Antwerp replicates famous pontoon bridge for war centenary weekend


The City of Antwerp is commemorating an important episode in the First World War with a historical recreation and a Pontoon Bridge Weekend of celebrations

Courtesy Vredescentrum Antwerpen

Looking back and ahead

The bridge is the archetypal symbol of openness and exchange, something to be built (figuratively) in our more harmonious moments and burned (again, figuratively) in our fits of spite. Sometimes, however, bridges are more than symbols.

The pontoon bridge built by Belgian army engineers across the Scheldt in the early days of the First World War was (literally) a lifeline. Stretching from Antwerp’s Steenplein on the right bank of the Scheldt to the Boeienweide on the left, the construction allowed the city to be supplied from the west as the Kaiser’s army laid siege from the east.

It was a crucial mission since Antwerp had become the country’s provisional capital, the fortified redoubt of Belgium’s government and royal family. Within months, in early October 1914, the Germans smashed through, and the bridge became an evacuation route, allowing the army and tens of thousands of civilians to escape.

Then it was no more; the Belgians detonated the bridge so it couldn’t serve the occupier.

Now, in the context of the First World War centenary, Antwerp commemorates the episode with a historical recreation and a weekend of celebration, not only for the past but the future as well. The Peace Bridge, an ambitious, contemporary re-imagining of the original pontoon span, has been constructed by Belgian and Dutch army specialists in collaboration with the Antwerp Port Authority.

The afternoon inauguration ceremony this Friday entails a Peace Parade, after which the bridge will be open to the public throughout the weekend. Cultural activities are ongoing on both banks, including multimedia installations, concerts, re-enactments, demonstrations and a pop-up bookstore organised by MAS Shop. Nor are the young ones neglected. Children will have access to a playground in the Field of Buoys and a family-friendly entertainment programme in the Frederik van Eedenplein.
3-5 October at Steenplein, Antwerp

Photo: Antwerp’s original river-spanning bridge, first used for supply, then to flee

The City of Antwerp is commemorating an important episode in the First World War with a historical recreation and a weekend of celebration.

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First World War

Claiming the lives of more than nine million people and destroying entire cities and villages in Europe, the Great War was one of the most dramatic armed conflicts in human history. It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Flanders Field - For four years, a tiny corner of Flanders known as the Westhoek became one of the war’s major battlefields.
Untouched - Poperinge, near Ypres, was one of the few towns in Flanders that remained unoccupied for most of the war.
Cemetery - The Tyne Cot graveyard in Passchendaele is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
550 000

lives lost in West Flanders

368 000

annual visitors to the Westhoek

1 914

First Battle of Ypres