Georg Michael Zimmermann

The Höllental Railway near the Ravenna Bridge, 1902

About the object

The topographic challenges involved in the construction of the Höllental railway, which opened in 1887 are illustrated by this view from the Oberhöllsteig down onto the steep mountain slopes with the Ravenna bridge and into the narrow valley. The stretch between Freiburg and Titisee involves numerous inclines and is still considered the steepest section of track on the German rail network.
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In this painting Georg Michael Zimmermann shows the Höllental Railway, visible on the right side of the picture near the Ravenna Bridge. The railway line had been officially opened in May 1887 and represented major progress for the inhabitants of the region. It established an east-west connection between the cities of Freiburg and Neustadt; prior that that time, the journey through the Höllental valley had been possible only on foot or in carriages. The opening of the railway was preceded by a long period of planning lasting about 40 years. The project was difficult to finance due primarily to engineering challenges, since the route involves numerous ascents and differences of elevation. With a gradient of 5.5% (1:18), the Höllental Railway is still the steepest route in the Deutsche Bahn railway system. Construction began in the spring of 1884 in accord with revised plans by the respected and experienced engineer Robert Gerwig (1820–1885), who supervised the construction. At times an average of 950 workers were employed to build the tracks. Because of often difficult weather conditions, however—above all in the winter—progress was interrupted again and again. For this painting, Zimmermann chose a perspective that revealed the challenges presented by the topography of the High Black Forest for the construction of a railway. He depicted the view from Oberhöllsteig into the upper Höllental valley, where steep, forested slopes meet in the valley spanned by the mighty Ravenna Bridge. The bridge was renovated in 1926 and today shows round arches between the piers. The road at the right corresponds to the present-day B 31 highway; at the center of the painting are the Hofgut Sternen and St. Oswald’s Chapel. Zimmermann's painted landscape continues into the artfully designed frame, intensifying the three-dimensional effect of the painting. MIRJA STRAUB (Transl. MELISSA THORSON)

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