Sublime and busiest railway bridgeYour cathedral, your Rhine, your bridge: With its three charismatic wave-like arches, the Hohenzollernbrücke (Hohenzollern Bridge), along with the Cathedral and the Rhine, shapes the cityscape of Cologne. Even if it is not considered Cologne’s largest bridge, it certainly leaves an impression. This is not only due to the multitude of love locks for which the Hohenzollern Bridge has recently become famous. Actually, the bridge was already well known in 1913, when it was painted by the expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
With a length of over 400 metres, the Hohenzollern Bridge is a mighty steel structure that stretches powerfully across the Rhine. As a pedestrian, an almost sublime moment awaits you when you pass over the bridge along with heavy railway waggons. In doing so, you will walk past thousands upon thousands of love locks.
The rewarding footpath begins directly behind the Museum Ludwig and the Philharmonie. From the other side, i.e. from Deutz, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Cologne’s city centre — with the Hohenzollern Bridge and the Cathedral behind it — as well as a view of Cologne’s Altstadt (Old Town) to the left.
Needs great resilience: 1,500 train crossings per dayIn the past, the bridge was also designed for road traffic, but today only trains, pedestrians and bicycles pass over it. In conjunction with Cologne’s main train station, the bridge is one of the most important hubs for German rail traffic. As Germany’s busiest railway bridge it experiences around 1,500 train crossings a day and thus vibrates impressively.
Love is in on the bridgeBoth the desire for eternal love and the need to indicate it with a sign have an unbroken tradition for many people: While it was once the carved heart in the tree or D+T with the sharpie pen on the school toilet door, today lovers in Germany and throughout Europe show and strengthen their love mainly with durable and extremely visible padlocks. Since 2008, thousands of locks have also been glittering on the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne: close together, like a metal body full of vows of love.
The keys to the symbolic Cologne love locks rest at the bottom of “Father Rhine”, because lovers throw the keys irretrievably into the river from above. That's the custom.
Tons of love stories: The number and weight of the locksBy the way, one of the most frequently asked questions in Cologne is how many love locks are already hanging on the Hohenzollern Bridge. While the estimates in 2011 were around 40,000, the amount of love locks today probably exceeds several hundred thousand.
On the basis of the density of suspended locks per metre, a physicist calculated in 2015 that there were about 500,000 +/-200,000 locks — an enormous deviation from the estimate made a few years earlier. However, the weight of the locks (about 45 tonnes) is probably not a safety concern for the statics.
Even if you certainly don’t want to count the locks, it’s worth looking at them. Behind every lock is a story, a moment when people made a promise to each other or wanted to set a sign: for love, friendship, gratitude, fellowship or even a memory of a beautiful time. You can infer something of this from the locks, the engravings and the inscriptions — and you won’t be the first person this causes to think about life and love.
A brief digression: more details about the custom of hanging love locksThe custom with the locks probably originated in Italy and from there it has inexorably spread to other countries. The locks are mainly hung on bridge railings. Depending on the stability of the bridge, the weight of love is of course an issue, so some cities have already issued bans, especially on listed bridges.
Other bridges with love locks in Europe: collapses and lock bansIn 2014, for example, the railing of the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris collapsed under the weight of the locks. If you hang a lock on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, it can cost you up to €3,000 in fines.
In Cologne, you can still immortalize your love in the form of a lock, because Deutsche Bahn does not currently consider the love locks to be a danger to the bridge statics. The statement from 2018 that all the love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge would have to be removed over the next few years was retracted. All you have to do now is find a free spot for your expression of attachment.
Construction history and general history of Hohenzollern BridgeThe Hohenzollern Bridge was built from 1907 to 1911 and inaugurated by Emperor Wilhelm II. It consisted of three side-by-side truss arch bridges, each with three arches, which have become characteristic of German steel structures and bridge building. Its pillars are made of reinforced concrete, the arches of steel. The bridge has a total weight of 24,000 tonnes.
Original equestrian statues preservedWhile one part of the bridge was reserved for road traffic and trams, the other two carried railway tracks. The access ramps were flanked by equestrian statues of Prussian kings and emperors from the House of Hohenzollern. They have been preserved. Next to the Museum Ludwig stands the equestrian statue of Emperor Wilhelm II, who as a friend of architecture promoted the construction of the bridge. Unfortunately, the original portal structures and towers of the Hohenzollern Bridge no longer exist.
Hohenzollern Bridge: from “mousetrap” to six-track railway bridgeThe Hohenzollern Bridge is the only bridge in Cologne that was not destroyed by bombs during World War II. However, on March 6, 1945, the German army blew up the bridge to make it difficult for the Allies to cross the Rhine.
After the war, only the two railway bridges were rebuilt for rail traffic and opened in 1948. Two more truss arches were added between 1956 and 1959, and from 1986 to 1987. Today, the Hohenzollern Bridge is a six-track railway bridge with a path for pedestrians and cyclists.
The predecessor of the Hohenzollern Bridge was the Cathedral Bridge, built from 1855 to 1859, which was no longer able to cope with the increasing rail traffic. The bridge, which was popularly known as “Muusfall”, i.e. mousetrap, was gradually replaced by the new bridge while operations continued.
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