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
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
damaged bridge collapsed on March 17, 1945. Even with the newly built pontoon
bridge as a relief the stress had become too great.
medics try to rescue injured soldiers from under the ruins. Many that were
working on bridge repairs died during the collapse.
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
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