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Remagen is a town in Germanymarker in Rhineland-Palatinatemarker, in the district of Ahrweilermarker. It is about a one hour's drive from Cologne (Köln), just south of Bonnmarker, the former West-German capital. It is situated on the River Rhinemarker. There is a ferry across the Rhine from Remagen every 10–15 minutes in the summer. Remagen has many beautiful and well-maintained buildings, churches, castles, and monuments. It also has a sizeable pedestrian zone with plenty of shops.

Overlooking the west bank of the Rhine just north of the city centre is the Apollinariskirche. It has a great observation deck that is only open to parishioners on Sundays. Pedestrians reach the church via a dirt trail that passes a series of roadside monuments representing each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The church grounds contain an outdoor crypt and an abbey. Further down the river is one of the many castles along the River Rhine, perched even higher than the Apollinariskirche.

History

The Roman Empire built a border fort at Rigomagus (or Ricomagus), west of the Rhine. This was about 12 miles north of the site of the first bridge ever built across the Rhine (at Neuwiedmarker). This bridge fought the river current by being built on timbers which were driven into the bed at a slant. Caesar's troops spent nearly three weeks on the east side of the river, then crossed back over, destroying the bridge to prevent its use by German raiders. A second bridge was likewise destroyed by the builders once they were through with it.

The fort was one of a series built by Drusus, commander of the Roman army along the Rhine. Other Roman construction survived the centuries, including a gateway, and Remagen became a tourist destination, popular with history buffs.

Local legend says that a ship carrying various relics from Milanmarker to Cologne was stopped in the river in 1164, unable to move despite the strong current, until it mysteriously edged in toward the shore. The remains of St Apollinaris were put ashore, and the ship was then able to sail onward. These remains were interred in a chapel which had been part of the Roman fort, which became the basis for a church which bore his name, and was rebuilt several times over the years.

The Bridge at Remagen

The Ludendorff Bridge was originally built during World War I as a means of moving troops and logistics west over the Rhine to reinforce the Western Front. The bridge was designed by Karl Wiener an architect from Mannheimmarker. It was 325 meters long, had a clearance of 14.8 meters above the normal water level of the Rhine, and its highest point measured 29.25 meters. The bridge carried two railway tracks and a pedestrian walkway. During World War II, one track was planked over to allow vehicular traffic.

The capture of the bridge

The Ludendorff Bridgemarker at Remagen—the last standing on the Rhine—was captured by soldiers of the U.S. 9th Armored Division on 7 March 1945, during Operation Lumberjack. Although German engineers had mined the bridge before the American approach, the fuses had been cut by two Polish engineers forcibly conscripted to the Wehrmacht, in Silesia.

On 7 March 1945, soldiers of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion, led by Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann, from West Point, Nebraska, approached the bridge, and found it standing. The first American soldier across the bridge was Sergeant Alex Drabik; Lt. Timmermann was the first officer across.

Although the bridge's capture is sometimes regarded as the "Miracle of Remagen" in U.S. histories, historians debate the strategic importance of the capture of the bridge at Remagen. General Eisenhower said that "the bridge is worth its weight in gold". However, few U.S. units were able to operate east of the Rhine ahead of the main crossings in the south, under Gens. Patton and Bradley, and in the north, under Gen. Montgomery (Operation Plunder). Ultimately, only a limited number of troops were able to cross the Rhine before the bridge's collapse. However, the psychological advantage of having crossed the Rhine in force and in pursuit of the retreating Wehrmacht, improved Allied morale while communicating disaster to the retreating Germans.

In the immediate days after the bridge's capture, the German Army Command desperately attempted to destroy the bridge by bombing it and having divers mine it. Hitler ordered flying courts-martial that condemned five officers to death. Captain Bratge, who was in American hands, was sentenced in absentia while the other four (Majors Scheller, Kraft, and Strobel, and Lieutenant Peters) were executed in the Westerwald Forest. The Allies attempted to repair the bridge by laying pontoon bridges alongside, but despite the best U.S. efforts, on 17 March 1945, ten days after its capture, the Bridge at Remagen collapsed, killing twenty-eight U.S. soldiers. However, because the pontoon bridges and other secured crossing points that had supplanted the bridge, its loss was neither tactically nor strategically significant. Still, the Ludendorff Bridge remained important as the first point at which Allies crossed the Rhine to enter Germany.

The bridge in the media

A large number of books and articles in newspapers and magazines on the subject of the bridge have been published. The best-known work on the battle is 1957's The Bridge at Remagen by the American author Ken Hechler.

In 1968 David L. Wolper produced an American motion picture, The Bridge at Remagen. The film depicts actual historical background, but is fictional in all other aspects.

The 1946 Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life includes a brief battle scene with the narration, "Marty [Hatch, Mary Hatch Bailey's older brother] helped capture the Remagen bridge."

In the video game Panzer Front for the Playstation, the Ludendorff bridge is assaulted by the player. The simulation demonstrates the strategic problems of capturing the bridge (the placing of 88mm AT/AA guns on the high ground surrounding the bridge, for example).

In the video game Call of Duty: Finest Hour the player helps to liberate the Ludendorff Bridge in one level. Remagen also appears in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault as a multiplayer map, though not directly involving the bridge.

In the booster pack of Battlefield 2142, Northern Strike, a map is dedicated to the Bridge at Remagen. The battle takes place 200 years to the day after the real battle.

Memorial

Remagen commemorative plaque.
Hans Peter Kürten, at that time Mayor of Remagen, had long considered the idea of constructing a memorial. The negotiations with the German Federal Railway alone lasted seven years before the city could finally acquire the former railroad property. Announcements sent to government officials concerning the intended preservation of the bridge towers and the construction of a Memorial to Peace stirred no interest.

In the summer of 1976, it was necessary to remove the still intact bridge support pilings in the river. The mayor had the stones deposited on the Remagen river bank, with the idea in mind of selling small pieces of the bridge stones enclosed in synthetic resin and containing a certificate of authenticity.

On 7 March, 1978, he went public with his idea and achieved such an unexpected degree of success, that he had realised more than 100,000 DM (around 50,000 EUR) in sales profits.

There has not been another bridge built across the Rhine here, mainly due to opposition from the people of Remagen (and surrounding areas), contending that a bridge located at this point along the Rhine would spoil the view.

Prisoner enclosures

In 1945 the U.S. built one of the many enclosures on the West bank of the Rhine - the so called Rheinwiesenlager - close to Remagen. The camps were used by the Allies to house captured Germans, often under very poor conditions. Several thousand prisoners are estimated to have died in the various camps, including 1,212 who are now buried in the Bad Bodendorf cemetery. They were deprived of the legal protection that the Geneva convention provides Prisoners of War by being re-designated as Disarmed Enemy Forces. The International Red Cross was not permitted to investigate conditions in the camps.

Famous Denizens



Notes and references

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