Bonn’s bridges across the Rhine –
Connecting Bonn to its eastern neighbours
Bonn is situated on the western side of the river Rhine. Understandably, a way to cross the river has been important for a long time, both for commercial and military reasons. On the opposite, the eastern, side of the river is Beuel. Beuel has since 1969 been a suburb of Bonn, incorporating all the area on the right-hand side of the Rhine, which consisted of various parishes. One example is Oberkassel, where the couple from the Ice Age was found.
There is a legend that Julius Caesar had the first bridge built in 55 BC when fighting the Gauls. However, archaeologists say that’s all that it is: a legend.
Once we reach the middle ages, we are on safer ground, with records of a regular ferry service across the Rhine. A document of 1325 clarified the rights and duties of those entitled to provide a ferry service between Bonn and the opposite side of the river. This document is one of the earliest of its kind in Germany.[i] Clearly, if it was felt to be necessary to regulate the ferry service in 1325, such a service must have existed long before this time.
By the late 19th century, the ferry could not cope with the increase in traffic. In 1889, it was therefore decided to build a road bridge, a major undertaking. In July 1895, a competition for the construction of a bridge was organised. The winning architect was Bruno Möhring.[ii]
As with most major building projects, there were a number of issues, which needed to be sorted. The ferry company went to court, as they were concerned about their revenue. This was settled by paying compensation of altogether 220,000 Mark.
The town council of Bonn encountered problems with their counterpart in Vilich (then the dominant part in the area which is now Beuel) on the opposite side of the Rhine. A major argument was about who paid what. Initial estimates expected the costs to amount to 2.58 million Mark. Bonn wanted Vilich to contribute 10%. However, they only offered 2,500 Mark, approx.. 0.1%.
Another issue was the position of the bridge. For Bonn, an easy connection to its commercial centre, the market, was important, while Vilich is situated a bit further north. Therefore, they would have preferred the bridge closer to their centre. Other organisations were also approached for financial assistance, like the royal rail administration or the ministry of war, but were not prepared to chip in either.
In spite of these ongoing differences, work began in April 1896, in the position preferred by Bonn. Eventually a financial compromise was reached. The people in Vilich/Beuel would provide the land for the bridge ramp on their side free of charge and build an access road from their station. This was necessary as otherwise the bridge would end in no-mans-land. Actually, an old photograph exists, showing the bridge initially ending without a ramp among gardens and fields.
The bridge was finished just 33 months later. The costs had eventually grown to 4 million Mark (nothing new there!). These were to be retrieved by charging a toll, for vehicles and pedestrians. Shortly before the bridge was finished, Bonn had asked for donations to cover the cost blow-out. Incidentally, several wealthy people from Beuel were the most generous donors.
The bridge was officially opened on 17 December 1898 at 2pm. It had a total length of 432 metres and a span of 188 metres. At the time, it was the largest arched bridge and was considered to be one of the most beautiful. To show of the pride and power of its initiators, its railings were decorated with grape vines and leaves. The toll booth was flanked by imposing lions. The lion is still part of the town’s coat of arms. There were altogether four lions, of which three have been rediscovered and are now in a local museum.[iii] And of course, it had a spectacular backdrop, the Siebengebirge (Seven Mountains).
The bridge proved to be a valuable addition. Since 1902, an electrical tram connected Bonn and Beuel via tracks across the bridge.
During WWII, the bridge withstood repeated Allied bombing, until, on 8 March 1945, it was destroyed by German forces, who had retreated to Beuel. However, it only stopped the advance of the Allied troops for a short while.
Already in the night 20 to 21 March 1945, soldiers of the American Army built a 398.70 metre-long pontoon bridge across the Rhine in the record time of 10 hours and 16 minutes. Their commander rewarded them with beer, which brought it the name “beer bridge”.[iv]
After the war, passengers had to use ferries again to cross the river, up to 20,000 people per day. As early as August 1945, the construction of a new bridge was discussed by the Bonn town council. The plans were ready in March 1946 and work started in September of the same year.
The piers of the old bridge were undamaged and were used as the base of the new one . The new bridge is a girder bridge of a much more modest design than the old one. Some of the old building material, basalt and limestone, could be reused. The new construction was 18 metres wide and 396 metres long. There were two lanes for traffic in each direction, as well as a pedestrian and bike lane. Tram tracks were laid in one of the lanes for car traffic on each side. 36 months later, on 12 November 1949, the new bridge was opened. The bridge was named Kennedy Bridge on 2 December 1963, ten days after the assassination of the American president.
In 2007, renovation became necessary. The bridge was widened from 18 to 26.8 metres. There is now a separate area for tram tracks in the middle. However, there is now only one lane in each direction, though considerably wider than before. The renovation took longer than expected and was only finished in June 2011. It also included the installation of solar cells on its southern side all across the bridge, a total of 392 individual modules. The Kennedy Bridge is the only bridge across a waterway producing electricity. Its output is 80 KW – sufficient to supply 20 households with electricity.
By now two other bridges have been added. In 1964-1967, another bridge was built further to the north, a motorway connection. It was named after the first president of Germany, Friedrich Ebert. A third crossing of the Rhine was added further south, constructed 1967–1972. Initially it had been planned to remember the first Federal president, Theodor Heuss. However, as the first chancellor of the Federal Republic, Konrad Adenauer, had died shortly after construction had begun, the bridge was named after him.
There is still a passenger ferry between Bonn and Beuel, as well as car ferry services further north between the town of Königswinter and Bad Godesberg, a southern suburb of Bonn.
Sources and further reading:
Gabriele Immenkeppel, ‚Bonner Rheinbrücke: Ein Symbol für Macht und Stolz‘, General-Anzeiger (2 Nov. 2015). URL: http://www.general-anzeiger-bonn.de/bonn/stadt-bonn/Bonner-Rheinbr%C3%BCcke-Ein-Symbol-f%C3%BCr-Macht-und-Stolz-article1756514.html [last accessed 1 Dec. 2016]
Georg Mehrtens, Der Deutsche Brückenbau im XIX. Jahrhundert. Springer-Verlag, 2013, pp.111-115
Schulz, K., ‚Kennedybrücke Bonn‘, KuLaDig – Kultur. Landschaft. Digital. (2012). URL: https://www.kuladig.de/Objektansicht/O-31663-20120118-2 [last accessed 30 Nov. 2016]
Stadt Bonn, ‚Die Geschichte der Kennedybrücke‘ (last updated 24 April 2007). URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20070504011438/http://www.bonn.de/umwelt_gesundheit_planen_bauen_wohnen/baustellen/kennedybruecke/00342/index.html [last accessed 8 Dec. 2016]
[i] D. Romeo Maurenbrecher, Lehrbuch des gesammten heutigen gemeinen deutschen Privatrechtes. Weber, Bonn, 1840, pp.629-630
[ii] More on Bruno Möhring: Ulrich Bücholdt, ‚Bruno Möhring (1863-1929) – Vom Brückenmännchen zum Städtebau‘, Archthek (10 Jan.2008). URL: http://www.kmkbuecholdt.de/historisches/personen/Moehrin1.htm [last accessed 1 Dec. 2016]
[iii] ‚Brückenlöwe der alten Bonner Rheinbrücke aufgetaucht‘, Bonn Net (16 May 2016). URL: http://www.bonnnet.de/news-der-stadt-bonn/4139-brueckenloewe-der-alten-bonner-rheinbruecke-aufgetaucht [last accessed 30 Nov. 2016]; Stadt Bonn, ‘Die Brückenlöwen im Stadtmuseum Bonn bewundern’ (11 Jan. 2017). URL: http://www.bonn.de/rat_verwaltung_buergerdienste/presseportal/pressemitteilungen/32613/index.html [last accessed 12 Jan. 2017]
[iv] Holger Willcke, ‚Die “Beer-Bridge” ist heute noch berühmt‘, General-Anzeiger (20 March 2015). URL: http://www.general-anzeiger-bonn.de/bonn/stadt-bonn/Die-Beer-Bridge-ist-heute-noch-ber%C3%BChmt-article1593871.html [last accessed 1 Dec. 2016]
(This post was updated 12 January 2017)