20 November 2014

The devil's bridge in Regensburg

There are two opinions why Regensburg is the northernmost settlement. First, its inhabitants say the ancient Ratisbon or Castra Regina looks like the northernmost Italian city. Second, the Danube reaches its northernmost point, latitude 49 next to this city. If we do not count emperor Traian’s bridge, the first permanent stone bridge was built here. There is a legend linked to its construction and also a Danubian island is connected to our story.

Once upon a time a master builder and his apprentice happened to receive job in the same town, Regensburg. The loyal and prosperous citizens wanted to praise God in a bigger place and to revive local trade and business, so they decided to build a cathedral and a bridge over the Danube. The old church became too small for the growing population and looked too poor and old for such a prosperous city. And they were fed up rebuilding their old wooden bridge which was washed away by icy floods almost each year since it was firs built in the age of Charlemagne.

The master builder became the leader of the construction of the new cathedral, the apprentice was put in charge building the new stone bridge. A feverish competition started between two of them, who would finish first with the assigned project? The latter wanted the victory so much that he made a covenant with the devil itself.

The help of the devil was not for free. The apprentice promised the first three souls to the devil, so they would go straight to hell. The devil may have wrought the hell’s fire on Regensburg, according to old almanachs the year the works begun on the new bridge summer was so hot forests ignited unpurposely and the Danube almost dried out. In this dry riverbed the apprentice managed to build up the 15 pillars of the bridge. Later, in more humid years they closed one arm of the Danube next to Wöhrd Island where they were able to construct the rest of the bridge in a dry environment. The stone bridge was finished with a devilish speed least than 11 years. The time has come to pay off the devil.

Steierne Brücke from a bird’s eye view (link)

The apprentice realised that his master had hardly started to work on the cathedral, and felt ashamed. He wondered how could he pay off the devil without harming anybody and yet making the devil satisfied. Following the apprentice’s idea the local citizens chased a dog, a cat and a chicken through the bridge to Stadtamhof suburbs. When the devil realised that he’s been tricked by the clever lad, he became furious and wanted to destroy the bridge. He tried to push the bridge into the river but the bridge was so robust he could only bend it. Those who do not believe in such things like the devil spread the rumour; it was the apprentice who built the bridge like this.

Bruckmandl spying on the cathedral (link)

Originally they built three towers upon the 8 meter wide and 336 meter long bridge, but only one remained. The new bridge made Regensburg the most important city of the Holy Roman Empire. This was a main axis of the medieval Europe. The local authorities also forbid duels on the bridge because it would set back the traffic. As a statue on the bridge, the apprentice still stares at his masters cathedral, of which construction - the historians say - it only started in 1273.

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