The Brückenmännchen in Bonn –
a cheeky little sculpture on a bridge
When we visited Bonn earlier this year, we went for a walk along the Rhine, as you do. To our surprise, we spotted on the Kennedy Bridge the sculpture of a man rather cheekily sticking his bum out at us, the Brückenmännchen, which translates as “little bridge man”. It turns out that this little sculpture plays an important part of the history of the bridge.
The Kennedy Bridge is the latest incarnation of a bridge between Bonn and Beuel on the opposite side of the Rhine. The Brückenmännchen, though, goes back to the old bridge crossing the Rhine. As we have seen before, the construction of the old bridge in the late 19th century led to some financial disagreements between Bonn and Beuel. The people of Bonn were not impressed with the attitude of Beuel and showed their displeasure in their own way.
The old bridge was officially opened on 17 December 1898 at 2 pm. Although rain was bucketing down, a great number of people paid their toll to walk across the bridge. They were rather bemused by a little sculpture on the right-hand pier: a little man sticking its bum out into the direction of Beuel. To say sort of “we’ll show you!” The sculpture had been kept hidden until the opening, so it came as a surprise for everyone.
However, the inhabitants of Beuel had the last laugh: to walk across the bridge, the people wanting to have a look, had to pay their toll when first entering the bridge. They were supposed to pay again on the other side to be able to return. However, once they had seen the sculpture, they turned back, before even reaching the toll collector at the other end of the bridge.
It is not known who came up with the idea for the sculpture. It was the work of the sculptor Josef Nicolas from Bonn.
The inhabitants of Beuel loved the little sculpture. They made quite a bit of money selling postcards with it. During the inflation period in 1923, it was even used on bank notes to the value of 500,000 Mark. Underneath the picture of the bank note is written: “Die Zeit kann mich”. To quote Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen, this might be completed to “Die Zeit kann mich am Arsch lecken” (Time can lick my arse).
By the end of the 19th century, they had retaliated with their own sculpture: a washerwoman, looking grumpily towards Bonn, with a slipper in her raised hand, the Brückenweibchen (little bridge woman). This was also the work of Josef Nicolas.
When the old bridge was blown up during WWII, the Brückenmännchen fell into the Rhine but was retrieved by a publican from Beuel. He first buried it in his garden to protect it from souvenir hunters. He dug it up in early 1949 and, during the carnival procession. it was carried through the streets of Bonn, together with the Brückenweibchen.
The little bridge man was restored by the sculptor Jacobus Linden and attached to the new bridge when it opened later that year. This time, it stuck its bum out to the south. This was interpreted as a gesture towards Frankfurt, Bonn’s competitor when a Federal capital was chosen. Apparently, there are some who would like to see it repositioned so that its bum points towards the north-east and Berlin, the city that became the capital of the reunified Germany.
In 1960, some hooligans threw stones at the sandstone sculpture and it broke. Its bits fell into the river and that was the end of the original Brückenmännchen.
A copy of the Brückenmännchen was created out of basalt and attached to the Kennedy Bridge. While the bridge was renovated and widened in 2007-2011, it was taken down. It spent the time in the municipal museum, where it featured in an exhibition about the Rhine Bridge. After the work was finished, it was replaced and is sticking out its bum again.
In 2008, a sandstone copy by Michael Naundorf was unveiled on the Rhine promenade in Beuel, where it joined the Brückenweibchen. The female sculpture had had a “facelift”, also by Michael Naundorf, and had been installed two years previously. From there its bum points towards Bonn on the opposite side of the Rhine.
Das Brückenmännchen is so popular, it became the inspiration for an award. Since 1999, an association of journalists and press officers in Bonn awards each year the “Bröckemännche” (in the local pronunciation). The award is a small replica of the sculpture. The recipient should be a person for his/her courage to be unconventional, to buck the trend and to swim against the tide. Someone who is courageous, critical, ironic, direct – just not like everyone else. I like the idea of an award given to someone because he /she does not conform. What better motif than the Brückenmännchen?!
Sources and Further Reading
Riede, Margarete, ‘Brückenmännchen’, Heimat- und Geschichtsverein Beuel am Rhein e.V.. URL: http://hgv.frakobo.de/files/flyer_brueckenmaennchen.pdf [last accessed 12 Dec. 2016]
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]
Stadt Bonn, ‘‘Bröckemännche’ geht ins Exil‘ (last updated 24 April 2007). URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20070504011712/http://www.bonn.de/umwelt_gesundheit_planen_bauen_wohnen/baustellen/kennedybruecke/00340/index.html [last accessed 12 Dec. 2016]
‘Geiz ist nur die halbe Wahrheit‘, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (9 Aug. 2005). URL: http://www.ksta.de/geiz-ist-nur-die-halbe-wahrheit-13258182 [last accessed 12 Dec. 2016]
 A picture of the bank note can be seen in Rolf Meisinger, ‚Die Kuriositäten der Welt des Geldes (Teil 2)‘, Inter-Focus (28 April 2013). URL: http://inter-focus.de/index.php/de/kultur/geschichte/386-die-kuriosit-ten-der-welt-des-geldes-2 [last accessed 30 Nov. 2016]
 More on Jacobus Linden: ‚Der Bildhauer Jakobus Linden‘, Heimatfreunde Roisdorf eV. URL: http://www.heimatfreunde-roisdorf.com/landschaft/der-bildhauer-jakobus-linden/index.html [last accessed 30 Nov. 2016]
 Jan Niklas Kocks, ‚Deutsche Demokratie: Die Backen gen Frankfurt‘, Frankfurter Rundschau (27 March 2009). URL: http://www.fr-online.de/rhein-main/deutsche-demokratie-die-backen-gen-frankfurt,1472796,3350456.html [last accessed 12 Dec. 2016]
 More on Michael Naundorf’s work: ‚BrückenweibchenBonn Beuel‘, Grabmale Naundorf. URL: http://www.naundorf-bonn.de/bruckenweibchen-bonn-beuel/blog [last accessed 12 Dec. 2016]; ‚Brückenmännchen Bonn Beuel‘, Grabmale Naundorf (10 Jan. 2008). URL: http://www.naundorf-bonn.de/bruckenmannchen-bonn/bruckenmannchen-bonn-beuel [last accessed 12 Dec. 2016]
 Bonner Medien-Club, ‘Der Bröckemännche-Preis des BMC‘. URL: http://www.bonner-medienclub.de/index.php?id=broeckemaennche [last accessed 16 Dec. 2016]