There’s a great triumvirate at the heart of Cologne – the Hauptbahnhof with its mighty single-span cast iron roof, an intimidating heavyweight Gothic cathedral, 600 years in the making with the largest façade in the world and the Museum Ludwig, home to one of the most comprehensive collections of the art of Modernism. This is also the point at which the railway crosses the Rhine on the massive structure of the tied arch triple span Hohenzollern Bridge. The present bridge is essentially the third at this location although the two latter bridges (of 1911 and 1948) are of similar size and appearance. They were preceded by the smaller Dombrücke (also known as Feste brücke), completed in 1859. The 1911 Hohenzollern was blown up by the Wehrmacht in 1945 to obstruct the Allied advance.
A great feature of the Hohenzollern is the provision of pedestrian footways, much enhancing the attraction of Cologne as an ideal city for bridge-walking – cross bridge A, walk to bridge B, cross that and walk to bridge C and carry on until the supply of bridges or energy runs out. Since the summer of 2008 thousands of young romantics have attached love padlocks to the bridge. The bridge operator, Deutsche Bundesbahn, was forced to back down on its plan to remove them, since when they’ve proliferated to the point where virtually no space remains. Meanwhile on the river bed there’s a long ribbon of keys to confound future generations of archaeologists.
Super-sized equestrian figures of various Prussian Kaisers and Kings in full battledress stand, combat-ready on both sides of the bridge. Some appear to be survivors from the original 1859 bridge and remind us of the special value that military strategists place on lines of communication. This figure is Kaiser Friedrich III whose reign lasted a mere 99 days in 1888.