A stroll through Berlin Mitte takes you to the Schleusengraben, a smaller canal on the Spree. Here you will find the Jungfernbrücke, which connects the Friedrichsgracht with the Unterwasserstraße.
It must have been around 1688 or 1689 that Frederick III had a bridge built over the Spree Canal. The exact date is not known and it was not until almost 100 years later that a chronicler reported on this bridge. If one had known at that time that this bridge would one day be something special, one would certainly be able to read more about it today.
Thus, in its day, it was “only” a wooden drawbridge over the Spree Canal that connected Friedrichsgracht with Alte Leipziger Straße, which led to the city gate. Today it is the oldest surviving bridge in Berlin.
If you stand on the lock bridge, you look down the lock moat and if you walk along the bank, you quickly reach the Jungfernbrücke.
How the Jungfernbrücke got its name
It is not clear why the Jungfernbrücke (Maiden Bridge) bears this name, but there are a number of legends surrounding the origin of the name.
Near the bridge was a river bathing establishment for men. The maidens were not allowed to go there and had to stay behind at the bridge.
Near the bridge was the oldest brothel in Berlin. The “light girls” are said to have offered themselves to their clientele at and on the bridge.
The wedding tradition
The bride had to cross the bridge after the wedding. If the wooden planks on the bridge creaked, her virginity was doubted. It’s just a pity that the wooden planks actually always creaked.
The Blanchet family
The inn “Französischer Hof” was located directly at the bridge. Here religious refugees from France, like the Blanchet family, had found accommodation. The family had nine daughters who sewed fine linens and repaired clothes in a booth by the bridge. They must have been very good at their work and they had an excellent reputation in the area. A special reputation was also enjoyed by their sharp tongues, which spread gossip without restraint.
If you wanted to have your laundry repaired or be brought up to date on private life in the city, you went to the maidens at the bridge.
It is said that it was during the time of Elector Frederick William that a murder occurred at the bridge.
A beautiful young girl was to marry a rich old man. However, she had fallen in love with a man her own age and wanted nothing to do with the old man. Again and again she mocked the old man when he courted her.
One day they pulled the girl’s body out of the water and found that she had been strangled.
The young friend of the girl was suspected. A witness was quickly found, it was the rejected old admirer. He testified that the young couple had argued on the bridge, and that the young boy had strangled the girl and thrown her into the river.
No one believed the young man’s protestations of innocence, which meant his death.
An old blind man who lived by the bridge gave the story a twist. He had been standing at the window the night of the crime, listening to the sounds of the night. He, too, had heard an argument in which the young girl had been involved. However, she was arguing with someone who had a much older and quite unique voice. The confrontation with witnesses and accused revealed the truth. The blind man clearly recognized the voice of the old man, the witness. It was with him that the girl had argued. Thus he was able to prove the innocence of the young lad, who was released.
Since the young girl was a maiden when she was murdered, the bridge was now called the Maiden Bridge.
History of the bridge
Until the construction of the Landwehr Canal in 1850 and the Mühlendamm Lock in 1890-93, the Spree Canal was the only inner-city shipping link between the Upper and Lower Spree rivers.
The original bridge structure was replaced on 1798 by a new bridge made of wood and iron. The central part of the bridge could be raised by a system of chains and wheels. This allowed the ships to pass.
After the Mühlendamm lock was renewed in 1937-39 and the riverbed was deepened, the foundation of the bridge had to be renewed and the piers extended by three meters. At that time, the folding mechanism of the bridge was shut down. The ramps leading to the bridge were replaced by steps, and the bridge became usable only for pedestrians.
Until today, the bridge has been renovated and monumentalized several times. Thus, it is still possible to walk across this bridge over the sluice ditch.