This is a joint article with sister column The Flensburg Files and is part of the Files’ series on the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and German Reunification. For more information on this series, please click here for details.
Berlin: The capital of Germany and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. With 3.5 million inhabitants, the city is the cultural center and a major tourist attraction for people to see. A person can take a morning boat tour along the Spree, have lunch at a Christmas market at Alexanderplatz, see the entire city from the TV Tower (Fernsehturm), take in a concert with the city’s philharmonic orchestra at Gendarmen Market, visit the museums along Unter den Linden, consume and buy tons of books at Dussmann in Mitte, and lastly, eat a Vietnamese meal at a restaurant at Prenzlauer Berg. This is a typical day for a tourist visiting Berlin. With children, it would be crime not to visit the Zoo and Tiergarten in Charlottenburg.
Yet Berlin (like the rest of Germany) for almost five decades had been a chessboard for conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The City was divided into four sectors in accordance to the Yalta Agreement signed on the eve of the end of World War II, yet instead of helping the Germans in the eastern sector rebuild their livelihood, the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961, keeping the easterners from fleeing to West Berlin. For 28 years the Wall became the symbol of a divided Germany with each half having a different government and different mentality. This held true until 1989, when protests by the hundreds of thousands, resulted in the fall of the East German dictator, and subsequentially, the fall of the Wall. The first border opened on 9 November, 1989 and by the beginning of 1990, the Wall was but a memory and Berlin, reunited.
The 40+ kilometer long Berlin Wall not only surrounded West Berlin and closed off any possibilities to escape, it also blocked access to the bridges that spanned many of Berlin’s waterways, whether it was the Spree, the Teltow Canal or Wannsee. Many of the important crossings became the bridges to nowhere for 28 years, until the Wall fell and the crossings were reopened for the first time. Some of the bridges became the point of exchanges of Soviet and western agents, others allowed only westerners to visit East Berlin but not the other way around. But nonetheless, all of the crossings are open today, and people can use the bridges without having to show the border guards their passports, let alone fear for being arrested and charged of espionage.
The Chronicles will feature six well-known crossings that had once been either closed off by border guards or walled off completely, to show how important they were both during the Cold War as well as at the time of the Fall of the Wall, and to compare their relevance then to today, as Berlin celebrates its anniversary of the revolution that ushered in a new and peaceful era. A couple of these crossings have recently been torn down but not before leaving a historical marker indicating their importance in connection with one of the most painful times Berlin and the world faced.
Oberbaumbrücke and Viaduct
Location: Spree River at Am Oberbaum between Friedrichshain and Kreuzburg
Built: 1896; rebuilt in 1948 and 1995
Description and History: The Oberbaumbrücke is one of Berlin’s prized treasures. The bridge features two levels of brick arch spans- the lower deck has six arches plus a steel beam center span to allow for ships to pass. That serves vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The upper deck features brick arches creating an arcade below for people to walk underneath. The center span features a steel deck arch span. The outerriver spans feature steel deck trusses that cross the streets below. Since 1995, the upper deck has served subway traffic. The bridge is highly ornamented with gothic towers, using the tower of the Mitteltorturm in Prenzlau (located 90 km north of Berlin) as a reference. The largest of the two are located at the center span of the bridge.The total length of the bridge is 150 meters not counting the steel truss viaducts on the Kreuzburg end. The bridge suffered substantial damage in World War II with the gothic towers being destroyed and the upper deck being damaged to a point where no vehicles could cross. Although it remained in place, it was closed to traffic with the completion of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Yet with the fall of the Wall in 1989, plans were undertaken to restore the bridge to its original form. This was done between 1992 and its completion in 1996 with the steel center arch span being built by world famous architect, Santiago Calatrava. Since then, the bridge has retained its original features, although remnants of the Cold War can be seen- the watch tower and portions of the Berlin Wall can be seen at the bridge, serving as a reminder of a divided Berlin during the 28-year period of the Wall. Since 1991, the boroughs of Friedrichshain and Kreuzburg have been a joint community and since 1998, festivities have occurred on the bridge, including a water fight between residents of the two communities as well as an art festival.
Location: Havel River at Bundesstrasse 1 between Berlin- Wannsee, Babelsberg and Potsdam
Built: 1907 (current bridge); rebuilt in 1947
The 128 meter long Glienicke Bridge is located at the very southwest portion of Berlin. Built in 1907 by the Hakort Bridge Company of Duisburg under the direction of Eduard Fürstenau, this steel cantilever Warren truss bridge is the third crossing at this site, with the first crossing made of wood being built in 1670 followed by a stone arch bridge replacing it in 1834. Despite protests by residents of Potsdam and Berlin, that bridge was demolished in 1904 as part of the plan to expand the Teltow Canal. Construction on the new bridge began two years later. The bridge became the key link between the two cities afterwards, with the federal highway 1 crossing it. It was widened to accommodate traffic in 1937 and was the most traveled highway until it was partially destroyed at the close of World War II in 1945.
It was rebuilt in its original form two years later but became the dividing point between the Soviet Zone and that of the US and later its allies. When the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, a barrier and border control area was constructed at the Potsdam end to prevent East Germans from fleeing into West Berlin. Up to 1989, only one escape attempt was successfully made, which was a Trabant car smashing through the wall in 1988, smuggling three people across the border into West Berlin. If there was a bridge where Soviet and Western Spies were exchanged often, this bridge was the place. Between 1962 and 1986, three exchanges of spies took place, based on agreements made between the US and Soviet Union. A video of the “Bridge of Agents”, as coined by many, can be seen below.
After the Wall fell in 1989, the bridge was reopened and later restored to accommodate traffic between Berlin and Potsdam, and to this day, the key link between the two cities has been reestablished. Despite dismantling the wall and the border areas, a memorial and museum dedicated to this key crossing, was built near the stone columns on the Potsdam side. It is open daily for those wanting to visit the bridge and learn about its unique history.
Location: Railroad and Light Rail Lines at Bornholmerstrasse between Prenzlauer Berg and Gesundbrunnen
The Bösebrücke is 320 meters long and features a steel through arch design, with the upper chord and approach spans being a Warren truss design. The bridge was one of a few that survived World War II but was even more unique for it was the first border crossing to be opened on the night of 9-10 November, 1989, allowing people to cross between East and West Berlin. A video of the event can be seen below. Several memorials can be found on or near the bridge commemorating this historic event, for the bridge served as an example of how a border literally became a bridge. Other border crossings followed and within 48 hours, the border crossings were open, and the Wall came tumbling down, piece by piece. The bridge still serves as a key crossing today, although its significance has diminished since 1989. The Bösebrücke does not necessarily mean “Bad Bridge,” it was named after Wilhelm Böse, who was one of many opponents of Adolf Hitler that led a resistance movement in an attempt to bring him down. Unfortunately he failed and was subsequentially executed on 21 April, 1944.
Location: Teltow Canal at Berlin Zehlendorf
Built: 1906, demolished in 1990, new structure built in 2009
Named after a prominent politician Leo Wilhelm Robert Karl von dem Knesebeck, this crossing featured a Warren through truss design with Warren portal bracings, all covered with ornamental decorations. This bridge was the most ornamental of the bridges along the Berlin Wall, yet it was made obsolete with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. A barrier was constructed at the bridge’s east portal and remained there until 1989. The bridge was torn down after the Fall of the Wall and replaced with a temporary crossing. A permanent crossing- a steel beam contraption- was built in 2009 and has provided drivers with a crossing over the Teltow Canal ever since.
The S-Bahn Crossing at Liesenstrasse
Location: Liesenstrasse, Gartenstrasse, and Ackerstrasse between Berlin-Mitte and Berlin-Gesundbrunnen, north of Stettin Station
Built: 1892 replacing a bridge built in 1843, abandoned since 1952
Featuring two curved Whipple through truss spans and one plate girder span, the Liesenstrasse Bridge once featured a rail line that started at Stettin Station and headed north towards Poland. It was one of a few bridges that survived unscathed by World War II, but unfortunately, with the destruction of the Stettin Station thanks to Russian bombs, combined with the construction of the Berlin Wall along Liesenstrasse in 1961, the crossing was rendered useless and has been sitting abandoned for 62 years. Even after the Berlin Wall fell, no consideration was made regarding the future of the bridge and the rail line. However, most recently, a grassroots group was formed with the goal of converting the bridge and the rail line to a bike trail. Already a presentation was given during the German heritage days, but more help is needed. More information on the bridge and the preservation group can be found here and here. The bridge is already protected by preservation laws, and is in an area where tourists can find several cemetaries nearby, as well as remnants of the Berlin Wall on the western side of the bridge.
Location: Landwehrkanal at Karl-Kunger-Strasse in Berlin-Kreuzburg
Built: 1896 (concrete arch bridge), destroyed in 1945, replaced with truss bridge in 1946, removed in 2000
The last bridge to be profiled here is the Wiener Brücke (Vienna Bridge), a bridge with a tragic story behind it, especially as you see in the picture above. The original bridge consisted of a closed-spandrel concrete arch bridge with ornamental features resembling round emblems on the spandrels, Hermann Rhode and E. Simanski were the engineers behind the bridge that took a year to build. On 23 April, 1945, in an attempt to hinder the advancement of the Soviet Army, the Nazi troops detonated the arch bridge. Two of the emblems survived the blasts and were recovered and later taken to a cemetary at Berlin-Heiligensee to serve as a memorial for the people lost in the war. It took 12 years until its replacement was erected- a Warren half-deck and half pony truss span, which connected Kreuzburg with Treptow. Yet the crossing was made obsolete less than four years later with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The bridge remained unused until the Wall fell and the crossing was reopened to traffic. Yet it would only serve pedestrian traffic until it was finally demolished in 2000. At the present time, no replacement was planned.
There are many other crossings that are worth mentioning, but these are the key ones that serve as a reminder of how the Berlin Wall effectively kept people from crossing between the two halves of Berlin during the Cold War. And even if Berlin is a unified city today, with no external influence from the allies, one cannot forget about the history of how it was divided, and how these bridges kept the city together through the times of war and after the Wall finally fell and Germany was reunified.
To learn more about the Berlin Wall, check out the Flensburg Files as it has an article on this subject (click here) while its facebook page has details on the Rise and Fall of the Wall and its 25th anniversary celebrations.