Rotterdam Films

Rijneke & van Leeuwaarden

De Brugwachter

Dirk Rijneke

De Brugwachter (Bridgekeeper), Documentary by Dirk Rijneke – 42 min



Where Joris Ivens realized his ‘study of mechanical movement’ in 1928, the bridgekeeper of the Koningshaven Hefbrug now thrones high above the city and the river, passing his last working days.

Affixed to the side of the bridge, like a pimple, is a small steel cabin. Next to it is an engine room full of old-fashioned generators, aggregates, chains the size of a man’s wrist and pulleys of almost three meters thick.

The cabin, the bridgemaster’s abode, is soberly decorated. The house of a frugal man. There is a stainless steel kitchen sink, a gas ring with two burners. There is an entresol with a desk and four wooden chairs. An old colour tv. the Bridgekeeper’s contacts with the outside world are sparse. He waves at the skippers that sail past underneath him. He has short, businesslike conversations with the train drivers, the ‘Masters’. And sometimes he will have visitors.

From his almost antique leather armchair, like a throne in a glass aquarium, the Bridgekeeper admires the view: downtown Rotterdam mid front. On the left: the river, downstream. On the right: the river, upstream. And all around: the epic nodal point of The HEF; the Ward Leonard control panel. Meters the size of station clocks. Buttons like mushrooms that go ‘click’ when pushed. Levers the size of hockeysticks. In short, instruments with a ‘feel’, physical.

The Bridgekeeper is a man of middle-age. He has lived on and with The HEF all his life. He loves The HEF. He knows every sound. Her weak spots. He treats her with caution. With a speed of three meters per second the counterweights are lowered into the depth. With a speed of three meters per second ‘De VAL’ the flooring-deck is raised. From his throne the Bridgekeeper oversees the effect of his operations in the outside world. Right in front of him two long rows of traffic are waiting before the barriers. Underneath the tugboats pass under The HEF. When the ships have passed through the bridge, The Bridgekeeper lowers The HEF again. The view from the flooring-deck is magnificent. Slowly the Rotterdam skyline comes into view. And not much later The Bridgekeeper’s cabin. And soon after the Bridgekeeper’s head. After a good lift he makes sure that she lands ever so softly, almost inaudibly. With a hardly tangible – flump ! – the flooring-deck falls into place. Then he informs ‘ Post T ‘: “The bolts are locked, the bridge is safe for traffic.” When the work is done, the Bridgekeeper postures himself in his aquarium, into his leather throne.

Inevitably the day approaches when the bridge will be rendered inoperative. Beaten, the Bridgekeeper Arie sits at his table. Where first everything in the little abode would rattle when a train came thundering past, silence reigns. The film ends with the closure of the Bridge; the rails are cut through and removed; as a keepsake Bridgekeeper Arie receives a twenty centimeter piece.

When the rails, the lifeline is cut through, this signifies the end of the Bridge and the end of the film.



16 mm, 42 min., colour, special television version

Director: Dirk Rijneke

Production: Rotterdam Films

Camera: Dirk Rijneke

Sound: Mildred van Leeuwaarden

Broadcasted by NCRV television.

Sales: Brussels Ave (sold to 40 territories)