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Glienicke Bridge – a place full of history

The Glienicke Bridge is one of the less spectacular bridges that connect Berlin and Potsdam. It stretches across the river Havel and wouldn’t be worth a specific mention if it wasn’t the place of the spy swaps during the Cold War.

A first, narrow wooden bridge was built in this location towards the end of the 17th century. This bridge was exclusively for the use of the royals as a connection between their castles in Potsdam and their hunting grounds on the other side of the river.
The bride was opened for stagecoaches in 1754 as this was the only way to ensure a constant flow of mail between the cities. The increase in traffic called for a new bridge, one that had guard houses at both ends. Many coachmen, however, just ignored the checkpoints and so a barrier was added to the bridge.

Glienicke Bridge

In 1831 construction began on the new stone bridge, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. It was a drawbridge without any guard houses.

But this drawbridge, too, had to be replaced by a taller and more stable bridge to serve the requirements that the constantly modernising means of transportation posed. A steel beam construction took its place in 1907 and was named Kaiser-Wilhelm-Brücke (Emperor Wilhelm Bridge). The name never caught on. One of Potsdam’s tram lines crossed the bridge until 1916.

The road across the bridge was expanded to four lanes in 1937. The bridge was made 4.5 meters wider and quickly became one of the most frequented bridges in Germany. The bridge was destroyed in a battle between the German Wehrmacht and the Red Army in April 1945.

A provisional, wooden bridge was placed in its spot until reconstruction started in 1947. The collapsed steel beams were brought back to the surface from the bottom of the river and the surviving pieces were placed back into their original spots in the construction. It was inaugurated in 1949 with high ranking GDR officials present. They gave it the name Bridge of Unity (Brücke der Einheit). A white line right in the middle of the bridge marked the border between the GDR and West-Berlin.

Glienicke Bridge

The bridge was closed to private cars in 1952. Only military vehicles and pedestrians with special authorisation papers were allowed to cross the Havel via the bridge.

Between 1962 and 1986 Glienicke Bridge became the scene of some high stakes spy swaps that stirred international interest. The bridge was chosen because all role players had easy access and because the surrounding areas could be secured perfectly. In three different operations, 40 people were swapped on the bridge.

3 people pulled off a spectacular escape via the bridge on board of a lorry in 1988.

Finally, on the 10th of November 1989, the bridge was re-opened for everyone, including traffic on the road across the bridge, which is now A-road 1. Only a metal strip on the sidewalk remains to remind people of the German division.

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