Over 7 decades have passed since the Battle of Berlin and at first glance one wouldn’t notice. Division, reunification, the building boom of the 90’s and the gentrification and modernisation of the 00’s have sanitised the city. But only at first glance.
The battle to end it all
Between the 1st of February and the 21st of April 1945, the allies dropped over 100,000 tons of explosives and phosphor over Berlin (with quite a bit of it still turning up every year). The Soviet encirclement and fight for Berlin reduced large swaths of the city to rubble. 75 millions cubic meters of it in fact. Almost 12% of all buildings were completely destroyed – 600,000 apartments reduced to ruins. Hard to imagine when one looks at the city today.
But first appearances are deceiving – Berlin is a city that caries its scars. Walk down an alley by the Hackescher Markt, or along the Spree by the Museums Island and you’ll notice pockmarks along the walls, chipped bricks and crumbling facades. There is once place though, where the remnants of the Battle of Berlin are more visible than perhaps anywhere else (aside from Reichstag) in Berlin, and that would probably the Bridge of Scars.
The origins of the Bridge of Scars, whose actually purpose is a railway bridge (wich has no official name) dates back to 1875, when the city of Berlin began the construction of the 12km long Berlin Stadtbahn (literally Berlin City Railway) which connected the eastern district of Friedrichshain with the western district of Charlottenburg. The tracks of the Stadtbahn were built on 8 Kilometers of viaducts (which originally had 731 arches), 2 kilometers of iron bridges and the rest on embankments. In total, the Stadtbahn tracks had over 64 bridges.
The Bridge of Scars – an unsanitized memorial to the Battle of Berlin
Architecturally speaking, the iron bridge that spans of the Leibnitzstraße isn’t something you would look twice at. It looks like so many other bridges that you pass under in Berlin; walls plastered with posters and graffiti, and pigeon crap everywhere. But if you look closer you’ll see that this one is different. The walls on both sides are riddled with holes – spanning from the floor up to the ceiling.
If you take a moment to look at any of the steel beams, you’ll instantly spot the metallic scars. Bullets grazes everywhere. Walking around the pillars you can see how deep some of the bullets penetrated the metal, curling and bending it. One can only imagine the battle that raged around and under this bridge.
But all the scars pale im comparison to the one found in the first pillar. A clear through and through. While the other bullet scars gave off the impression that seeking cover behind one of the thick steel beams might have been a good idea – this bullet hole proves otherwise. The hole looks like someone stuck their finger through a piece of butter.
Judging from the diameter of the entry and exit hole, it would seem like someone fired at it (or the people behind it) with a small Panzerabwehrkanone, most likely a German PaK 36 or something of a similar caliber (check out this massive blast crater from a secret nazi testing ground).
While many people would simply walk on by, the Bridge of Scars gives a nice opportunity to reflect on the fact that not all of Berlins unpleasant history has been erased by developers – and even more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to be thankful for how far we’ve come since then.