The De Hef bridge is a former steel railroad bridge in Rotterdam that was decommissioned as a railroad bridge in 1993 and is currently a treasured national monument. The bridge is officially known as Koningshavenbrug (King’s Harbour Bridge), but everybody has been calling it Hefbrug or De Hef (literally, “the lift”) since it opened in 1927. The bridge served as part of a vital rail link through the city as part of the Breda-Rotterdam railroad system as part of the larger Willemsspoorbrug (Willems Rail Bridge), which connected the northern and southern parts of the city over the Nieuwe Maas. The De Hef portion spans across the Koningshaven (King Harbor), from Noordereiland (Northern Island) to the Feijenoord neighborhood in the southern part of the city.
The original bridge that was constructed across the Koningshavenbrug where the De Hef currently stands was built in 1878 as a swing bridge. However, the functionality of the swing bridge was not conducive to the large ships that needed to navigate through King’s Harbour. Eventually, enough boats ran into the bridge, causing enough damage to warrant a new bridge that would better accommodate the heavy nautical traffic.
The current De Hef bridge was designed by architect Peter Joosting as a vertical lift bridge. This design allows for the center piece, known as “the fall,” to rise vertically to allow for the safe passage of tall ships. Each tower is comprised of iron trusses and measures 60 meters high. The center fall is only 52 meters high when fully opened. The bridge was the first of its kind to be built in Western Europe.The De Hef bridge was part of a larger bridge network called Maasbruggen (Maas bridges) that spanned the Nieuwe Maas and Koningshaven. It was well received and immediately popular. Local filmmaker Joris Ivens made a short film called The Brug highlighting the engineering marvel.
With 30,000 vessels calling at the port of Rotterdam each year, is the largest cargo port in all of Europe. Between 1964 and 2011 it was the busiest port in the entire world, which demanded the De Hef be raised often to allow for ships to cross under, which in turn resulted in frequent changes to the railroad schedule and also created a bottleneck for ships waiting to pass under. To best accommodate both the railroad and the port, the city decided to replace the bridge with a tunnel under the Nieuwe Maas.
The Willemsspoortunnel (Willems Tunnel) opened in 1993, rerouting trains under the waterway. This rendered the entire Willemsspoorbrug obsolete. The city began making plans to tear it down, but the community protested the demolition. The bridge was considered iconic and an important part of the city skyline. The distinctive silhouette is considered an important monument in the city of Rotterdam and its history as a vital port. It was decided that the bridge would remain in place and was granted rijksmonument (national monument) status. In 2014, he fall was removed for maintenance.
We were lucky enough to be visiting Rotterdam on February 7, 2017 when the fall section of the bridge was scheduled to be reinserted back onto De Hef. Since we happened to be staying on Noordereiland, we walked over to the De Hef at 9:00 am to watch a huge crane gently lower the giant structure back into place. We heard that when the fall was removed in 2014, hundreds of people hung out watching the spectacle. Assuming this was an exaggeration, we were surprised to see so many people outside on a cold winter morning to witness the re-installation. It took several hours and then finally, the De Hef bridge was complete again.