Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’s Custom Wall’

Oberbaumbruecke – mock medieval bridge

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Of the city’s nearly 1,000 bridges, Berlin’s Oberbaumbruecke (Oberbaum Bridge) is by far the most striking. Its Backsteingotik (brick gothic) towers, pointed arches, turrets, cross vaults and arched walkways hark back to its city gate past. The double-deck bridge with its seven arches spans the River Spree. Vehicles and pedestrians use the lower deck; Berlin’s bright yellow underground tram, the U-Bahn, uses the upper deck.

  • Berlin's Oberbaumbruecke spans the River Spree between the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

    Berlin’s Oberbaumbruecke spans the River Spree between the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

What does the name “Oberbaumbruecke” mean?

The bridge got its name from the spike-covered tree trunk that was lowered into the river each night during Friedrich Wilhelm I, King of Prussia’s reign. The purpose was to prevent the passage of ships without paying taxes. “Baum” means tree in German; thus the name “Oberbaumbruecke” can be translated to mean “Upper Tree Bridge.” There was also an “Unterbaumbruecke,” a “Lower Tree Bridge” downstream.

The Oberbaumbruecke’s history

Archival evidence shows that around 1724 a timber bridge on pilings was constructed close to the location of the current bridge. When King Friedrich Wilhelm I established a customs border in 1732, the bridge formed the border between Berlin and the surrounding State of Brandenburg. Between 1737 and 1860, the Oberbaumbruecke functioned as one of 14 city gates and was an integral part of Berlin’s Custom Wall.

At the end of the 18th century the wooden barriers were replaced with stone walls, and in 1860 the Customs Wall was removed altogether. At the end of the 19th century, when plans for an elevated railway required a reinforced structure, a granite bridge with a brick façade was built. Architectural details included the current mock medieval turrets, reminiscent of the old toll bridge and city gate function.

Backsteingotik mock medieval turrets of Berlin's Oberbaumbruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Backsteingotik mock medieval turrets of Berlin’s Oberbaumbruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

In April 1945 the German military blew up the middle section of the bridge to prevent the Red Army from crossing it. After the war ended and Berlin was divided into four sectors, the Oberbaumbruecke crossed between the American and the Soviet sector. Until the mid-1950s pedestrians, motor vehicles and the underground tram were able to cross the bridge without difficulty.

The Oberbaumbruecke and the Berlin Wall

But with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 the bridge became part of the border between East Berlin and West Berlin. The River Spree at this location belonged to East Berlin so that East German fortifications extended all the way to the shore on the West Berlin side. The West Berlin underground tram, the U-Bahn, was forced to terminate at the previous stop. Between 1963 and 1989, the Oberbaumbruecke served as a pedestrian border crossing for West Berlin residents only. Only pedestrians were allowed to cross. The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification in 1990, the bridge was restored and reopened to pedestrians and motorized traffic at the end of 1994.


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