Working and living on a bridge: in the middle ages, it wasn’t uncommon, but today it is a rarity. Erfurt, in eastern Germany, has one of the few remaining inhabited bridges in Europe.
Archway through the Krämerbrücke
The Krämer Bridge in Erfurt, in the German state of Turingia, is the one and only inhabited bridge north of the Alps. (Its most famous cousin is probably the Ponte Vecchio, which spans the Arno River in Florence, Italy.)
The Krämer Bridge is 123 meters (400 feet) long and counts as the oldest building in Erfurt. It was built in 1325, after several wooden bridges in the same spot were claimed by fires. Supported by six stone arches, the bridge was one stretch of the Via Regia, the most important trading route between France and Russia.
The row of ancient, half-timbered houses crowded side by side on the gives the bridge a unique character. Once upon a time, the houses were home to small grocers – in German “Krämer” – who sold spices, silver jewelry and fabric, and other goods. The shops gave the bridge its name.
Colony of artists
Today, most of the homes are inhabited by a tightly knit group of artists, craftspeople and traders who sell their wares in the little shops that line the bridge. The artists, their unique houses, and their importance to the life of the city of Erfurt is celebrated every year on the third weekend in June, during the Kraemer Bridge festival. It is Thuringia's biggest old-town festival, with medieval performers, artists and artisans crowding the streets along with the thousands of annual visitors.
At the eastern end of the bridge is the Ägidian
Church, which was also built in the 14th century. Unlike other bridges, its nave isn’t on ground level but one story aboveground. This is because the space beneath the nave was needed as a horses' carriageway.
Just near the church, in house number 22, lives woodcarver Gabriele Leuschner. For Leuschner, living on the bridge is the fulfilment of a dream.
"This half-timbered house, so narrow, with four or five stories from top to bottom, fascinated me since my youth, whenever I walked by" she says. "I always wanted to live here." But in order to live in a centuries-old house in the middle of a centuries old city, she had to make a compromise on how much living space she needed.
'A happy feeling'
For Leuschner, her husband and her two children, 86 square meters isn't exactly spacious -- especially since a good part of the area goes to the stairway. Yet she has never regretted her choice to live there.
"Every day when I go out of the gate under the Ägidian Church and walk onto the bridge, I get a happy feeling," she says.
The view also impresses the tens of thousands of visitors who pass over the bridge every year, many of whom stop to photograph it. While traversing the bridge, it is hard not to think of all the other people who have walked on it throughout the centuries. Luther, Pachelbel, Goethe, Schiller, Napoleon, and Bismarck are just a few of the historic names of those who have strolled over the Kraemer Bridge.
Egon Zimpel is an abstract painter who has been living on the bridge for 32 years. He recalls that when he moved in, there were still people living on the bridge who had been there since the 1930s and 40s.
A time before plumbing
The old timers told tales of the days before plumbing, which Zimpel likes to repeat. "There were little holes where you went to the toilet and it just fell from there into the Gera," he explained.
The city has open-ended plans to open a hotel on the bridge, so that even visitors to the city can have the unique experience of living on a bridge.