The Krämerbrücke (Merchants' bridge) is a medieval bridge in the city of Erfurt, in Thuringia in central Germany, which is lined with inhabited, half timbered buildings on both sides. It is unique in Europe. The footbridge spans the Breitstrom, a branch of Gera River, connecting Benediktsplatz and Wenigemarkt.
History and construction
The bridge was built next to a ford and was part of the Via Regia, a medieval trade and pilgrims' road network, which linked Rome with the Baltic Sea, and Moscow with Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. The Krämerbrücker is on the route from the river Rhine to Silesia, which was awarded the title of a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 2005. This is also one of the main routes of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James pilgrimage.
Originally constructed from wood, the bridge was first mentioned in 1117 after its destruction by one of the many fires. The first documentary evidence as “pons rerum venalium”, i.e. "the market bridge", dates back to 1156. Merchants and trades people had already set up market stalls on both sides of the bridge by this date.
Because of repeated fires in 1175, 1178, 1213, 1222, 1245, 1265, and 1293, the municipal administration acquired all bridge rights from the monasteries in 1293 in order to build a stone bridge. This was completed in 1325, with uninhabited, half-timbered trading stalls on top of it. At both bridgeheads stone churches with gated entrance-ways were erected; at the western end St. Benedicti and at the eastern end St. Aegidien. St Aegidien was previously a bridge chapel (first mentioned in 1110).
The 79 m long arch bridge is constructed of limestone and sandstone, and consists of six visible barrel vaults with diameters ranging from 4.8 m to 7.8 m.
After a fire in 1472, which destroyed nearly half of the city and the market stalls on the bridge, it was reconstructed in its current form with 62 half-timbered buildings. The three-storey houses are 13 m to 15 m in height. To make them habitable, the depth was extended by using wooden “Sprengwerke” (trusses or bracing) next to the arched vaults, so that the buildings partially overhang the stone bridge structure. The width of the bridge, as completed in 1486, is 26 m. The road between the two rows of buildings is 5.5 m wide.
The name Krämerbrücke, which means "merchants' bridge", has been in common usage since 1510.
The St. Benedicti Church was sold in 1807 and later demolished, apart from its tower, in 1810, in order to build a new house. In 1895 the tower had to give way to the newly built Rathausbrücke (town hall bridge), which crosses the river parallel to the Krämerbrücke. When the Rathausbrücke was being planned, the idea of completely demolishing the Krämerbrücke was discussed.
Because of its special significance in Erfurt's history, and the history of European medieval architecture in general, the Krämerbrücke was granted special preservation status. All buildings were restored from 1967 to 1973 and extensive repair works were done to the vaults in 1985/1986 and 2002. Since then the bridge may be used by cars up to a weight of 11 tons.
Today the shops at street level house businesses such as antique shops, wine merchants, art galleries, artisans' workshops and specialist food outlets, cafes, etc. A bakery operates from a shop under the bridge at its western end. The upper levels of the buildings are mainly inhabited apartments. Except for the buildings numbered 15, 20, 24 and 33, all the other dwellings on the bridge are municipal property.
The bridge is one of Erfurt's main tourist attractions and a must-see, as the only other remaining medieval bridge of a similar type is the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The Krämerbrücke is still in fairly much the same use as it has been for over 500 hundred years.
The municipal administration maintains a foundation for the conservation of this unique historical monument, the Krämerbrücke Foundation. In the “House of Foundations” (Krämerbrücke 31), there is a permanent exhibition about the past and present of the Krämerbrücke, together with a 1:100 model of it. The information centre also provides information on the organisations that ensure that the bridge is properly maintained and promoted; these are:
- Krämerbrücke Foundation
- German Foundation for Monument Protection
- Elisabeth and Fritz Thayssen Foundation Hamburg
The greatest city festival of Erfurt is named after the bridge: Krämerbrückenfest. It is held in the area surrounding the bridge and in the old town annually in June.
- Dietrich Baumbach, Hans-Jörg Vockrodt: Historische Bogen- und Gewölbebrücken der Stadt Erfurt. Habel, 2000, ISBN 3-00-006938-0.
- Eberhard Sander, Antje Thiemar, Gitta Müller: Krämerbrücke Erfurt. In: Steinbrücken in Deutschland. Verlag Bau + Technik, 1999, ISBN 3-7640-0389-8, S. 392–402.
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- http://www.erfurt-web.de/Krämer Bridge