What is the function of the bridge

bridgesMetaphorical-symbolic potential

It is a truism that bridges are used to connect. Rarely does the momentous fact arise that joining is preceded by separation and crossing is preceded by separation.

What is the significance of the bridges beyond their immediate practical purpose? Where does its aesthetic value come from, where does its metaphorical-symbolic potential come from? What binds them to nature and what is their socio-political function?

"It is only given to man, in relation to nature, to bind and loosen, and indeed in the peculiar way that one is always the precondition for the other. By picking out two from the undisturbed storage of natural things in order to make them To designate 'separate', we have already related them to each other in our consciousness, have set these two apart from what lies in between. And vice versa: We only perceive as connected what we have somehow isolated from each other, things first have to separate from each other [sic] to be with each other. "

Simmel's "cross-over spirit"

The first philosopher to consider the "correlation of separation and union" as a characteristic of bridges was Georg Simmel. In his essay, published in 1909 Bridge and door he wrote:

"Practically and logically it would be pointless to connect what was not separate, yes, what does not remain separate in any sense. [...] But now the natural form here meets this concept as if with positive intention, here seems between the elements to be set in and for itself the separation over which the spirit now reaches over in a reconciling, unifying manner. "

A term is related to Simmel's image of the "cross-over spirit", which the philosopher and educator Ernst Kapp used in his work in 1877 Basics of a philosophy of technology had coined: "Organ projection".

The image and the term mean a projective behavior in which spatial perception, will, fantasy and play are involved. Both are keys to understanding the historical origins of the bridges. In the one case the mind localized in one body reaches across the separated, in the other the body projects itself as a bridge and continues in the construction; both together, mind and body, open up and shape the world.

These interpretations do not contradict the assumption that branches and trees that fell over streams once acted as models and that beyond their immediate use gave an impetus to "reaching over", projecting and producing.

Corporeality makes bridges useful for metaphors

One hundred years after Ernst Kapp, the philosopher Hans Blumenberg took up the key of "organ projection" in order to link the metaphorical use of the "technical elementary bridge" to its origins:

"If such structures were not 'invented' but 'projected', then their use as metaphors was only the misunderstood anamnesis of their origin."

Whether the anamnesis - resurrection, return - of the origin of the bridges in the metaphor remains misunderstood or rather unconscious, the thesis of the philosopher Blumenberg is confirmed by literary images in which this origin is echoed.

"bridge, gäscher, köprü, must, pont ..."

Because bridges have a corporeality and in their vividness they provide an image for separating and connecting as well as for projecting human corporeality into the world, the word bridge was and is extremely suitable for use in metaphors, symbols and linguistic images.

Martin Heidegger's poem "Der Steg" proclaims:

"We are the bridge / The bridge is us";

and a famous song from the 1970s promises:

"Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down."

Bridges are omnipresent

We are familiar with "idioms" like: building bridges, building golden bridges, breaking the bridges behind you. Once "pioneers of a new use of language" - as the American philosopher Richard Rorty put it - they have over time "lexicalized", solidified, ground down, which does not exclude their revival in new contexts. In addition, people who think poetically may succeed in inventing unexpected bridging metaphors or similes, "like flashes that pave the way for new paths" - says Rorty.

Bridges do not leave you indifferent. Some are charming, others awe-inspiring and fearful astonishment. And they are omnipresent - not only as actual buildings, but also as imaginative content and images. At times they are violently, even painfully linked to political history.

The "Old Bridge" of the Bosnian city of Mostar, connecting districts and populations, symbolized the ethnic and cultural diversity for centuries. On November 9th, 1993 she was shot at by Croatian artillery. The image of destruction that it now presented became a symbol of the warlike division of peoples in the Balkans. Since its reconstruction, it has embodied the possibility of getting closer, reconnecting.

An uncertain fate on the other hand

In literature and film it becomes clear that bridges are sometimes only entered and crossed hesitantly. A resolute "I want to go there" or a relieved "it is done" is not given to everyone. Many people are paralyzed by the fear that beyond the bridge, in the realm of the unknown, an uncertain fate or an event that can never be reversed lurks. For a moment, repentance is still possible, but in a moment it will be done for the person and the rest of his life.

People who have been absent for many years and who are returning to the place of their childhood often linger on the bridge that leads there: what will the other bank bring them? Is it the painful realization that nothing is the way it was anymore, or that nothing has become the way it should have been? Will the place turn out to be a stranger as in W.G. Sebald's return story "Il ritorno in patria?":

"As I thought when I arrived late, the village was further away to me than any other conceivable place."

First, however, the first-person narrator steps onto the village bridge and confesses, echoing the first sentences from Franz Kafka's novel "Das Schloss":

"I stood for a long time on the stone bridge just before W.'s first houses, listened to the steady rustling of the oh and looked into the darkness that was now all around."

Shady intermediate world

The story reveals the properties and conditions of being of bridges, which go beyond the "correlation of separation and union" revealed by Georg Simmel and the "body projection" rediscovered by Hans Blumenberg, even if they can be derived from it:

"In the summer months of the post-war years, there was always a gypsy camp here on a rubble tang next to the bridge, on which wild willows, belladonna, burdock, mullein, verbena and mugwort grew. When we went to the swimming pool, the community sponsored it in the 36s because of the public health service, we had to go past the gypsies, and every time my mother picked me up at this point. Over her shoulder I saw the gypsies look up briefly from the various jobs they were always doing, and then Lower their eyes again as if they were terrified. [...] Where they came from, how they managed to survive the war, and why they chose the bleak spot at the Achbrücke for their summer stay Questions that are only now going through my head. "

The bridge at the entrance to the village, next to the Schuttanger, mentioned in the two quotations, forms a somewhat dodgy intermediate world with its surroundings, in which outcast people and things can be found; and it is a prominent location, yet still connected to the earth, from which those who cross over look into the depths and into the distance and on which they, exposed in this way, can be seen: exchanged - connecting or dividing - looks.

Franz Kafka wrote the parable "Die Brücke" around 1917. It starts out succinctly and nightmarishly:

"I was stiff and cold, I was a bridge, I was lying over an abyss."

The "I", who does not quite cease to be human, speaks of his endeavors to fulfill the tasks of the bridge that it has become: by biting down and digging his hands and toes into "crumbling clay".

"Stretch yourself, bridge!"

The bridge is waiting for a pedestrian who would finally recognize, use and recognize it as such. Your hope will finally come true: a "man's step" can be heard! Aware of her poor equipment, she admonishes herself:

"Stretch yourself, bridge, repair yourself, handrailless beam, hold the one entrusted to you. [...] He came, he tapped me with the iron tip of his stick, then he lifted my skirt tails with her and placed them on top of me. In mine He brushed his bushy hair with his tip and left it there for a long time, probably looking around wildly. But then - I was just dreaming of him over mountain and valley - he jumped with both feet in the middle of my body ignorant. Who was it? A child? A dream? A highwayman? A suicide? A tempter? An exterminator? And I turned to see him. - Bridge turns around! I wasn't turned around yet, then I fell "I fell and I was torn and impaled by the pointed pebbles that had always stared at me so peacefully from the raging water."

Franz Kafka wrote the parable "Die Brücke" (AP Archive)

The bridge's efforts fail: the man's assaults respond to her care - "keep the person entrusted to you," she admonishes herself. In response to the knowledge-hungry question "who was he?" the fall follows - an event that not only means destruction, but also redemption from the previous compulsions and torments. The bridge responds to the violence perpetrated against it neither with counterviolence nor with protest. It is completely unopposed acceptance and reluctance.

Incidentally, the text itself is a bridge between man and thing, both of which are subject to one and the same law:

"No bridge, once built, can cease to be a bridge without collapsing."

At the same time, Franz Kafka's parable, who knew the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, could be an - ironic, tragicomic - echo of his use of the bridge metaphor in "Also sprach Zarathustra". Zarathustra proclaims and admonishes:

"What is great about people is that they are a bridge and not a purpose: what can be loved in people is that they are a transition and a decline. [...] You are only bridges: May higher ones To step over on you! You mean steps: Do not be angry with him who climbs up above you. "

Feel separation

Separating and connecting is more momentous and difficult in bridge building than in other activities of separating and connecting: Because of the raging streams, the deep gorges, the abysses that have to be bridged, and the economic-geopolitical interests that want to assert themselves.

"First of all there is the problem of beginning, namely how we get from where we are, which is nowhere, to the other bank. It's a simple bridging problem, the problem of how to build a bridge."

Even the tearing away and reaching over by a single person is more intense when preparing to cross a bridge than, for example, when simply walking away and on. She can feel the separation from the shore, the side or the existence to which she is striving or from which she is moving away. The writer John M. Coetzee brought up these complex processes metaphorically in his book "Elizabeth Costello", published in 2003.

"[...] Let us assume that it is, however, done. Let us assume that the bridge has been built and crossed that we no longer need to deal with it. We have the area in which we were before, left behind. We are on the other side of where we want to be. "

Crossing the bridge leads to a new, not necessarily final, separation: from the places, the activities, the people who have just been abandoned. For the departure to new shores, for this act of connecting, the price of separation has to be paid. The expression "breaking all bridges behind you" testifies that this is a decisive, sometimes adventurous, even fatal act.

"Back then, in 1967, there was no bridge between Asia and Europe. The sea separated the two sides, and when I had the water between my parents and me, I felt free."

Dual role as a means of transitions and a place of submergence

These sentences from Emine Sevgi Özdamar's work "The Bridge of the Golden Horn" testify that such a separation - whether it is over a bridge or is due to the absence of a bridge - is felt as liberation at times.

In the bridges, the previous separation always resonates as a possibility; hence their dual role as a means of transitions and a place of decline. In the event of any kind of violence, in wars and natural disasters, the connection threatens to break off.

The history of the wars could, up to the 20th century, be told as one of the blown or bombed bridges as well as the replacement or operational floating bridges. Foreign rule was often based - depending on the geographical milieu - on taking the bridge structures; and liberation from tyranny presupposed the formation of bridgeheads and the withdrawal of bridges.

Mirko Bonné made this topic one of the cornerstones of his novel "Never again night". The protagonist is commissioned to draw the most famous of those bridges for an art magazine that were contested in 1944 after the Allied troops landed in Normandy. The more intensely he deals with the dramatic events surrounding the liberation of France and Europe from National Socialist rule, the more impossible it becomes for him to fulfill the assignment and to draw the bridges.

Rescues and tragic accidents

In the middle of a war, a bridge can serve to rescue people who are threatened by murderous violence. One such event occurred in the Polish city of Przemyśl in mid-1942. There, a bridge over the San River formed the only access to the Jewish ghetto, which had been set up by the German occupiers in 1941. The SS and Gestapo began mass shootings and deportations of the Jews. One of the adjutants of the German military command, Albert Battel, was looking for a - even if it was a limited - way out: He demanded that the Jewish workers of the Wehrmacht and their families be spared. When his demand was rejected, he decided, in agreement with his superior, to have the bridge leading to the ghetto occupied by Wehrmacht soldiers and closed to the SS. He succeeded in lorrying hundreds of Jewish workers out of the ghetto over the closed bridge and rescuing some of them.

One of the greatest disasters in bridge construction occurred in 1879: the two-year-old railway bridge over the Tay Fjord in northern Scotland - when it opened, the longest bridge in the world, a symbol of power and progress - broke on December 28th under the weight of a train and the wind load of a hurricane together. The train with over seventy people on board sank in the floods. Careless planning and sloppy construction were the reasons for the disaster. In the course of the industrial revolution, bridge building entered a new phase of technical development from the middle of the 19th century, which sometimes resulted in a fiasco.

Theodor Fontane wrote the ballad "Die Brück’ am Tay ", which is viewed as a criticism of human hubris, who believes in technology and progress. A tangle of voices, scraps of conversation that sweep over the bridge like a storm, frame the actual events: They are the voices of three witches, personified forces of nature, forces of evil.

"Then the game of the winds got angrier, / And now, as if fire fell from the sky, / It glows in blazing splendor / Above the water below ... and it's night again."

The witches' refrain is:

"Truffle, trinket / is the creation of human hands."

Aesthetic and artistic value of the bridges

A few decades later, Georg Simmel emphasized the beauty of the bridges and their proximity to art:

"The bridge now becomes an aesthetic value by not only bringing about the connection of the separated in reality and for the fulfillment of practical purposes, but also making it directly vivid. The bridge gives the eye the same reason to connect the sides of the landscape, as it gives it for the practical reality of the body. [...] The bridge gives a final sense, which is above all sensuality, a single appearance that is not conveyed by any abstract reflection, which draws the practical meaning of the bridge into itself and in a vivid form brings, as the work of art does with its 'object'. "

The aesthetic value of the bridges declared in this way must not make one forget their artistic elements. Think of one of the first Parisian iron bridges, the richly decorated Pont Mirabeau, which was inaugurated in 1896. Allegorical figures rise from the pillars: the city of Paris, shipping, trade, abundance. Such ornaments and sculptures contribute to the aesthetic value of a bridge. According to Georg Simmel, they are even "the most exhaustive expression" of the "per se non-illustrative, spiritual or metaphysical sense" illustrated by the bridges.

However the aesthetic value of the bridges is understood and described, it is clear that the visual artists know this value and highly appreciate it. In the traditional landscape painting of Japan and China, the bridges are numerous, even if they are mostly tiny footbridges in huge scenes, embedded in a cosmos of fog, mountains and trees, naturally intertwined and filigree like the watercourses. If their materiality is emphasized, it is in order to reproduce and continue the material of the landscape, as in the painting "The Bridge at the Waterfall"; growing out of the rocks, it is rock under rock itself. The opposition between culture and nature seems to have been abolished.

In European art, bridges became favorite objects of painters, especially in the period of impressionism, expressionism and cubism. Some, such as Lyonel Feininger, expressly admitted their preference. An artist group founded in Dresden in 1905 gave itself the name "Die Brücke", either because the participating artists decided to "change banks" - to leave the conventions - or because they were fascinated by Dresden's bridges.

Blending in with nature

In Claude Monet's work, bridges initially appear as the lifelines of modern society, perhaps also as bearers of hope after the Franco-German war of 1870/71 and the bloodily suppressed uprisings that followed.

The art historian Willibald Sauerländer writes in his book Manet paints Monet about one of Monet's bridges:

"The lighter blue of the iron arches and struts leads to the color of the cloudy sky. It is very French how civilization and nature, the constructive genius of the engineer, sky and water get along here. Landscape is not romantic solitude as it is so popular in German painting. People interact with one another in the landscape, it is artificial and natural at the same time. "

As Hans Blumenberg noted, nature is on the one hand ...

"Cry for the reins and bridles of man [...], for his ways and bridges, for his grabs and clearing devices";

... on the other hand, it is resistance to exploitation and destruction by technology. It calls for protection and, as far as bridges are concerned, for respect for their natural origins and natural properties. One of these is the integration into nature, which is at the same time a differentiation from almost all other structures; it is based on the fact that bridges have something rounded, uneven, mild, open and at the same time reserved: unlike roads that form an endless network, they do not show their beginning and their end, by Make the distance between their base points "clear and measurable", as Georg Simmel wrote. At the same time - unlike cell and capsule structures such as containers, barracks and "white cubes" - isolation and "encapsulation" are alien to them. And as bridging elements, in contrast to most other constructions, they leave the ground that supports them visible to the eye; at best they do not displace or destroy anything there. They only cast fleeting shadows on the ground below or the water flowing below them, and the bridge lamps, in the dark, reflections.

Metaphorical-symbolic potential

It is the bridging and sparing of nature that - in addition to the illustration of the human primal experience of separating and connecting - still defines the fascination of bridges and their metaphorical-symbolic potential today.

Martin Heidegger, who pointed out that mortals "are always on the way to the last bridge", transfigured the nature and properties of bridges in poetic-religious images. In 1951, in the lecture "Building, Living, Thinking", he shared the following:

"Even where the bridge covers the river, it holds its flow towards the sky by taking it into the arched gate for a moment and then releasing it again. [...] The bridge gathers earth and sky in its own way Divines and mortals with them. "

At the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, new findings in statics, material development and construction methods made unimagined spans, lengths and heights possible in bridge construction. One of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world, the Viaduc de Millau, was opened near a small town in the south of France, and one of the largest suspension bridges in the East China Sea, the Xihoumen Bridge. In highly industrialized zones bridges can be found that bridge other bridges and pile up on top of each other.

Many new bridges are disturbing

If the empirical nature of the bridges under construction or recently opened is to be understood, it is necessary to consider the wider surroundings - horizontally and vertically.

Due to traffic-related and other constraints, many bridges today are placed in an exclusively structural-instrumental relationship to the banks, river ribbons, cities and landscapes, and the view of these is disturbing.

View of the Waldschlösschenbrücke construction site in Dresden. In the background the old town with the Frauenkirche. (AP)

The Dresden Waldschlösschenbrücke illustrates this tendency. It undoubtedly connects parts of the city with one another, but it disappears on the floodplains and on the eyes. The case of the bridge under construction, which is the third to connect the European and Asian parts of Istanbul, shortly before the confluence of the Bosporus into the Black Sea, is even more serious.

"The bridge, it is now foreseeable, will cut through historic Istanbul like a wall."

Interestingly, the resident of the city, who notices this, reverses the common metaphor of connecting: a bridge "like a wall" ...

A bridge like a monster could be added, because it will continue in tentacles - a network of streets and highways, some on stilts - structures that threaten Istanbul's drinking water reservoir and the flora and fauna. Wildlife protection bridges are planned to reconnect what has been cut up, the living environment of the animals.

Where has the mildness and restraint of the bridges gone? It has to the Rescued bridges that, recently built, lie useless in nowhere because there is no connection to an adequate road and rail network? There is such a structure between Bulgaria and Romania that bridges the Danube without actually connecting the two countries: the "New Europe" bridge. It is whispered that it is in danger of collapsing.