The lower German railway: The Wuppertal Schwebebahn

(CNN) – Roads are released today as an anachronism – a 19th -century vision of what the future holds. By 2022, of course, we’re all going to be working on the roads below!

Unlike traditional railway lines that are fixed to terra firma, public railways run under a track that is freed from pylons. Their cars ride over roads, rivers and other obstacles, while riders enjoy the view.

The idea, ironically, didn’t really get out of the world even though some short -lived businesses like the Braniff Jetrail Fastpark System drove passengers from the parking lot to the base at Dallas Love Field for Four years before the plane closed in 1974.

Today, the only free railways in operation are found in Japan and Germany. And in Germany the first, and best of all, can be seen going strong in its all -time steampunk glory – the Wuppertal Schwebebahn.

It all started in the 1880s, after the German emperor called the Gründerzeit a period of rapid industrial growth. Eugen Langen tried a freight train to move goods at his sugar plantation in Cologne.

Meanwhile, the nearby town of Wuppertal is in trouble. The growth of the local clothing industry saw the area grow from a small collection of residents on the Wupper River to a town of 40,000 people who needed to travel around.

Because of the long and winding valley that made it impossible for old trains or railroads, city officials called for ideas to fix the problem – and Langen stepped up.

In 1893, he donated his vacation car system to the city, where the idea flew. Construction began in 1898 and the line was opened in 1901, with Emperor Wilhelm II sailing with his wife, Auguste Viktoria.

Damage of war

About 20,000 tons of steel was used to build the highway that runs through the city. Its 20 beautiful art nouveau galleries have improved glass and wood inside the cars that can carry 65 people each.

The network was extended to its final length of 13.3 kilometers (8.3 miles) in 1903, with trips starting and ending at the loopholes connecting the Vohwinkel and Oberbarmen centers of the line.

The new railway is popular with locals. In later years the train had increased its length from two to six cars, running every five minutes.

The Wuppertal freeway can solve problems such as roads and waterways.

The Wuppertal freeway can solve problems such as roads and waterways.

Oliver Berg / image-contract / dpa / AP

The number of passengers dropped during World War I, when most Wuppertal workers served in the Kaiser armies, but by 1925 the system had already carried 20 million cars on. on the Wupper River.

During World War II, the system was disrupted by Allied bombs in major attacks on Wuppertal in May and June 1943, and in January 1945, but by Easter 1946, less than a full year after it was destroyed. Of the war in Europe, the whole way. back to work.

For Rosemarie Weingarten, who was born in Wuppertal’s Barmen district in 1933, the Schwebebahn was the city’s cultural state because of her endurance.

“I don’t think there’s any more show featuring Wuppertal and the Barmen than the Schwebebahn. It’s always been for me and I’m proud to keep running,” he told CNN.

The elephant in the car

There is a picture of Tuffi where he landed.

There is a picture of Tuffi where he landed.

Tim Oelbermann / image-contract / dpa / image AP

In the 1950s, the Schwebebahn had its most famous car to this day, taller than the Kaiser: Tuffi the elephant.

The Althoff Circus was in town and organized an advertising tour for the young pachyderm, which was less popular in West Germany at the time. Tuffi was not afraid of being around people, so circus owner Franz Althoff used him to promote his show.

He first rode on trains, drank from a sacred fountain, handed out cans of beer to the workers, and was not too fearless, ate the flower and urinated on the captain. Persia.

At first it seemed like his Schwebebahn trip went well. He boarded the train at Wuppertal-Barmen (where Althoff bought four tickets for Tuffi and one for himself).

But the car was full of reporters and officials, so when Tuffi tried to search after a few minutes, he couldn’t be bothered. He first stomped on the row of chairs and jumped out the window into the river 10 meters (33 feet) below.

The river is 50 centimeters (20 inches) deep in that area but the soil is muddy, so there is very little for Tuffi to dig. Althoff wanted to fly after him, but he continued to stand up from where he had run into a strange elephant and led him to a circus camp.

A painting made from basalt created in 2020 by artist Bernd Bergkemper sits at the exact spot where Tuffi landed in 1950.

Run to the past

Today, Schwebebahn does not transport elephants, but is regularly used on commuter trains, moving about 25 million passengers each year, pre-Covid.

Sadly, almost all of the luxury cars of the first generation, and the GTW 72 model cars introduced in 1972 that ran for 27 years, were replaced by the gorgeous red cars of the “Generation 15” in entered service in 2016.

Even with the new trains, Schwebebahn itself is popular with fans.

“My interest in the Schwebebahn is in the way it was built more than 100 years ago,” said Cologne-based architect Christian Busch. “Implementing such a project without computer -assisted systems is unthinkable today.

“A ride on the Schwebebahn allows the visitor an amazing insight into the lives of the locals and really feels like a fairground visitor from days gone by.”

The Schwebebahn, for non -elephant users, is a very safe way to get around.

Until 1999, it was considered the safest public transport route in Germany, recording a small number of accidents over about 100 years of operation.

In April 1999, however, the Schwebebahn had its darkest hour: five people were killed and 47 were injured when a train collided with a 100-kilogram steel bar that had been left in operation. fell eight feet into the Wupper.

Since then, the railroad has gone uphill, better than ever since, and in 2018 a 350 -meter -long cable car fell on the road below and could not reach the Schwebebahn for nearly nine. months, ending the longest service in its history.

The train reopened in 2019 and was used extensively and enjoyed by Wuppertalers.

Movie star

About 25 million trains are transported each year.

About 25 million trains are transported each year.

Roland Weihrauch / company-image / dpa / AP

Given its amazing history and unique style, it’s no surprise that Schwebebahn has inspired German artists and popular culture to a wide extent.

It was starred in 1902 in the sci-fi novel “Altneuland” (The Old New Land) by Zionist writer and political activist Theodor Herzl. She was featured in Wim Wenders’ 1974 film “Alice in the Cities”, in Tom Tykwer’s 2000 film “Der Krieger und die Kaiserin” (The Warrior and the Empress), and in a 2011 Wenders film, “Pina,” which celebrates a Wuppertal film, choreographer Pina Bausch.

Darren Almond created a Super 8 film called “Schwebebahn” in 1995, and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York collected a two -minute film from 1902 that was published. from a Schwebebahn train with a unique view of the Wuppertal landscape.

For locals and visitors alike, the Schwebebahn has always been a loving anachronism.

“Nowadays, for both independence and economic reasons, gray is the most common choice and representation of our industry,” said Christian Busch, author. “But the iron belts of the Schwebebahn allow the trains to take its passengers without having to think about how much the cars have to climb down, and they’re beautiful.”

Japan's Shonan Monorail has been designated as Schwebebahn's sister railway line.

Japan’s Shonan Monorail has been designated as Schwebebahn’s sister railway line.

ENOSHIMA, JAPAN – August 16: The Shonan Monorail will run on the road on August 16, 2019 near Enoshima, Japan. Designed to host sailing events, Enoshima is one of the places in and around the Japanese capital to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. (Photo by Carl Court / Getty Images)

And that loving anachronism also points the way for the future. From 2018, Schwebebahn will be the sister train of the Shonan Monorail in the Japanese city of Kamakura, sharing the best deals and promoting the freestanding routes as a form of travel.

And if you visit Wuppertal and want to really enjoy it, there is a beautiful car left in service, the one that Wilhelm II and Auguste Viktoria used in the 1900s.

The Kaiserwagen, or Imperial Carriage, can be booked for personal use – including marriage.

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