If something or someone “breaks the river,” it – or the person – is either dead, useless, or broken. Attributes that at least do not apply to the Müngsten bridge, although it covered the Wupper at a dizzying height for 125 years. A gigantic bridge that is still considered a masterpiece of engineering art and industrial culture. At the same time, the 500-meter-long Müngsten Bridge can boast of being Germany’s highest railway bridge at 107 meters.
When the structure was completed after almost three years of construction in 1897 and the river crossing was opened to traffic, it was considered an engineering marvel. Not only because the filigree steel arch construction had a span of 170 meters, which was unimaginable at the time. No less than 5,000 tons of steel and 934,456 rails were needed to complete the giant train. According to popular legend, one of the nails is made of solid gold. However, countless “treasure hunters” have yet to succeed in finding the valuable piece.
The bridge was designed by Anton von Rieppel. The engineer and longtime CEO of Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN) planned the construction entirely on the drawing board. The approach of starting the construction of the bridge from two sides, combined with the hope that the individual parts would join together in the middle, was particularly daring. The main arch was built in a free gallery. This means that both halves of the arch were manufactured without additional scaffolding until the end of the arch and at the same time practically took over the technical function for further assembly.
In fact, Rieppel’s bold plan should work. On July 15, 1897, the Müngsten Bridge was officially inaugurated. A pioneering achievement, with the help of which the railway line between Solingen and Remscheid was shortened from 42 to eight kilometers. The bridging impressively documents how technical solutions could challenge the difficulties of the topographical situation. At the same time, the new river crossing became an important source of inspiration for the tool, blade and textile industry in the Bergisches Land, which was mainly located in Solingen, Remscheid and Wuppertal.
At the inauguration, Prince Leopold christened the steel monster “Kaiser Wilhelm Bridge”. Kaiser Wilhelm II himself stayed away from the ceremony. Supposedly because he was angry about the fact that the bridge was not named in his honor but in memory of his grandfather Wilhelm I. After the end of the monarchy, the building was finally named after the nearby settlement of Müngsten in 1918. Wilhelm II personally inspected the bridge on August 12, 1899, almost two years after he was commissioned.
Even without the imperial beauty, the icon of the industrial age has lost none of its appeal to this day. The bridge park, inaugurated in 2006, has more than 200,000 visitors a year. The extensive area under the steel arch bridge is characterized by meadows, forests, many seats and beds as well as direct access to the balcony on the Wupper. Another eye-catcher is the rust-brown steel facade of the Müngsten house, a culinary establishment with a view of the bridge, where the obligatory Bergisch coffee table can also be enjoyed.
The strange carrier bridge is only a stone’s throw away. It “floats” on the Wupper on attached wire ropes and – just like a handcar – is driven only by the muscular strength of the passengers. If this is not adventure enough for you, you can explore the Müngsten bridge from a very special perspective on the so-called bridge path since 2001: daring climbers, secured with ropes, climb a platform at a height of around 100 meters on the bridge . The vaults enjoy breathtaking views of the steel colossus and the Wupper valley.
The gods put sweat before success. And it flows almost inevitably with climbers who are not afraid of heights and are equipped with harnesses, helmets and a walkie-talkie. After all, 777 steps must be mastered in the unusual climb. For comparison: When climbing the Cologne Cathedral, there are “only” 533 steps. But the place of worship on the Rhine is already there, where the Müngsten bridge still wants to be: the church building is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A statue that has been fighting for the landmark above Wupper since 2012.