It has been a few months since writing a review on a bridge book due to many commitments. But this first book review fits nicely with the topic on the Bridges of Lübeck in northern Germany, for it focuses on a landmark that should have been standing, but is no longer extant.
Located 6 kilometers north of the city in the suburb of Kucknitz, the Herrenbrücke has a history that is unique for the region and Europe. Located over the Trave and once hailed as the last bridge over this river before it empties into the Baltic Sea in Travemünde, only ten kilometers away, the Herrenbrücke was the only bridge in Germany that featured two single-leaf bascule bridges per roadway- four single leaf bascule spans all in all! Each span was 70 meters long. The height of the span over the Trave is over 50 meters tall. If one adds the approach spans, the total length of the bridge was over two kilometers. All in all, the Herrenbrücke was the largest bridge in Europe when it was bult in 1963 and opened to traffic at the beginning of 1964. Yet the 1964 span was the second crossing it this site. The very first crossing dates back to 1902 when a two-span swing deck truss bridge, using a Pratt design, was built. It was partially destroyed in a collision with the Swedish ship in 1909 and was rebuilt afterwards. In 1916, the bridge was electrified, allowing streetcars to cross the bridge providing a key connection between Siems and Kucknitz. The service was discontinued in 1958 and three years later, the suburbs and the City of Lübeck signed off on a contract to build the Herrenbrücke. Shortly after the new bridge was open to traffic, the steel truss swing bridge was removed.
But why did the bridge last for such a short time and had to be removed? Rainer Wiedemann, who lived near the bridge, documented the entire history of the bridge in his book, “Die Letzte Klappe: Abschied von der Herrenbrücke” (German for: The Last Word/Span: Farewell to the Herren-Bridge), which was published in 2011 and is available for ordering here. Mr. Wiedemann, who was born and raised in Lübeck and was a school teacher, documented the entire bridge prior to and during the removal process in 2005-06, which included detailed photos of the bridge, research into the bridge’s history (which included records of the bridge construction, old photos and postcards) and interviews with locals, city council members, and people who designed and built the Herren-Tunnel, the replacement of the Herrenbrücke which has been in service since 2005. Through this research, Wiedemann was able to look at the Herrenbrücke from all angles, including the reason why the Herrenbrücke had to be replaced after a short period in operation. The book is comparable with other books that were written about giant, popular crossings, such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge (75th anniversary book published in 2007), the Verrazano-Narrows and Brooklyn Bridges in New York City (former published in 2003, latter in 2013) and the Firth of Tay and Firth of Forth Bridges in the United Kingdom (published in 1991), where several aspects were combined into one- technical, sociological and historical- and formulated in a way where there is an equal balance of photos and text that is simple to understand, and even the reader who is a non-native speaker of German can follow the progress on the bridge’s history from start to finish.
This explains the reason behind the decision of the City of Lübeck and the suburbs to replace the Herrenbrücke with the Herrentunnel, which Wiedemann found substantial amounts of information on the bridge’s problems which dated back to shortly after the opening in 1964. In a nutshell, despite its popularity among its residents within a 20-km radius and beyond, the bridge was nothing but trouble for the city council. Technical problems resulted in a bascule span to not work resulting in a complicated detour. Traffic jams being 5-10 km long. But what doomed the bridge were the amount of cracks and corrosion on the bascule spans as a result of gas emitted from passing ships, weather extremities and salt used on the roadways. Despite undergoing rehabilitation on the bridge in 1981 to strengthen the concrete approaches and sandblast the bascule spans, it only delayed the inevitable, which was decided in 2001 in favor of a tunnel, financed solely by the private sector. Yet the process came at a price: many residents were displaced as their houses at the site of the tunnel were razed. Businesses were bought out, including the ship-builder Flender-Wirft, which was in business for over a century until it was bought by private investors in 2002. Almost immediately after the purchase, diggers and wrecking balls brought down the almost 400 square facility, reducing the warehouses and manufacturing buildings to a pile of rubble. This company was near the site where the 1902 swing bridge was located.
After the Herrentunnel was completed in July 2005, the Herrenbrücke was given its last hurrah on 26 August, 2005 the same time as the opening of the tunnel. Afterwards, it was demolished starting with the removal of the basule spans, then the approach viaduct spans and lastly the abutments and control tower- a process that took over two years to complete. There is almost nothing left of the bridge except for a pair of green cranes that have been placed there.
The author’s title is the subject for debate, depending on how the reader looks at the information. The Letzte Klappe could mean the last span, meaning the bridge stood the test of time, despite all the problems it had, and it stood to the very end, although its life was cut too short. Yet it could mean the last word, meaning the decision was final to get rid of the bridge, even if it was at the expense of more houses and businesses. But from the author’s standpoint, it could also mean the last word in terms of memories of the bridge and the area that is all but a ghost town. Siems and Kucknitz were affected by the bridge in a way that it became a key point that was replaced by the tunnel. But the tunnel came at the price of memories of the bridge and the businesses that once served the communities. As Wiedemann mentioned, Siems is almost non-existent, whereas Kucknitz has not fared better because of the tunnel. But progress can also bring its advantages, and perhaps the tunnel was for the best for commuters and tourists alike. Still to this day, people are trying to cope with the change, which will take getting used to.
And eventually people will adapt to the change, but the memories of the bridge and the region that once existed will remain, even through this book, which has become a must-buy for locals and pontists wanting to know about the Herrenbrücke, its rise and fall, and its legacy that will forever be part of Lübeck’s history as well as that of Schleswig-Holstein’s and Germany’s.
Grade: A+ (1,0)- for a well-detailed work on an iconic landmark that is comparable to other key bridges in Europe and the US. For engineers in Germany, a head-start for learning German! 🙂
Lübeck, Germany. The home of marzipan. The home of Medieval and Baroque architecture. Situated just west of the historic boundaries that had once separated East and West Germany but is today Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the city of 230,000 inhabitants, the second largest city in the state behind Kiel, is home to two universities, and is a magnet for tourists, as it is only 15 minutes by train south of the Baltic Sea on the Trave River. As it has three rivers and a pair of man-made canals in and around the historic Old Town (declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO), it is not surprising that the city has one of the most populous bridges in Germany, ranking up there with Hamburg, Berlin, Erfurt and Nuremberg, just to name a few. As many as 230 bridges are known to exist in Lübeck as well as the neighboring beach community of Travemünde. 19 of them are located in and around the historic Old Town, spanning the Trave River as well as parts of the harbor and the Lübeck-Elbe Canal, which tangents the Old Town to the southeast before going south towards the Elbe at Lauenburg, 80 kilometers south of the city. That canal was built between 1895 and 1900 by Peter Rehder, whose bridge in Lübeck is named after him.
Just recently, I had an opportunity to visit these bridges as part of our tour through Lübeck with my wife and daughter. Many of these bridges can be seen via boat while others are within 5-10 minute walking distance inside the Old Town. Many of these structures have survived the onslaught of World War II, where 30% of the center was destroyed by air raids. Others were built in a fashionable way 15 years ago. In either case, this tour will take you through the old town and to each of the bridges and their histories. Photos of the bridges can be viewed by clicking on the name of the bridge. One of the bridges, the Herrenbrücke, will be featured in a separate article, for a book was written on the double-bascule bridge, which has been replaced by a tunnel.
We’ll start with the Canal Crossings before going to the Trave River ones.
Hub Bridges:The first crossing along the Canal is located at the mouth leading into the Trave River. The bridge features three different crossings, each measuring between 42 and 45 meters in length. Two of them are hydraulic vertical lift spans, each featuring riveted Parker truss spans. The river side of the bridge used to serve rail traffic which ran along the river before it was discontinued in the 1980s. That crossing was later fixed in an elevated form and left there to allow ships to continue passing through. The center portion of the bridge is open to vehicular traffic and connects Unter der Trave with Hafenstrasse. This still functions as a hydraulic vertical lift bridge today and, as you can see in the video here, one can see the span be hoisted in 2-3 minutes’ time from the neighboring Burgtorbrücke. The pedestrian bridge on the canal side is a steel through arch bridge with portal and strut bracings similar to the now extant Fort Keogh Bridge in Montana (USA). That crossing is the only fixed span built when the three crossings were built between 1896 and 1898. Rehder and C. Hoppe were the contractors for the three crossings as they were built as part of the five-year project to canalize the city. Despite the railroad bridge being decommissioned, the crossings are clearly delegated to pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers to ensure their safety in crossing the structures. The tower located next to the three bridges serves as the control station for the center span. Its fancy Baroque design matches that of the architecture one can see in Lübeck.
Here are the links to the photos of the three crossings:
Burgtorbrücke-At 210 meters, the deck cantilever truss bridge using a Pratt truss design, is the only bridge in the city’s history to originally be built to span the Wakinitz River before the Canal was built in 1898. The original bridge was supposedly built in 1806 connecting the Old Town at Burgtor with the northern part of the city where Gustav Radbruch Platz is now located. The span was later replaced in 1898 with a cantilever suspension bridge that was three times the length of the original span and with the same height as the present-day structure. That bridge was replaced in 1910 with the present structure and since that day, has continued serving traffic on the east side of the city, connecting the Old Town with Travemünde and points to the north and east. The nearby Gustav Radbruch Platz is the eastern hub for all bus services serving the city and beyond. The concrete lion statues, conceived by artist Fritz Behn in 1913, were placed at the northern portals of the bridge in 1931 and are a site not to miss, together with the concrete ornamental railings and the Burgtor Gate that is located right next to the bridge to the south.
Klughafen Pedestrian Bridge- In an earlier article posted on the Chronicles (click here), we had a pop quiz to ask you when the bridge was built and whether this bridge is movable or not. The answer to these two questions took even the author by surprise, given the nature of how the boat tour guide told the story. While the trusses may have indicated that it was built 100 years ago and it was rehabilitated 15 years ago, it was actually built in 1994. And while the vertical beams holding the center span indicate a potential vertical lift bridge that would have been one of a kind, it only serves as a way of keeping the span from falling into the canal. Hence the comment that the bridge “was a decoration” serving pedestrians. Yet the almost 20-year old is beset by problems to be addressed by the city council, and that is vandalism by spray-painting. Instead of the pine green color it presents, the bridge is covered with various colors and shapes, some of which are deemed inappropriate. It will not be surprising if this pedestrian bridge receives a makeover in the coming years ahead.
Hüxtertorbrücke- No German city is not complete without this type of bridge: a steel arch bridge whose upper chord represents Pratt trusses curving from one end to another. One can find this bridge in cities like Munich, Berlin, Leipzig and Cologne (the last city is famous for its Hollernzollern Bridge). Plus there were some that had existed in places, like Kiel, before they were razed in favor of more modern bridges. The Hüxtertor Bridge, named after the gate that was destroyed in World War II and is now dominated by the Discothek, is one of the smaller of these bridge types. It was built in 1927 and is a pony arch bearing a pale lime green color. It features typical 1920s style lighting supported by concrete towers. The bridge carries Hüxterdamm, connecting the city center with Falkenplatz and its adjacent Volkshochschule (Institute of Continuing Education).
Rehderbrücke: Located next to Hüxtertorbrücke on Krähenstrasse, this bridge was named after the man who built the canal but was built in 1936. The bridge type is deck plate girder with cantilever features, and the black bridge’s typical feature are the rollers on the concrete piers. These not only support the bridge itself, but they serve as devices for expansion (during the warm months) and contraction (during the cold months).
Mühlentorbrücke:Apart from the Burgtorbrücke, this bridge is one of the most ornamental bridges built of steel that had existed in Lübeck before World War II. The bridge was built at the time of the construction of the Canal (1899-1900) and featured finials on towers that included ornamental lighting on it. The bridge itself is unusual in three ways: 1. The towers are supported by prefabricated curved steel beams which is also hold the vertical suspenders that attach to the road. It is not an eyebar suspension bridge, like the Three Sister Bridges of Pittsburgh, for these steel encased cables are stiff providing more tension to the top part of the bridge. 2. The roadway supported by the steel beams is diagonal to the towers that are built parallel to the riverbank. With the exception of the Swinemünde Bridge at Gesundbrünnen Station in Berlin (which is cantilever), the Mühlentor Bridge is one of the rarest suspension bridges that has such a unique feature. 3. And while there is no horizontal beam supporting the towers, like other suspension bridges, this bridge also features cantilever deck trusses as the support for the decking, rendering the towers and encased cables as useless. Henceforth this bridge is unique in itself and will most likely be considered a national landmark if it has not happened already.
Possehlbrücke- The last bridge along the canal is the Possehlbrücke. Built in 1956, the bridge is a prestressed, and pretensioned concrete girder bridge serving Possehlstrasse between the Old Town and points going southwards. The bridge represents a classic example of concrete bridges that took too much vehicular traffic resulting in cracks in the concrete superstructure and other structural issues. Albeit restricted to traffic up to 7.5 tons since 2012, the bridge’s days are definitely numbered. Earlier this month, the city council voted unanimously to demolish the structure in favor of a new structure. Construction will start in Spring 2014 and will take over a year to complete. Tourists travelling by boat will be seeing cranes and diggers at the site in the coming year instead of the picture the author took.
Wipperbrücke- Spanning the city arm of the Trave River as the first crossing entering the river, this 1744 structure is the only one that is built using brick, the same material used on much of the infrastructure in Schleswig-Holstein (and much of Lübeck). The first crossing was a pedestrian bridge built in 1644 before it was widened to accommodate horse and buggy and later automobiles. The bridge is located 200 meters south of the Lübeck Cathedral and can be photographed together when travelling by boat. An even closer shot of the church can be made after passing underneath the structure and going 100 meters further. Both are a must
Wall Bridge- Spanning the tributary connecting the Trave and the Stadtgraben carrying Possehlstrasse near the Wipperbrücke, this closed spandrel arch bridge was built in the 1920s but was widened to accommodate traffic. It serves as a connecting point between the Old Town and Possehlbrücke.
Dankwärtsbrücke- Spanning the Trave River at Dankwärtsgrube, the Dankwärtsbrücke is one of three pedestrian bridges spanning this river in Lübeck’s Old Town. It holds the title of being the only wooden bridge in the city, and one that has a lot of charm and is still being visited by thousands of people each day. The crossing is the second one in use and follows the original construction of the bridge built 200 years earlier but was replaced in 2004 due to structural issues.
Professor’s Bridge- Located between Dankwärtsbrücke and Holstentor, the pedestrian bridge was the work of Peterson and Pörksen, architects whose office is located in Lübeck and neighboring Hamburg. Built in 2007 as part of the plan to convert the Trave into a tourist boating port, the concrete bridge features a beam span supported by V-shaped piers which creates a trapezoidal shape with the point in the center of the bridge. This is important to allow boats to pass. The churches can be seen by this bridge.
Holstentorbrücke- Despite its length of 30 meters and being a single span closed spandrel concrete arch bridge, this bridge is perhaps the oldest that ever existed, located at the world renowned Holstentor Gate, the most used landmark of the city in terms of marzipan, paintings, souvenirs and the like. The bridge was first mentioned in 1216 when it was built as a wooden bridge. It was destroyed by flooding in 1320, and between that time and 1516, the bridge was rebuilt three times, with the third crossing being a stone arch bridge. The next bridge resembled the Rialto Bridge in Venice and lasted over 300 years before it was replaced in 1853 by a short span crossing that accomodated both rail and horse-traffic. While the rail line, originally connecting Lübeck Railway station and the harbor was discontinued in the early 1930s, vehicles continued using the bridge, hence the widening of the structure in 1934 to its current shape and form.
Beckerbrücke- Spanning the Untertrave, the pedestrian bridge connects the Lübeck Convention Center with the Beckergrube and provides a direct link to the center of the Old Town with its churches and shopping area. A person needs only seven minutes between St. Jacob’s Church and the Convention Center. The bridge was built in 2004 and features a beam span supported by a set of two-column piers.
Drehbrücke (Swing Bridge)– Spanning the Untertrave at Willy-Brandt Allee between St. Lorenz and the Old Town, the bridge is one of only a couple swing bridges left in Schleswig-Holstein that is in operation. The bridge features a curved Howe pony truss, where there are three trusses, the center one of which separates two lanes of traffic. Built in 1892, it is the third oldest bridge left in operation and features a swing mechanism where a combination of rollers and hydraulics are used to swing the bridge open at a 60° angle, allowing ships and boats to pass through the crossing. A video shows the bridge closing after the boats pass through (click here). Originally used for rail traffic connecting the train station and the harbor ports to the north via Hub Bridges, the bridge was converted to vehicular use in the 1980s and has operated for 121 years with little repairs done on it. The bridge is located next to a famous fish restaurant where a person can dine on some of the city’s specialties with a glass of wine and watch the ships pass through as the bridge swings open and close. The bridge is located next to another railroad bridge approximately 200 meters away. The Warren pony truss span with riveted connections spans part of the harbor and can be seen from the train station. It has been sitting abandoned for over a decade, awaiting reuse.
Eric Warburg Bridge- Losing the Herrenbrücke was a blow that the City of Lübeck did not want. Fortunately, the Eric Warburg Bridge was built at the time the 1964 two-span drawbridge was being demolished because of the tunnel. Yet this bridge had been in the planning phases for over a century, starting off with the plan by Peter Rehder to build it closer to the Old Town along the Lübeck-Elbe Canal. Yet the plan was tabled due to opposition from the citizens, as well as the two World Wars. Yet in 2004, the need to establish the connection between the Old Town and St. Gertrud justified the need for a single-leaf draw bridge, which took four years to build. The bridge features a blue-colored steel beam bridge with a center span that opens at regular intervals, controlled by the grey shaped control tower. A video shows you how the bridge works (click here). Since the Herrenbrücke was removed in 2008, the bridge is the last crossing over the Trave before emptying into the Baltic Sea 10 kilometers to the north at Travemünde.
The bridge also has a history involving a prominent citizen. Eric Warburg, a banker from Hamburg, was of Jewish origin and contributed a great deal to saving many lives during World War II. After emigrating to the US in 1938, he served the American army and helped many people escape the tyranny of Adolf Hitler and his killing machine aimed at exterminating the Jews before and during the war. After Lübeck was heavily damaged during air raidson 29 March, 1942, in which 20% of the historic Old Town was destroyed, Warburg knew of the plan for another series of air raids that would eventually destroy the rest of the city and informed his cousin Carl Jacob Burckhardt, president of the International Red Cross about it. Together, the city was declared a neutral zone and a port where humanitarian aide would enter Germany. The plan was successful and not only was Lübeck spared, but it was declared neutral governed by the Red Cross until the end of the war in 1945. For his work as well as his engagement in German-American relations, the Emil Warburg Prize was introduced in 1988 and given to people who performed great deeds for keeping the German-American relations sound. Among those receiving the prize were Richard von Weizsäcker (German president from 1984 to 1994), Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State under Richard Nixon) and former US President George HW Bush.
The last bridge on this tour is a must-see if you are a pontist or love history. The Bridge of Statues spans the Stadtgraben providing the lone important link between Holstentor and the Old Town to the east and Lübeck’s Railway Station and Bus Depot to the west. The bridge’s history dates back to the 1700s, when the bridge was built using wood. Yet the stone arch bridge was first constructed in 1773 and widened to accomodate traffic in 1907. The bridge features eight different sandstone sculptures on the railings, which includes the statue of the Woman of Peace, which is the answer to the question posed in an earlier article (click here). Each statue represents either a god or a different symbol, which was described further in detail by René and Peter van der Grodt and can be viewed here. These statues were made by Dietrich Jürgen Boy and P.H. Gnekow in 1774 and had been in place until 1985 when they were replaced by replicas and the originals were taken to the St. Anna’s Museum where they can be seen today but under protection from pollution. The bridge also features four different seals called reliefs, each located on one corner of the spandrel of the bridge, representing Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Those can be seen from boat or by climbing down to the shoreline of the Stadtgraben.
After touring through the Old Town and visiting each of the bridges mentioned here, which will take a day to complete when walking by foot and a couple hours by boat, one should not forget to try the marzipan products, including the marzipan pie provided by the family owned but world renowned Niederegger candy and restaurant, while at the same time, listen about the history of another bridge that used to exist in the city but a tunnel had taken its place. A book was written about this bridge and its history and in the second part on the series, we will have a look at the rise and fall of the Herrenbrücke, located north of Lübeck in the village of Siems, once an industrial port but now a faded memory.
Marzipan, architecture, labskaus, and the Baltic Sea. Those are the characteristics of the city of Lübeck, located on the Trave River west of the border to Mecklenburg-Pommerania in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany. With a population of 220,000 inhabitants, the second largest city in the state (and sixth largest in northern Germany behind Hamburg, Bremen, Hanover, Kiel, and Brunswick) prides itself on its architecture, as the Altstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the key ports to the Baltic Sea, which is 10 km to the north. Even the historic bridges in the city is a must-see if you are a pontist or have an interest in the city’s bridges.
I had a chance to tour the bridges in Lübeck most recently, as part of a short hiatus to see what the city has to offer. This included a tour of the ones in Altstadt by boat and learning about the history of each one. Before digging in on the tour, there are five questions to test your knowledge on the city let alone encourage you to do some research on them. The answers will be provided in the next article dealing with this particular topic.
So let’s start off with the Five Fragen for the Forum, shall we?
Look at the picture of the statue. This was one of eight statues that can be found on which bridge? (Can you name the statue in addition to that?)
How many movable bridges exist in Lübeck? (Can you name them?)
One of the movable bridges is a bascule bridge. What is it and what types exist? What bridge type is this one?
The last crossing along the Trave before emptying into the Baltic Sea is located where?
Which bridge is the oldest extant bridge in Lübeck?
And a pair of non-bridge bonus questions for you to ponder:
6. How do you make marzipan? What candy company makes this candy?
7. What is labskaus?
You can leave your comments here or on any of the social network pages bearing the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. The answers will come in the next week or so to allow you some time to guess or research and share your answers online. Sister column The Flensburg Files will feature a few articles on this city from a couple perspectives worth noting which will also be posted on the Chronicles’ facebook and twitter pages.
But in the meantime, as there are a couple lose ends to cover beforehand, happy guessing! 🙂
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