earliest possible convenience.

Reason for that is because of the danger that the ferry could fall into the Baltic-North Sea Canal, hindering shipping traffic again.

It is unclear whether the ferry will be rebuilt in a similar manner as the 103-year old structure before the ship smashed into it, turning it into a pendulum and injuring two people. According to information from German public radio station NDR, the entire steel structure of the ferry was bent inwards from the impact, whereas the operating house sustained large amounts of damage, and two of the twelve cables snapped.

Repairs or even replacement could take a full year, which in the meantime, pedestrians and cyclists have to take a detour to a tunnel under the canal, which is 1.5 km east of the bridge. Drivers have to take a ferry, which is 2 km away or even the tunnel, which is heavily travelled.

The danger of this action is that the planned induction into the UNESCO World Heritage list will be threatened if no ferry is put back into place or altered to a point of no recognition. It was originally to be listed as an international site in 2017, but as of present, the future of the transport ferry is unknown.

The Rendsburg High Bridge is one of eight transporter bridges left in operation and is the only bridge in the world that features a transporter main span and a loop approach span.  But one thing is certain, the mayor of Rendburg and the villages south of the canal have agreed that a crossing at the bridge is a necessity and not having the ferry in place for good will be a massive inconvenience to the area, and this goes beyond that UNESCO World Heritage factor.

The Chronicles and sister column The Flensburg Files will keep you updated on the latest.

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The Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are currently having their voting with the Flensburg’s Top Five and the Othmar H. Ammann Awards. Click onto the names and you may proceed to vote. Deadline is 2 February, while at the same time, the winners will be announced. Good luck! 🙂

Ship rams transport ferry at Rendsburg High Bridge

Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany Photo taken by the author in April 2011
Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany Photo taken by the author in April 2011

Substantial Damage to the Ferry; Two people injured

RENDSBURG, GERMANY-  A key crossing in Schleswig-Holstein spanning a key waterway between the Baltic and North Seas came to a standstill this morning, as a ship heading westward along the Baltic-North Sea Canal slammed into the transporter ferry of the Rendsburg High Bridge. The incident occurred at 6:39am Berlin time, where a large ship did not stop for the ferry in time, causing a collision. A video shown below sees how the ferry swung like a pendulum after the ship hit it and moved on.

Two people- the operator and a passenger were injured in the collision, the former was transported to a nearby hospital with serious injuries, according to SHZ News. The bridge and canal were both closed down to traffic and will remain closed until further notice. According to the Deutsche Bahn, the railroad line connecting Flensburg and Hamburg, which crosses the cantilever truss part of the bridge has been closed down until bridge inspectors can determine how the collision affected the bridge decking, how much damage was caused, and when the bridge can reopen. The line carries regional and international train services going through Flensburg to Denmark.  The passengers heading north are asked to go through Kiel from Neumünster enroute to Flensburg, as well as in the opposite direction. Because the ferry was misaligned, construction crews, according to reports by Radio Schleswig-Holstein (RSH),  will need to realign it before moving it to the north shore of the canal. The ferry has substantial damage to the housing and truss structure, as seen by the photos. It is unknown when the canal will be reopened and when the ferry will be operational again. The ferry was the key link between Rendsburg and the southern suburb of Alsdorf. A detour is being planned until the ferry can be fixed.

The Rendsburg High Bridge is the only bridge in the world that has a bridge span serving traffic that also carries a transporter ferry. The transporter is one of only eight left in the world that is functional.  It is the second bridge behind the Hastings Spiral Bridge in Minnesota that has a loop approach span, which encircles much of Rendsburg’s neighborhood. Built by Friedrich Voss in 1913, the bridge is a national landmark and has received various awards on the national and international levels. A detailed article about the bridge can be found here along with videos of the bridge filmed by the author during his visit in 2011. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, along with sister column the Flensburg Files will keep you informed on the latest with the bridge.

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The Bridges of Kiel

Gablenz Bridge Photo taken in April 2011

After an hour’s stop at the Lindaunis/Schlei Bridge, the next stop on the bridgehunting tour in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark is Kiel, the city with over 300,000 inhabitants and is the capital of Schleswig-Holstein. There are a lot of features that make Kiel special. Like Flensburg, the city has a harbor and is the port for all passenger ships wanting to journey to Scandinavia and points to the east as well as the North Sea through the Baltic-North Sea Canal, also a jewel loaded with history involving its engineering design and the bridges that crossed them. More on that in the next entries. While the city has many small crossings along the tributaries that empty into the harbor, I did not have the time to journey across the city for that, as I was about to journey along the Great Canal. However, I did have enough time to explore two of the city’s prime structural jewels, something that one could spend a half an hour looking at while breaking over a baked fish sandwich and a good Flensburger Pilsner beer, as they are almost next to each other and can be seen from the harbor’s edge on the west side, not far from the Kiel Railway Station. One is a brand new arch bridge replacing- well- an arch bridge. The other one represented a traditional type for the city that needed a revival after an almost 80-year absence. This one is our first profile.


Foldable Bridge in the upright position Photo taken in April 2011

THE FOLDABLE BRIDGE (a.k.a. Hörn Bridge).

Located near the tip of Kiel Fjord, the bridge has a unique history, which goes back more than 100 years. During the period from 1910 to 1923, the city of Kiel had a rather unique movable bridge known as the transporter bridge. Suspended in the air and supported by two towers and suspension cables, this rare bridge type features a transport wagon, which carries people and vehicles across the body of water and is operated by a steam powered engine. This bridge was located near the spot of the current structure but unfortunately, the span only lasted 13 years, as it was torn down five years after the end of World War I for reasons unknown to historians to this day. One can assume that technical malfunctions combined with the stress put on the horizontal support beams that supported the transporter wagon, and the questions of its ability to resist high winds and extreme weather conditions, as Kiel is famous for may have contributed to the bridge to be torn down for safety reasons. About two dozen of these bridge types were built during the 1880s and 1930s, including the Rendsburg High Bridge- located just 40 km away along the Great Canal, and the Ariel Lift Bridge in Duluth were built. Today, only eight remain including the Rendsburg High Bridge, which will be profiled later. The Ariel Lift Bridge still exists but functions today as a vertical lift bridge as the span replaced the transporter span in 1929.  Between 1923 and 1997, there was no movable bridge in Kiel and the only other notable bridge that existed in the city at that time was the Gablenz Bridge, built in 1914. This would change in 1997 when the engineering firm of Gerkan, Marg and Partners, local contractors located in the city center decided to end the dry spell and construct a new piece of movable artwork over the Kiel Fjord- in a form of a foldable bridge!

At a cost of 10 million Euros, the bridge has a span of 25.5 meters (84 feet) and spans the fjord, connecting the west end of the city known as the Hörn and the Gaarden quarter and Norwegenkei (Norwegian dock) on the eastern side of the fjord. The Norwegankai is the port where cruise ships out of Oslo come in to dock. When the bridge flattens out and crosses the fjord, it has a resemblance of a cable-stayed suspension bridge with two towers and stiffening cables supporting the roadway, made for pedestrians- all tinted in red. But once every hour when the bridge has to open for traffic, the structure literally scrunches itself up like an accordion so that when the bridge is completely open, it is folded into a very narrow letter N on the west end of the fjord to allow ships to pass. A link on the bridge with an animated diagram is enclosed at the end of this article.

When I was at the bridge unfortunately, I was unable to see the structure in action as it remained in a foldable position. The Foldable Bridge has had problems with its operations and hydraulics since the moment it was put into use. Technical malfunctions of the mechanisms of the bridge resulted in many residents nicknaming the bridge as the “Klappt Nichts Brücke”, a rough translation standing for a non-functioning bridge, although in a literal sense, it stood for “Folds Not Bridge”, as klappen not only stands for folding something but also as a negative for  not working/ functioning. Realizing that many people were frustrated at the fact that they could not cross the harbor as easily as they thought, a retractable bridge, built of welded trusses (Warren style) was built right next to the Foldable Bridge so that in the event that the bridge did not function as it should, the back-up bridge would provide the pedestrians with a way from one end of the harbor to the other. This proved to be a useful asset when the Gablenz Bridge was being rebuilt in 2008, for despite the fact that one needed five minutes by foot to get there from the site of the present bridge, it was the primary crossing before the Foldable Bridge was built.

But even with the retractable bridge being in place, the Foldable Bridge would have provided tourists with an opportunity to see how it works, if it functions just like any other movable bridge. It is just a matter of finding the right time to go there when the structure is in operation. I was not lucky, but as a pontist and historian, I can say that the bridge is a future technical heritage site, should it live longer than its neighboring bridge and the city maintain the structure like its neighboring movable bridge to the southwest, the Rendsburg Bridge.

The Foldable Bridge and a retractable bridge (Behelfsbrücke) in the foreground. Photo taken in April 2011



Links to this bridge:




Gablenz Bridge taken from the Foldable Bridge Photo taken in April 2011




The other main bridge site worth seeing in Kiel is this bridge. While the structure today is rather modern, the bridge and its origin goes back a long ways. The Gablenz Bridge is named after the Field Marshall Leutenant Freiherr von Gablenz, who resided in Kiel in a nearby castle and played a key role in helping the Prussian army defeat the Danish in the Prussian-Danish War of 1865, which resulted in heavy losses on the part of the Danes and Prussia gaining Flensburg, the capital’s neighboring city to the north.  The street and the bridge were christened in his honor in 1914, however the predecessing structure, a steel through arch bridge whose upper chord consisted of a Pratt truss design, was completed four years earlier in 1910. The structure spanned the rail line, which terminates at the Kiel Railway Station, only a half a kilometer away, before it descended towards the fjord. For 99 years, the bridge remained in its rightful position until it was replaced in 2009 at the cost of 30.6 million Euros. As part of the plan to reconstruct the rail lines, the railway station, and the street, the center span was put together at a construction site before it was installed right next to the old structure. During that time, construction on the new approaches progressed and the 1910 structure served traffic until the new arch span was ready to be put into place. It was then removed and the south approach was reconstructed. At the completion of the two phases, the new center span was slid into place and the new bridge was open to traffic. The project lasted just three years.

The new structure has a similar through arch span which crosses the railway, but its upper chord design was different- two main arch spans per side- resembling something like a tied-arch span- and the upper bracings are straight and horizontal, not lattice (shaped like an X) like the 1910 bridge. When it was open to traffic, Kiel’s mayor Angelika Volquartz mentioned to the public that she wishes for the city “….that the new bridge serves traffic between the east and west end of the fjord for the next 99 years and that the people look at the bridge as positively as the old bridge and even leave a place in the hearts of the residents.”  (KN-online, 14 June, 2009). If the bridge is maintained as well as the 1910 structure and its neighboring Foldable Bridge that is in use today, then perhaps that dream will be realized 97 years from now. After all, there is no such thing as a bridge that lasts 100 years and requires no maintenance, as many transportation agencies (especially those in the US) have been wishing for.

Links to this bridge:


After a brief stop in the capital and a cruise along the fjord, cycling past the state parliament, the universities, and many houses either made of brick or resembling Victorian architecture, it was now time for a tour of the bridges along the North-Baltic Sea Canal. And what place to have a bridge than to have one just a half a kilometer west of the entrance from the Baltic Sea. While that bridge still belongs to the city of Kiel, it is only appropriate to profile it with the other bridges along the canal, for its history coincides with the bridges built by one person who also oversaw the construction of the canal itself. More in the next entry.