This striking two-tier bridge, the Oberbaumbrücke, has quite a story to tell, tied closely to the recent history of Berlin.
The original bridge dates back to the early eighteenth century and the structure has obviously undergone a number of changes and replacements. By 1879, the 154 metre-long structure was the longest bridge in Berlin but could no longer cope with the amount of traffic. This lack of capacity, combined with plans to build the U-bahn, required significant changes. Plans were drawn up and the chosen architect, Otto Stahn, designed it in North German Brick Gothic, in the style of a city gate. The elaborate crossing with its seven arches, its turrets and castellation, was completed in 1896 , just in time for the Berlin Trades Exhibition.
In 1902 the first segment of the U-Bahn opened and the bridge grew in importance, but sadly, in 1945, the Wehrmacht blew up the middle section of the bridge in an attempt to stop the Red Army from crossing.
The bridge’s fate was changed again by the post-war division of the city into four sectors; it was now a crossing point between the US and Soviet sectors. But bigger changes were to come. In 1961, East Germany built the Wall in an attempt to stop the brain drain from East to West Berlin and the U-bahn no longer ran into the West. The distinctive bridge became a symbol of the split between East and West and was a controlled crossing point.
It was not until after the Wall came down, that the bridge could finally return to its previous appearance and use. A replacement steel middle section was designed by Santiago Calatrava. Five years after the Wall came down, the bridge reopened to pedestrians and traffic and the U-Bahn line was reopened a year later.
If you fancy admiring the bridge for a while, there is a bar and urban beach adjacent to the road bridge. Why not relax a while on one of the benches and imagine you are Jason Bourne (The Bourne Supremacy was filmed here in 2004) in a taxi on your way to the Westin Grand Hotel.
If benches aren’t comfortable enough for you, there are always deck chairs just around the corner – a far cry from the days of barbed wire and armed guards.
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 31 May 2015