Predecessor to Kennedy Bridge The most beautiful bridge in the Rhineland once stood in Bonn

Bonn · If it still existed, it could be favourably compared with the other great bridges of the world. But the old Rhine Bridge was blown up in the Second World War. Today, the Kennedy Bridge stands in its place.

Petra Clemens simply thinks it is “a real shame” that the German armed forces blew up the old Rhine Bridge shortly before the end of the Second World War, thus sacrificing this architectural treasure for strategic reasons. The managing director of the Beuel Homeland and History Association is certain: if it were still standing today, the magnificent Rhine Bridge would favourably compare with the other great bridges of the world.

“The old bridge, a three-span arched bridge with a total length of 432 metres and a span of nearly 188 metres for the main arch, became the pride and joy of Bonn citizens and a magnet for tourists,” says Petra Clemens, who works part-time as a city guide for StattReisen Bonn and offers the tour “Bonn’s water is good” among others. The Rhine Bridge played a key role. “It was the most beautiful and largest bridge in the Rhineland, full of art nouveau and neo-romantic elements,” enthuses Clemens. “It was a technical feat – the largest arched bridge in the world at the time and in Bonn!”

Bridge tolls and “Bröckemännche”

The opening of the Rhine Bridge on 17 December 1898 was a milestone for traffic, industry and trade. Until then, a type of ferry had to be used to cross the Rhine that could not run during low or high water, storms, icy conditions, fog and in darkness. The ferry steamer also stopped operating at night. The commemorative publication for the opening of the Rhine Bridge states: “Year after year it was the case that in winter, especially after dark, traffic between the two banks was often completely suspended for weeks.”

This unsatisfactory state of affairs jeopardised the provision of services and exchange of goods between the two Rhine banks. Many people from the villages on the right bank of the Rhine had to come to Bonn to shop – or to offer their own goods for sale. Others worked in Bonn and Poppelsdorf. Conversely, many Bonners had to go to work in the factories in Beuel or Oberkassel.

The construction of the bridge nearly failed because of financing, as neither the province nor the state contributed. And the district of Vilich did not want to contribute the planned ten per cent or 25,000 marks, but only 2500 marks, as it did not like the location of the bridge. In the end they did not contribute anything to the costs. The Bonners responded to the troublemakers by mounting the “Bröckemännche” on the bridgehead of the Beuel side. These were funny goblins carved from stone with their backsides turned to the people arriving from Beuel.

To recoup the costs of the bridge, the city of Bonn levied a bridge toll from the start. The toll houses were located on the Bonn side. Everyone had to pay to cross. Each person, including any load, paid 5 pfennigs. Children who could be carried in the arms were not charged bridge tolls. Accompanying animals were also paid for: horses or mules 15 pfennigs, cattle or donkeys ten pfennigs, small animals such as foals, sheep, goats or pigs three pfennigs and poultry three pfennigs for up to ten animals.

City guide Petra Clemens can tell many more stories about the old Rhine Bridge: about the rescue of the “Bröckemännchen”, the ferry traffic after the destruction of the old bridge until the opening of the new Rhine bridge on 12 November 1949, about it being renamed the Kennedy bridge only 10 days after the assassination of the US president in 1963 as well as the last extensive renovation from 2007 to 2011.

(Original text: Sascha Stienen. Translation: kc)

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