The Little Belt Bridge – Den gamle Lillebæltsbro

Opened in 1935 The Little Belt Bridge (Danish: Den gamle Lillebæltsbro) from Funen to Jutland is one of the most classic bridges in Denmark with a big steel construction, that constantly needs maintenance. The Old Little Belt Bridge carries all rail traffic between Funen and Jutland. It’s also open to car traffic and pedestrians/ bikes, that use the sidewalk on the bridge.

The Little Belt Bridge is a steel truss bridge, one of the most used construction methods from that era. Construction began in 1929 and the bridge was opened for traffic on the 14th of May 1935, when King Christian the 10th crossed the bridge by train. The construction was more or less done by hand with use of very little machinery, and the construction of the bridge was one of several public projects across Denmark, putting young unemployed men to work during the thirties. The construction of The Storstrom Bridge was a similar public project at that time.

The Little Belt Bridge is 1.178 meters long, which makes it the 9th longest road bridge in Denmark. The bridge was designed by Anker Engelund, a chief engineer and professor, and he was the main person behind the design and construction of the majority of all new bridges in Denmark from the thirties until the beginning of the sixties.

The opening of The Little Belt Bridge also marked an important step forward regarding the Danish infrastructure. When the bridge was opened, The Danish State Railways, DSB, started to operate new fast trains (Danish: lyntog) across Denmark between Copenhagen and Jutland, which cut down the travelling time between East and West Denmark with more than an hour. But also car traffic across Denmark got a boost with the new bridge, and Highway 1 from Esbjerg to Copenhagen across the The Little Belt Bridge became the most important highway across Denmark.

The new vital link between the eastern and the western part of Denmark also got immediately attention from the German occupation forces, when they occupied Denmark in 1940: The Little Belt Bridge was one of the first locations, where check points were put up on the morning of 9th of April 1940.

Before the opening of the bridge, cars and trains was sailed across The Little Belt from Middelfart on Funen to Snoghøj in Jutland. The ferries ceased operations, when The Little Belt Bridge was completed.

An interesting and lesser known outcome of The Old Little Belt Bridge was the building of the former Odin Tower in Odense. When construction the piers of the bridge below the water line, big metal cylinders were used – and removed again – when the piers were completed. But instead of scraping the cylinders, they were used for building The Odin Tower on a hill in Bolbro in the western part of Odense.

The Odin Tower was opened on the 29th of May 1935 just two weeks after the bridge was opened. With a total height of 177 meters and a viewing platform 140 meters above the ground, the view from The Odin Tower was impressive. The tower was next tallest tower in Europe – only the Eiffel Tower in Paris was higher in 1935.

But the grandiosity of the tower in Odense was short: On the morning of the 14th of December 1944, the tower was blown up by Danish Nazi saboteurs, which wanted to take revenge for the massive resistance in Odense against the German occupation forces. The Odin Tower in Odense was never rebuilt.

While the Odin Tower is gone, is still possible to enjoy the view of The Old Little Belt Bridge: Consider driving down through the woods just west of Middelfart to the shore of The Little Belt, where you have a great view of the old bridge. From the harbour front in Middelfart, it’s possible to enjoy the views of both The New Little Belt Bridge and The Old Little Belt Bridge. The city museum in Middelfart has a permanent exhibition on the history of both of the bridges across in The Little Belt.

A final anecdote on The Old Little Belt Bridge: The massive steel construction makes is a bit of challenge to maintain the bridge, and a group of workers work constantly to keep the bridge in good shape. A rumour says that when the workers are finally done painting the bridge in one end, they can start all over again in the other end of the bridge.

By Henrik Lange,
Photo: Henrik Lange

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