Places in Berlin

The Bridge of Neglected Lions

It is late summer and you wander through the garden of beasts, the Tiergarten, along the waters of the Neuer See. You are deep among the trees, and soon you see wildlife among the branches, a grimace reflected in the pool. Is that a roar you hear, or some other sound from the greenery?

For five years this bridge, the Löwenbrücke (Lions’ bridge), has been blocked. The animals are caged and whimper with melancholy purrs through the bars. What have we done to deserve this maltreatment? No one even feeds us. Before we used to have so many visitors. The drag queens who used to paint the toenails of our paws bright colours. Or the men in tight trousers who’d hang around, draped over the railings, making eyes with us until we wagged our tails.

We’ve been popular since we were first modeled by Hesse and Tieck in 1838, after a crossing in Saint Petersburg, to be the first suspension bridge in Berlin. 18 m long, and the only one to survive the Second World War! Our wooden structure was stripped and burnt, but we lions survived to guard the only span of our kind left in the city. But since 2008, we’ve been closed, thanks to the Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung who consider us dangerous. Why do we frighten them? Is it our big teeth?

Apparently our wood is rotten, the structure unsound, and only in 2014 will the city begin to reconstruct us according to our historic model. Did it really take them five years simply to draft the plans? How much longer will that take to complete the actual construction when it begins next year? Which will open first, the Löwenbrücke or the Berlin Brandenburg Airport?

We might warn the city what happens if we get impatient. You might find us breaking free from our cage, and wandering late at night, the moon reflecting dully from our haunches. You’ll know where we are because you will hear suspicious cries from the bushes.

Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

3 thoughts on “The Bridge of Neglected Lions

  • Is it still a cruisy place around the bridge and is the Tiergarten in general still a gay meeting place? Love your blog. Should visit Berlin one day again, am a cultural historian myself, there is so much to see in this city.

    • It is! Although the action of historical interest seems to have moved somewhat away from the bridge since its (endless) restoration… I’ve heard paranoid explanations that the repairs are the city’s way to clamp down on such activities, but given this is Berlin and not Moscow I hardly think that was a consideration.

  • So sad to hear this. I remember this bridge and the area around it. I spent a week in Berlin in 1987 and this bridge figured into my time a lot. 😉
    Most probably the reason they are taking so long to fix it up. Didn’t know about that. The Lions Bridge is still shown in tourist brochures. Have heard no mention that it was closed. Didn’t get to the Tiergarten last time I was there. Would have been grossly disappointed.

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