Dispute over muhlendamm bridge: no comparison with the rialto bridge

Plans to replace the dilapidated bridge with a new one in a fast-track procedure are heating up the tempers. The new bridge is to be only slightly narrower.

A photo of the Muhlendamm Bridge from the water – and from pre-Corona times Photo: dpa/Bildfunk

Hand on heart, dear readers: How many of you know offhand what the Muhlendamm Bridge looks like? Not that many? No wonder: The Spree crossing in Mitte shines with functionality and imperceptibility. Yet the germ cell of today’s city is located around the bridge – it was the medieval connection between Molkenmarkt (Berlin) and Fischmarkt (Colln). Not much is left of it: After the destruction of the war, the capital of the GDR relied on a wide car aisle and a lot of concrete.

For all the love of history and the genius loci: Mentioning the Muhlendamm Bridge in the same breath as the Rialto Bridge or the Pont Neuf, as the Verein Berliner Historische Mitte does, for example, is somewhat audacious. Which, on the other hand, does not mean that it would be wrong to free it from the suffocating embrace of car traffic.

This moves many citizens’ initiatives and associations, but also Ephraim Gothe (SPD), district councilor for urban development in Mitte. In recent months, they have been fiercely criticizing the decision of the Senate Transport Administration to replace the dilapidated bridge in a fast-track procedure with a new bridge that is only slightly narrower and still leaves plenty of space for motorized traffic, two lanes in each direction.

Critics were particularly foxed by the fact that there was no real citizen participation. In this respect, it was a fire department operation of the green transport administration last Monday, even before the realization competition was announced, to host a virtual "citizens’ event": an artificial name that suggested that it was not only about information, but somehow also about having a say.

"Do I take the car or the streetcar?"

But that is not the case – in purely formal and practical terms. Because the Senate Administration wants to avoid a new planning approval procedure at all costs, in the context of which regular participation would take place. Reason: The bridge is essentially as broken as the Treptow Elsenbrucke, which had to be (partially) closed overnight after cracks appeared. Regine Gunther does not want to risk such a fiasco. So they are building according to the existing planning approval: wide.

This basically ends the discussion before it has even begun. But what are we to make of the opponents’ arguments that the bridge must be as narrow as possible because car traffic has no future and should not have one?

This "narrow is beautiful" argument does make one a bit skeptical. Firstly, because it is true that the streetcar that will roll over the bridge in the future will be able to transport as many people as thousands of cars – but this is also an abstract calculation that does not take into account the fact that individual mobility strategies ("Do I take the car or the streetcar?") will not change so quickly.

Secondly, and more importantly, space is a value that should not be given away in an increasingly dense city. Nowhere is it written that this space must be filled with cars. The further the traffic turnaround progresses – and can progress in view of changed offers and habits – the less space is needed on the Muhlendamm Bridge for cars and trucks. Whether this is opened up for buses, bicycles or strollers will be decided in future legislatures – and thus at the ballot box.