Co-written with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, whose article is known as Mystery Bridge Nr. 114 with the same title as here……
HOF (SAALE)- This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the borders connecting East and West Germany. On 9th November, 1989 the East German government, caving into the pressure by its own people as well as both the US and Soviet Union announced the opening of the Berlin Wall and with it, the borders that separated East and West, starting with the Dreiländereck near Prex (Bavaria) where Bavaria, Saxony and the Czech Republic meet and slicing through mountains, rivers and valleys until its terminus east of Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein.
While many museums and historic sites have preserved some of the relicts from the time of the fall, many other places along the border have fallen into disarray and now, overgrowth has taken over, erasing the area that once was a scar in Germany’s history. Yet in the case of this mystery site, there are some questions that have to be answered, like the following as seen in the pics below:
1. Why are there windows built into the bridge’s wingwalls on the Bavarian side apart from the fact that they are resting areas for bats and birds?
2. Why are there entrances to tunnels that have long since been walled shut?
3. Why do we have ruins south of the bridge that represented places that used to be inhabited? – Among the places, there are a pair of chimneys sticking out, one of which was made of metal and is over 80 years old plus old machinery that is long since been abandoned.
4. Why are there kilometer markers on the Bavarian side using the English decimal system with periods?
To answer number 4 right away, we have to take a look at the Autobahn Viaduct located at the aforementioned site and its history in connection with the division between East and West Germany. Construction of the bridge began in 1937 and was completed in 1940 with the plan to carry the motorway from Hof to Chemnitz. The bridge features three main arches with two thinner arches in between, making it one of the most unique structures among the viaducts along the Motorway A 72. At 268 meters long, the bridge is one of the shortest along the highway but at the same time, one of the tallest with a height of 39 meters above the River Saale. The bridge was built using many variants of granite that was quarried in regions near Hof as well as in the Lausitz region, using manual labor consisting of prisoners from the concentration camps at Flossenburg and Mauthausen. The bridge’s service was short-lived as the war progressed and work on another viaduct at Pirk (west of Plauen) was halted. After the war, the viaduct was reopened for a short time, but because of the reconstruction of another viaduct at the East-West border at Rudolphstein in 1966, approximately 10 kilometers away along the Berlin-Munich Motorway (A9), this crossing, together with the Motorway 72 was shut down between Plauen and Hof, never to reopen until 19 December, 1989.
Even though the River Saale formed a border between Bavaria and Saxony, the viaduct was located five kilometers west of the border where the Hochfranken Interchange with A 72 and A 93 meet. In fact, the border zig-zagged its way to the Saale at Hirschberg, where it continues westwards past the border crossing at Rudolphstein, towards Bad Lobenstein. Even though the bridge and the motorway were rendered useless during the Cold War, it served as a key point for American troops which was to protect the area from a possible attacks from the east and in some cases, help those who crossed the border to the west. Yet with the Rudolphstein Viaduct reopened to international crossings, the bridge near Hof was nothing more than part of the area Americans were patroling before 1989.
Looking at the first question involving the windows in the wingwalls, however, this one is a mystery. While some sources have claimed that the windows with gates are now used as habitats for rare forms of birds and bats, its straight-line arrangement in three floors makes it appear that there may be offices that were in there- either police or jails, or other administration that may have existed during the Third Reich. This makes the most sense given the second and third questions mentioned here. To the south of the bridge are several openings with tunnels that have long since been walled shut, plus ruins that indicated that the place was inhabited.
According to some sources, there used to be a castle named Burg Saalestein, which was first mentioned in 1524 and was established based on the discovery of minerals to be used for ceramics and the like, for they could be used. Stone walls and graves are all that remain, together with some houses that belong to a restaurant bearing the same name of Saalestein. The houses are fenced which allows for private ownership and a limited allowance of guests. Yet at the bridge, openings to tunnels and underground huts- characterized by 3/4 buried burrows with rusted chimneys sticking out. Two of them were found in my discovery. Plus rusted machinery indicated that the area was occupied during modern times. As the Nazis during the 1930s and 40s constructed a network of underground tunnels in mountain areas throughout all of Germany, the former Saalestein site was used as some sort of fallout shelter, where residents could take cover during the bombings, which also affected Hof during the last year of World War II. The tunnel network was later walled shut but chances are, the Americans may have used it later.
To summarize: The bridge spanning the Saale needed three years to build but only five years of traffic before it was rendered useless. The question is what the bridge was used for between 1945 and 1990. The openings in the wingwalls on the western side was used as office space but how it is unknown. And lastly, what became of the castle of Saalestein after the 16th Century and what role did the Nazis and later American troops played in utilizing the ruins?
What do you know about the bridge and the area? Feel free to comment below or contact Jason Smith using the contact form enclosed here. The area has a lot of history much of which has yet to be discovered, Can you help? 🙂
Photo gallery with the pics of the bridge and the ruins can be found here.
From 1945 until 1990, Germany was divided into two countries but four zones occupied by the allies of the US, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The Soviets were responsible for the region which is today Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Mecklenburg- Pommerania, Brandenburg and East Berlin. The Americans were responsible for much of the southern part of Germany, including Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, Hesse and parts of North Rhine-Westphalia, yet it consolidated its territories with Britain and France in 1949 prior to the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany.