History of Reichsbrücke

1872-1876 - Danube river settlement and the first bridge "Kronprinz-Rudolph-Brücke - crown prince Rudolph Bridge"

On September, 12th 1868, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, gave a Danube river settlement and building of a "stable bridge" as direct extension of the former Jägerzeile (today: Praterstraße) and the Schwimmschulstrasse (today: Lasallestraße) into commission. This bridge should be the continuation of the central city axis, which reaches from Gloriette of Schönbrunn Palace over St. Stephan´s Cathedral and the Praterstern up to Danube river.

The construction of the bridge "Reichsstraßenbrücke" started in August 1872, under supervision of Mathias Waniek, head of street- and hydraulic engineering, department of ministry of interior (Hufnagel, 2002).

After four year construction period (1872 - 1876), the Viennese Kronprinz-Rudolph-Brücke - crown prince Rudolph Bridge, was opened on August, 21st 1876 by the governor of Lower Austria, Sigmund Freiherr Conrad von Eybesfeld. In his speak, he said what everybody was hoping "solid, safety and unhurt able, like we are looking to this bridge, it should stay for centuries".


The bridge was - including the drive up ramps - almost 1,020 meters long and 11.5 meters wide, where the road surface had just a wideness of 7.58 meters. The construction cost 7.38 million Kronen. In 1919, the bridge was renamed as Reichsbrücke. It should be the largest bridge connection crossing the Danube river, a representative structure for the aspiring cosmopolitan city, Vienna.

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1934-1937 - Construction of the chain suspension bridge

In the beginning of the thirties, first damages occured on the old Reichsbrücke (former built as " Kronprinz-Rudolph-Brücke - crown prince Rudolph Bridge " under the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I), why Austria decided to rebuilt a new bridge. In springtime 1933, the "new" bridge at the "old" place was given for a tender offer in a competition. In the years of 1934 to 1937, the bridge was newly built by the design of Siegfried Theiß and Hans Jaksch (artistic design by Clemens Holzmeister). The bridge was constructed as a chain suspension bridge with free spans of three-quarter of the full river wideness, which was connected to the existing and merely enlarged foreshore bride.

Kettenbrücke von 1937

For the regime of Austro-Fascist "corporative state" at this time, the construction of Reichsbrücke was an important economic project, which was integrated into the provision of employment of the cabinet by Dollfuß (Austrian chancellor May, 1932 - July, 1934) and Schuschnigg (Austrian chancellor July, 1934 - November, 1934). The new construction started officially in February 1934, at a time of the biggest domestically disturbances. In September 1934, the old structure was moved in a spectacular action, 26 meters upstream, with no essential disturbance of the traffic for a longer time period. After this, unscheduled problems occur, where a conflict started, which demanded two human lifes.

The next tragic occasion hapened in June 1936, when the steamhip "Wien" of DDSG (Danube Steamship Company) collided into a main column and thereupon sunk. This accident demanded six human lifes.

The new suspension chain bridge was opened on October, 10th 1937 by the federal president Miklas and cardinal Theodor Innitzer. It was at this time the third largest chain bridge in Europe. The new bridge had each two lanes for cars, two set of railtracks for tramway and sidewalks on both sides. The cost of the new Reichsbrücke was in total 31,000,000 Schilling.

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1946 - "Brücke der Roten Armee - Bridge of the Red Army"

The bridge had a great importance for the city of Vienna, not only as a new emblem but also in strategic point of view. This was shown in the last months of national socialist leadership, when the bridge became to a hard fought theatre of war, during the "battle about Vienna". The already back out SS-troupes threatened to blast the Reichsbrücke, like they have done before with all the other Viennese Danube bridges. This could be prevented in the last minute. Why the explosive charge was not ignited, is still not totally clarified. Not only the Soviet army, but also the Austrian resistance movement, even members of the German troupes reclaimed the rescue for them.

The bridge has survived the act of war almost undamaged, and was also the last not demolished bridge crossing the Danube river in the area of Vienna. A commemorative plaque was installed on the balustrade with the text "Dem heldenhaften Gardelandungstrupp und den Matrosen der Sowjetunion in Dankbarkeit das befreite Wien - The heroic guardtroup and the seamen of Soviet Union in thankfulness the affranchised Vienna". The name of the former Reichsbrücke has been called "Brücke der Roten Armee - Bridge of the Red Army" during April, 11th 1946 until July, 18th 1956.

1976- Collapse of Reichsbrücke

On a Sunday, August, 1st 1976 Reichsbrücke collapsed in the early morning at 5:00 am. One human died at this catastrophe. A driver was at this moment directly on the bridge. Facing the fact, that the bridge is one of the most frequented street sections at rush hour, the number of victims was fortunately less.

Reference: http://www.aeiou.at (2004)

Einsturz der Reichsbrücke

On an average day, the bridge is frequented by 18,000 vehicles per hour. At the moment of collapse, there were just four vehicles on the structure. One driver of a passenger car was killed due to this catastrophe. A riderless bus of the Vienna Public Transport Company also crashed down with the bridge into the river. The driver of the bus could be salvaged unhurt on the roof of the bus. The bus itself could be salvaged after several unavailing tries on the August 9th. Two more vehicles got caught in an inclined position on the bridge. A Romanian passenger ferry, as well as the DDSG-ship "Passau" has been demolished by falling debris. Eye witnesses reported later, that the bridge has suddenly risen for about a half meter and fall into the water with loud cracking along the whole length.

Eingestürzte Reichsbrücke - Luftbild

Already at 6:30 am, one and a half hour after the catastrophe, mayor Leopold Gratz convokes an emergency task force in the Viennese city hall. Mayor Gratz, immediately get in touch with structural minister Moser to build a provisional bridge. The supply of the 21st and 22nd Viennese districts (districts above Danube River) with gas, water and electricity still works. Just the telephone lines were partly broken. The emergency task decided for the area around Reichsbrücke to arrange traffic measures and the installation of a telephone hotline (No.: 1535) to inform the population about the tasks. Already in the evening of the same day, the mayor and the structural minister gave to notice, that a countryside as well as cityside arranged fact finding commission, consisting of four university professors, to analyse the reason of collapse as detailed and as fast as possible, has been activated. In additional, the inspection report was open to view for the whole population.

After a couple of months of investigation, the expert commission came to the result, that the catastrophe was unpredictable. The collapse was due to the combination of some factors like unfavourable weather-, flow- and temperature conditions. Also the supporting of plate beams on unreinforced concrete as well as the effects of creeping and shrinkage of concrete at the base of columns were complicity to the collapse. A non destructive test of concrete at the base of columns was not possible with then equipment, at this time.After a couple of months of investigation, the expert commission came to the result, that the catastrophe was unpredictable. The collapse was due to the combination of some factors like unfavourable weather-, flow- and temperature conditions. Also the supporting of plate beams on unreinforced concrete as well as the effects of creeping and shrinkage of concrete at the base of columns were complicity to the collapse. A non destructive test of concrete at the base of columns was not possible with then equipment, at this time.

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1977 - Rebuilding of Reichsbrücke

The collapse of Reichsbrücke in 1976 had big consequences for the traffic infrastructure of the city Vienna. Danube ship traffic was interrupted, a central link to the most populous Viennese districts (21st, Floridsdorf and 22nd Donaustadt) was lopped. Still in December 1976, an international contest for building a new Reichsbrücke, based on city planer guidelines, were tendered. The moment for the new construction was thinkable advantageous, because it was previously planed to construct an own bridge for the intended underdround/metro next the "old" Reichsbrücke. But after collapse, all new transport routes could be integrated into the new structure. In additional, the bridge could be higher than the former, to fulfil the requirement of the retention water level elevation of a Danube water plant.

The contest was won after a decision of the jury under the leadership of the acknowledged bridge engineering expert Fritz Leonhardt, by architect Norbert Kotz with his project, Johann Nestroy. It was a two story prestressed concrete bridge, consisting of three sections (river bridge, bridge crossing the new Danube, bridge crossing the Danube highway). There are six vehicle lanes on the upper floor and two traces for underground / metro, pedestrians, bicycles and central supply with control ways in the downer floor. The construction works started in January 1978, with a little delay and could be finished already three years later. On November 8th, federal president Rudolf Kirschschläger opened the from now on 3rd Reichsbrücke.

Die neue Reichsbrücke - Luftansicht Die neue Reichsrbücke - Perspektive

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1982 - Underground / metro line: U1 crossing Reichsbrücke

The underground/metro line U1, is crossing Reichsbrücke since September, 3rd 1982 and it even has a station directly on the bridge named Donauinsel.


Reichsbrücke is today on the city planer point of view one of the most important connections between "old" and "new" Vienna. The bridge will be refurbished during 2003 until 2005, to provide also in the future a higher level function in the Viennese transport network. A health monitoring system of the bridge is since the ending of 2004 in function.

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(1) http://www.wien.gv.at/ma29/donaubr/reichsbr/ (2004), MA 29 - Brückenbau-Grundbau, Stadt Wien.
(2) Walter Hufnagel (2002); Querungen: Brücken-Stadt-Wien; MA 29 - Brückenbau-Grundbau, Stadt Wien, Verlag Sappl.
(3) http://www.aeiou.at (2004)