For the past two years, the devil’s bridge in Germany was closed to the public. The reason for the closure was an extensive restoration of the iconic monument. The perfectly arched stone bridge rose to fame in recent years due to Instagram. In May 2021, the Rakotz Bridge restoration process was completed and the monument reopened to visitors.
The devil’s bridge in Germany, called Rakotz Bridge, lies within the parkland of Kromlau’s rhododendron park. Its unusual design and impressive build are often described as something straight out of Middle Earth. Photographers from all over the world have captured its enchanting charm and shared it on Instagram. This in turn attracted even more attention. Soon, the idyllic and sleepy village of Kromlau saw a spike in visitors since 2016.
The rhododendron park, Germany’s oldest parkland, is free to visit and highlights the harmonic amalgamation of nature and rural living. During a four-year hiatus, the bridge was restored in an extensive and dramatic undertaking. I visited the site on its reopening in May 2021. Whilst exploring the grounds, I noticed a lack of English information. As the region lies on the border to Poland, I understand the target audience is Slavic/Polish-speaking. However, the bridge and the parklands are stunning and I hope my post can inspire the one or other English reader to seek it out next summer.
I asked the Tourist Information in Kromlau if they had any promotional material in English. The answer was no. BUT, they shared their new brochure on the Rakotz Bridge restoration with me. I’ve read all 50 pages and compiled the most interesting facts from it for you.
Table of Contents
Where Is The Rakotz Bridge & How Can I Get There?
Kromlau, its park and the Rakotz Bridge are nestled in Lusatia, the East of Germany. The region stretches over into the county of Saxony and borders Poland.
From Berlin, it is a 2h drive to the South. From Dresden, it is a 2h drive to the East. You can use public transport, however, this will take most of your day and involves much more effort than renting a car.
Here are the details for the adventurers out there anyway: take the train from Berlin to Weißwasser. Then take the bus 257 to Gablenz. You may have to walk the final 3 kilometres to the park. See, I told you this trip will be a bit of a hassle. It’ll be more convenient to check for a guided tour or rent a car.
The Kromlau Village in Lusatia
The community of Kromlau lies in a stretch of landscape known as the “Muskau Arch”. This stretch is particularly rich and fertile so the vegetation here is extremely lush. Kromlau is a settlement of Slavic origin, namely the tribe of the Sorbs. The origin of its name is not entirely clear. The earliest records state that it used to go by the name “Kromola”, derived from “chrony law” and thus referring to “hunting” or “field”. Another record states the name originated from “Kroma” which roughly translates to “the edge”. It is indeed true that Kromlau lies on the edge of two counties, Brandenburg and Saxony.
Today, the village is completely integrated by a generous parkland and therefore free to visit. The idyllic area exudes quality and wealth. This has always been the case, as it used to be a feudal estate. A handsome, canary-yellow Cavalry House (small manor) and Kromlau Manor still stand as a reminder of its former glorious days.
The Kromlau Parkland History
Germany’s biggest & oldest Rhododendron Park comprises a total of 160 hectares. Its fertile grounds guarantee exotic and non-native plants to thrive here in abundance. Hence why, the park is a magnet for garden enthusiasts, hikers and nature lovers. Due to its Rakotz Bridge, the park is now also visited by Instagrammers and travellers.
Good To Know: The Rhododendron bushes are in full bloom in April/May.
The Kromlau Park Beginnings
The history of the Kromlauer Park started with local feudal landlord Friedrich Herrmann Rötschke (1805-1891). Wealthy through inherited family heritage, he bought Kromlau in 1842. Röschke, a visionary, brought business to the village by harvesting the area for natural resources and selling them to neighbouring counties. At the time, a garden already existed, and Röschke dreamt of creating his own little settlement according to his ideas and likening.
In 1844, the first extensions were planned, and Kromlau competed with Lord Pückler who tended the castle gardens in Bad Muskau.
An area of approximately 200 hectares was remodelled. Small ponds, rare woods and plants, hideouts and cosy nooks influenced by the Rococo and the Romantic Garden period were created. Soon the park swallowed the settlement and a handsome country house, the Cavalry House, manor and “green villa” became the central focal point. However, the gem of the park became an arched bridge made of stone that would form a circle with its water reflection and represent perfect harmony.
For reasons unknown, Röschke dismissed his estate in 1875 and Kromlau saw a series of changing landowners.
Extensions of the Kromlauer Park & Neglect
Planting works began in 1890 when Count Friedrich Leopold ordered the design of a park area that would rival the nearby gardens at Bad Muskau castle.
Gardener and inspector George Wilhelm Eugen Eichler planted the first rhododendron bushes and established an “English Garden”. This garden was a generous open-planned space where nature could unfold freely with the occasional fruit tree planted in between.
During the 20th century, enormous efforts were made to keep the park and its big areas maintained and cared for. However, it got neglected and sadly, started decaying. In 1936 Kromlau Park was declared a natural reserve but it was still in a state and almost destroyed during WWII.
The Kromlauer Park Renaissance
It took thirty years to preserve the parkland as a recreational area, and the community started a rescue mission. Slowly, it got restored to its former glory. The main design follows original concepts and comprises elements from the Romantic Garden period. The parks’ layout would include e.g. a grotto, waterfalls, little streams, bridges and other artwork. The water elements, in particular, would provide sound effects and make the park an experience.
Kromlau Park also became home to exotic woods and plants. If you wander around its grounds, you’ll notice rare conker & tulip trees, as well as red beech. Kromlau, together with the gardens at Bad Muskau castle, is declared a UNESCO world heritage.
The garden art found at Kromlau is unique to Germany. Most historic gardens are part of a castle and often require an entrance fee to cover the maintenance costs. Kromlau remains to this day completely free of charge.
The Rakotz Bridge
The Rakotz Bridge is a rare arched basalt stone bridge that forms a perfect circle with its water reflection. It was built in 1860. Records of the time state that the bridge “cost 50 thousand coins and one human life”. A local builder was killed in 1882 when wooden support structures were removed. Today, a memorial plate is set up next to the bridge’s entrance and commemorates the loss.
Did You Know? “Rakotz” is the Sorbian word for “crab”.
Please note: you can’t walk or cross the bridge.
Overall it took 10 years completing the Rakotz Bridge, which consists of locally sourced basalt. It is assumed that the granite and basalt came from a quarry near Löbau, 70 kilometres south of Kromlau.
The bridge arch spans 19 metres over an artificial pond. At the time of its construction, it was built using the most basic methods and was supposed to last for 100 years.
In 1985 the Rakotz Bridge was due for restoration. Natural forces dissolved the material and slowly destroyed the stone. The bridge nearly collapsed. At the time, only the absolute necessary measurements were taken to preserve the bridge.
A complete and much more comprehensive restoration of the Rakotz Bridge went underway between 2016 and 2020. As the bridge is a complicated geometric construction, it needed careful planning and top-notch expertise. Experienced geologists, structural engineers, architects and academics all worked together to get the Rakotz Bridge back in shape.
The Rakotz Bridge Story and Legend
The Rakotz Bridge is often referred to as a “devil’s bridge”. There are other devil’s bridges in the world, such as the original St Gotthard Gorge Bridge in Switzerland or Pontarfynach Ceredigion in Wales. Most of these impressive bridges were built during the mediaeval era and are regarded as architectural masterpieces. Such a grand structure must have been created by magic. Superstition has it that they must be the “work of the devil”.
Add in the Romantics’ love for fairy tales and sharing legends and myths and there you go, you’ve created a mystery. Lusatia is full of them, not only because the region was inhabited by the Slavic tribe of the Sorbs. They had the wildest creatures and legends to tell.
One such legend about the Rakotz Bridge tells the story of a local shepherd who outwits the devil. According to the story the shepherd asked the devil for help when building the bridge. As compensation, he had to promise the devil the first living soul that would cross the bridge. The shepherd was cunning and tricked the devil. In order to not harm a human life, he let one of his goats cross the bridge. Oh, the devil was livid! He felt cheated and, in his rage, threw the animal through the bridge creating the hole. Of course, because it was devil-made, the hole would never close again!
Rakotz Bridge Restoration & Process
After an initial survey conducted by Uni Dresden in 2015, it was clear the Rakotz Bridge needed extensive work. In total, the Rakotz Bridge restoration took four years. At that time, local companies made collective efforts by teaming up with the county and communities. Uni Dresden & Chemnitz conducted more surveys. Students, as well as architects, worked tirelessly on calculations and architectural solutions. A specially designed preservation committee was formed in Görlitz and guaranteed financial support alongside local communities and the county of Saxony.
The extensive Rakotz Bridge restoration did not only focus on the bridge but included the nearby Rakotz Ensemble. It covers approximately 172 hectares and consists of the Grotto and a basalt tower called “the organ”. Together the ensemble forms a unity and is meant to “paint the picture”- a scene to immerse visitors. The pathway system also got a new layout, and extending the parking lot meant more space for the rising stream of visitors.
The restoration process turned out to be a tricky endeavour. Not only was the decaying material and potential collapse of the bridge an issue, but bats nesting in gaps and pockets meant the animals needed careful rehoming.
Engineering students performed the main calculations for the Rakotz Bridge restoration project. The base of the foundation had to be repaired by filling its growing gaps. The Rakotz Bridge restoration became the subject of three major papers outlining the strategy, insights and best practices for its execution.
Collapsed between 1952-58, the Grotto was carefully restored using the latest technology. First, preservationists collected and cleaned each stone. They even found a Hercules statue under the pile which is now fully intact and on display. In a second step, local archives were consulted for original photography of the Grotto. Only four original photos had survived but they were enough to create a digital 3D model. Through the original images and scans, the preservationists were able to reconstruct the Grotto stone by stone.
Each stone got compared to the model and The Grotto was puzzled back piece by piece. This was a manual and lengthy process, but the first results were visible after six months when 68% of the Grotto were restored.
The Cascade Staircase
Next to the bridge on the left is a sweeping cascading staircase. This grand staircase resembles a waterfall and picks up the romantic theme of the Rakotz Ensemble. A similar staircase is in Wilhelmshöhe Park in Kassel.
Due to the rather wet and muddy geological condition of the Kromlau soil, an authentic waterfall was out of the question. Even the natural height was not enough. The Rakotz Ensemble solved the problem by including a small stream next to The Grotto and using the staircase as a juxtaposition.
The Rakotz Pond
This artificial pond measures 300 metres in length and is approximately 35-50 metres wide. Its bottom provided with a clay layer prevents water from sinking into the ground. Additional sealing is achieved by rhododendron and Azalea bushes planted along the embankment. As Lusatia is Germany’s driest region, there is little natural precipitation. An artificial water supply achieved through streams keeps the lake’s water level consistently high.
Checklist for Your Rakotz Bridge Visit
– Parking 3.50€ to cover 2h parking
– Public toilets available at the car park (small fee applies)
– Request information from Kromlau tourist information
– Plan at least 2h-4h for your visit
– The park is dog-friendly
– April/May for rhododendron in bloom
– 2h away either from Berlin or Dresden
FAQs about the Rakotz Bridge Restoration
I understand this is quite a lengthy post and you may have some quick questions about the Rakotz Bridge restoration in Germany. You can, of course, always come back to any section of my post and read in more detail what you’d need for your trip. If you have questions or need help, please get in touch and I’m happy to assist.
Why was the Rakotz Bridge restored?
The bridge was in urgent need of major maintenance that was long overdue. In the past 100 years weather affected the material and contributed to the decay and potential collapse of the Rakotz Bridge.
Who funded the Costs for the Rakotz Bridge Restoration?
The extensive works were supported financially by the local communities, as well as the county of Saxony.
Is the Rakotz Bridge still under construction?
No, the Rakotz Bridge restoration works have now finished. Visitors can once again enjoy the Rakotz Bridge and the beautiful Kromlau Rhododendron Parkland. It reopened in May 2021.
Thank You so much and if you enjoyed this post you can always support my research and Buy Me a Coffee.
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