The Ludendorff Bridge Erpel - Remagen
Producer of the printed broshure: Village community of Erpel

Whoever arrives in Erpel on state road B-42 coming from Linz will notice the two black towers on both sides of the river Rhine. These towers are what remains of the former railroad bridge between Erpel and Remagen.

General Ludendorff had this bridge built considering military reasons. He wanted a path across the river to guarantee a faster and better connection between the "Ruhrgebiet" and the western border. The Cologne based construction company Grün & Bilfinger started in 1916 to build the two railroad tracks. Russian POWs were used during construction. The final result in 1918 was a 4,642-ton bridge with one unique feature: on the Erpel side of the Rhine river it led into a tunnel through the mountain "Erpeler Ley", which was carved for this very purpose. The excavation material was transported to the north side of the village in small lorries. Today this site is the location of the recreational sports area "Auf der Kipp" (loose translation of "Lorry Dump Site").

Numerous nature activists protested against the construction. They feared that the beauty of the Rhine valley at this point would be destroyed. After it was finished the bridge was considered to be among the most beautiful bridges along the river Rhine. The Rhine has a width of about 250 m at its location, with the bridge spanning 325 m and a 383 m long tunnel through the "Erpeler Ley".

After its completion the bridge was named after General Ludendorff. The towers on the Rhine shore resembles fortresses. They were equipped with embrasures, troop accommodations, and storage rooms. The high plateaus on top of the towers provided for far-reaching surveillance. The bridge itself was easily and quickly converted for road and pedestrian use: wooden planks could cover up the railroad tracks. While intended as a logistics backbone before WW-I it only served as a retreat pathway for the beaten German Army in 1918.

Later the bridge received new significance for the residents of Erpel and Remagen. Since the bridge had a pedestrian walkway residents could walk from on village to the other very quickly across the dividing river.

When WW-II started nobody would have guessed that this bridge would gain the importance that it did. On September 4, 1944, allied forces started to bomb all Rhine bridges in order to interrupt the connection of the German forces to the western front. Even the Ludendorff Bridge wasn't spared. During a raid of 33 bombers on October 9, 1944, it was damaged and erroneously reported as destroyed. Regular railroad and pedestrian traffic resumed on November 9, 1944. During a raid on December 29, 1944, four more bombs damaged the bridge again. More raids were flown during January and February of 1945. Every time the bridge could be repaired and used again. All these air raid were devastating for the little village Erpel. During the raids Erpel residents sought shelter against the daily raids in the railroad tunnel and an old gallery, then known as the "Dwarfs Hole", now known as "Mariengrotte".

In the first days of March 1945 the bridge was being equipped with planks just like in WW-I. Preparations were taken to be able to destroy the bridge in case of an enemy attack. As a precautionary measure the charges were only to be deployed when the enemy was less than 8 km away. The bridge in Cologne-Mülheim was destroyed accidentally because a bomb hit had set off the charges. This should not happen a second time.

On March 7, 1945, the Ludendorff-Bridge got into the spotlight of world history. American troops were heading for Remagen and the order to destroy the bridge was given. Two attempts to destroy the bridge were unsuccessful. The first time the explosives did not detonate. The second time the bridge was lifted a bit, but fell back into its bearings. The following events took place in quick sequence: American troops crossed the bridge around 4 pm and established their first bridge-head in Erpel. This day is known as the "Wonder of Remagen" in the history books.

The Ludendorff-Bridge helped American troops with their offensive on the right side of the river Rhine until March 17, 1945. Around 3pm on that day a loud bang could be heard, followed by the thunder and rumbling of twisting iron. This happened so quickly that almost nobody was able to get away. 7 people died in the ice-cold water, 18 are still missing, and 66 were injured (of which 3 died later on). That day marked the end of the bridge, only 29 years after its construction.

The two bridge towers that remain on both sides of the Rhine and the closed tunnel entrances don't tell the sad stories of the suffering of the Rhine village at the time. 54 % of Erpel was destroyed during the bridge bombings. All the buildings between Erpel's market place and the bridge - all built during the 17th and 18th century - as well as many other old tutor style houses in the village's center were destroyed. Numerous civilians were killed during the bombings as well.

In the years after the end of the war Erpel was not only re-built through the extreme diligence of its residents, but expanded. Fortunately the medieval character of the old village center could be conserved to the most part. In 1968 Erpel celebrated its anniversary "1500 years village history - 800 years Beauty of Erpel". The celebration marked the official end of the after-war-reconstruction. To commemorate the casualties of the Ludendorff-Bridge and the bridge-head in Erpel the residents had already placed a memorial peace cross on top of the "Erpeler Ley" a few years after the war. It is visible from far away and proclaims the urge for peace.

Today Erpel and Remagen are in possession of the bridge towers on the respective sides of the Rhine river. In 1992 they were placed under monumental protection. The two pillar in the Rhine were removed in 1976 to eliminate dangers for Rhine shipping. Remagen set up a peace museum in its towers. A visit to this museum is highly recommended! Erpel's towers remain empty at this time. During the early 80s the area between the towers and the Rhine shore was landscaped and includes a large lawn with flower beds and a parking area. A commemorative plaque was erected which quotes the words of Germany's first chancellor Konrad Adenauer:
"Peace without freedom is no peace"
.


Tremendous financial, material, and human effort was necessary to construct the Ludendorff Bridge and its railroad tunnel through the "Erpeler Ley" in such a short time.


Manual labor was necessary - as seen here during the concrete construction of the northern tunnel exit out of concrete. Excavated material from the tunnel and track was deposited about 500 m north of the site.


The American advancement continues east bound across the Ludendorff Bridge while German soldiers are lead into captivity.


A GI patrols the road on Erpel's Rhine shore. The bridge head in Erpel, back then known as the "Berlin Shore", could be expanded rapidly.


The damage from the unsuccessful blasting is visible on the right pillar. Also, some of the beams in the middle section have no more connection to the bridge floor.


The severely damaged bridge collapsed on March 17, 1945. Even with the newly built pontoon bridge as a relief the stress had become too great.


American medics try to rescue injured soldiers from under the ruins. Many that were working on bridge repairs died during the collapse.


This aerial photo was taken shortly after the collapse of the Ludendorff Bridge. On the back left the remains of the severely damaged village Erpel are visible.

This plaque was donated in 1988 by Heinz Schwarz, MoP, former state secretary of internal affairs of Rheinland-Pfalz. At the time of the war activities he was a air cannon helper and experienced the events around the bridge first hand. The tunnel through the mountain is still owned by the railroad company Deutsche Bahn. For about 15 years it was utilized for mushroom cultivation. Up until a few years ago it was leased to Bonn University, which conducted seismic measurements here.

Many of those who experienced the events around the Ludendorff-Bridge at the end of WW-II return to its former location again and again. "It brings back memories" one of the veterans said. Along with another 130 veterans he had come to visit the bridge for a memorial service on March 8, 1985.

"The reception is much warmer than it was then" smiles 80-year old Alexander Drabik, who was the first soldier that crossed the bridge on March 7, 1945. He represented all his comrades on September 12, 1991, when the 78th and 99th Infantry Division were put into the Golden Book of the community of Erpel during a visit of WW-II veterans in Germany. "This time in peace" reads the basalt stone memorial, which was erected 46 years after the capture of the bridge on the green in front of towers in Erpel.
In 1995 many of American and German veterans returned for a memorial service in Erpel.

They wanted to remember the events 50 years past and remind the world that peace is the only way for all people on earth to coexist.