Helden der Holzbrücken
Work on the bridges

Cleaning, checking and repairing

The carpenters of the city of Lucerne give everything for their wooden bridges – a report with pictures.

Vacuuming almost 300 meters of bridge

They clean, check and repair. The maintenance workers of the city of Lucerne show what they do to keep the wooden bridges in good condition.

The mood is as cheerful as the beautiful flowers on the Chapel Bridge. The four workers are enthusiastically cleaning and checking every nook and cranny – from the floors and the walls to the gables – of the 205-meter-long Chapel Bridge and the 81-meter-long Chaff Bridge. It takes the team a week to clean each bridge completely. Two people work on the ground and two on the scaffolding, exchanging the occasional joke or chatting briefly to passers-by as they do so.

“We often get thanked for our work,” says Ruedi Rohrer. “It is great to hear that people appreciate what we do.” Livio Thalmann, who normally works in the roads inspectorate, likes this too. He loves cleaning the wooden bridges together with the team of carpenters. “I really like the work and the mood here,” he says.

Scratched into the wood for eternity: vandalism is a serious problem and one that occurs regularly despite video monitoring. Sanding down the wood is not permitted. Instead, maintenance specialists wash away the traces as best they can with mild cleaning agents.
“I live here, they are our bridges, and I enjoy taking care of them.” Rainer Kersting, a carpenter who works for the city of Lucerne.
Twice a year...
... maintenance work and checks are performed on the bridges’ piers, beams and floors.

Cleaning without water

When the workers get started at six in the morning, the bridges are almost completely deserted. This is when they replace any damaged wood in the floors. Cleaning work begins at nine o’clock. The men remove confetti, dust and spiders’ webs from the cracks between the planks using only their vacuum cleaners and without any water at all. Two of them carry heavy battery-powered vacuum cleaners with backpack-like racks on their backs. “After eight hours of vacuuming, you certainly know what you have done,” says Rohrer, laughing. “I am still vacuuming in my sleep some days.”

I love doing this job. It's great to see the bridge all spick-and-span again at the end of the day.
Rainer Kersting, carpenter at the city of Lucerne

Lots of helpers and one secret

The critical parts of the wooden bridges are around the water’s surface. Currents, lake weed and changing water levels all have an effect on the piers, so they are checked regularly by experts. “We measure whether the distance between the bridge and the pier has changed,” says Beat Studhalter, an engineer who specializes in timber construction. He and his colleague document the details photographically and record any changes and danger areas in a layout plan. “This enables us to see at a glance which parts of the bridges need to be renovated next.”

The roof of the Chapel Bridge, which features beavertail tiles and shingles, had to be retiled in 2015. “It was very exciting to retile this historic structure,” recalls roofer Ivo Fuchs. The Chapel Bridge guards a special secret for him, one that is hidden away in a sphere on the roof of the northern portal. There, future generations will one day discover his name and those of his roofer-colleagues and wonder what they got up to all those years ago…

These people work on Lucerne’s wooden bridges too