Germany has a historic (former) bridge to sell you

The Bundeseisenbahnvermögen (BEV), aka the German Federal Railway Authority, is offering an exciting if ominous real estate opportunity: half of the ruins of the Ludendorff Bridge are for sale, price negotiable. The two looming, blackened, massive masonry towers in the town of Erpel on the east bank of the Rhine and their twins on the west side are all that remains of the railway bridge built during World War I to aid in the movement of troops and supplies to the Western Front.

It was barely completed when the war ended and the Allies occupied the strategic site. By the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, the German military was excluded from the entire territory, and specifically from controlling any access points on both sides of the Rhine. It wasn’t until 1936 with the Remilitarization of the Rhineland under Hitler that the Ludendorff Bridge returned to German control.

Germany would enjoy that control for less than a decade. On March 7th, 1945, the U.S. Army’s 9th Armored Division took the bridge. It had been damaged by Allied bombing and German attempts to demolish it before the Allied troops could use it. The underpowered demolition charges had failed to destroy the bridge, giving the Americans the opportunity to move six divisions, 50,000 troops, over it, establish a bridgehead on the east bank and build a pontoon bridge to move the rest of the US forces. On March 17th, the bridge collapsed, killing 28 U.S. Army Engineers who were attempting its repair.

Here is period color film of the bridge before and after it collapsed. The focus is on the spans of the steel bridge itself which is, after all, the key part of any bridge, but the towers on both banks are also in high relief.

The bridge was never rebuilt, and over the years the towers were used for different purposes. Most recently, the east bank towers were used by the Erpel cultural association as galleries, but as of now, they are hardly fit for human habitation, no matter how temporary. From the BEV’s sale listing:

Heating: No
Water supply: None
Windows: Weathered until 6 years ago. Then installation of shipbuilding foil on wooden frame to protect against invading water and small animals. Partially wall-mounted parapets, some bricked windows. […]

It is in need of major refurbishment and due to the danger of falling facade parts, the duty of care must be observed: pedestrians, cyclists and car traffic runs in the immediate vicinity. No residential object.

Notwithstanding its challenges, the bridge has interested buyers, or so says the BEV spokesman. Adding to its dark allure may be the 1969 film The Bridge at Remagen, starring George Segal, Ben Gazzara and Robert Vaughn, which tells a highly dramatized version of the bridge’s role in World War II. It’s not remotely historically accurate, of course, but war movies are adroit mythmakers. It has also been featured in several video games, most recently Call of Duty: Finest Hour.

The towers in Remagen on the west bank of the Rhine are not for sale. They currently host a museum dedicated to the bridge’s history in wartime. Anybody who wants an unheated, waterless, crumbling, lawsuit-waiting-to-happen insurance nightmare that is legally enjoined from being used as housing but comes with a darn cool military history has until May 18th to submit a bid.

7 thoughts on “Germany has a historic (former) bridge to sell you

  1. The museum in the west bank towers is pretty cool and worth a visit if you are in the area. I visited it some years ago. It also commemorates the nearby POW camp where the Allies held thousands of German POWs under pretty grim conditions in 1945.

  2. That is pretty close to the site, where Julius Caeser erected (and teared down) his second bridge over the Rhine in 53BC. His forces raided the countryside, but did not encounter significant opposition. Upon returning, the bridge was again taken down.

    (De Bello Gallico, bk.6, 9):

    Caesar, postquam ex Menapiis in Treveros venit, duabus de causis Rhenum transire constituit; quarum una erat, quod auxilia contra se Treveris miserant, altera, ne ad eos Ambiorix receptum haberet. His constitutis rebus paulum supra eum locum quo ante exercitum traduxerat facere pontem instituit. …

    Caesar, after he came from the territories of the Menapii into those of the Treviri, resolved for two reasons to cross the Rhine; one of which was, because they had sent assistance to the Treviri against him; the other, that Ambiorix might not have a retreat among them. Having determined on these matters, he began to build a bridge a little above that place where he had before conveyed over his army. …

    Coming back to the modern bridge site a few meters down the river, the western Remagen side is where later the Roman ‘Rigomagus’ fort was erected, while the east bank at Erpel looks hardly suitable for railway crossing, due to massive rocks right behind it (cf. ‘Erpeler Ley’).

  3. Ah, the perfect home to set up my organ, which I especially enjoy playing on dark and stormy nights when the electricity supply is a bit flickery.

  4. In the Golden Age of the US some entrepreneur would have bought it, demolished it stone by stone, and re-erected it in a desert in Arizona.

  5. Oddly enough, the eastern abutment is built right up against a mountain, the above mentioned Erpeler Ley, and the railroad went straight into a tunnel from the bridge. That is not an obvious crossing site and I suspect that it was built there because during WW1 all the obvious crossing sites were already in use. There was probably a gap in railway net in this area and it was figured that a tunnel was a small price to pay for the bridge site.

  6. Hi George, indeed, I was wondering about aerial photos of ‘Erpel Ley’ that I saw, and how the bridge could ever have been supposed to work, …i.e. until the tunnel was later clearly visible in the video.


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