The Schwebebahn: Riding an Upside Down Train

Schwebebahn Malte Reiter
The Schwebebahn in Wuppertal. © Malte Reiter Photos.

Schwebebahn in Wuppertal, Germany: An Upside-down Train!

By Megan Mentuck

Schwebebahn
Schwebebahn. © Malte Reiter Photos.

In Wuppertal, Germany exists the Schwebebahn, the world’s oldest electric suspension railway.

This unique form of transportation attracts both engineering enthusiasts and train enthusiasts alike.

Known for its scenic views and unique experience, the railway attracts even people with limited knowledge of trains or transportation engineering. It’s an upside-down train.

The Schwebebahn has been around for just over 120 years and is a beloved attraction for both residents and visitors of the city. The hanging railway may be hard to imagine, but essentially it looks similar to your average train.

However, the Schwebebahn does not move over the tracks with its wheels on the bottom. Rather, the tracks are suspended over the city and the train connects to the tracks from the top.

Passengers sit right side up in the cars while moving over the beloved city of Wuppertal. Riding the Schwebebahn the entire length of its railway is a thirty-five minute, twenty-stop ride complete with views of the river, the city, and everything it has to offer.

The Origin of the Schwebebahn 

When I first saw photos of the unique railway system, I was immediately curious about how the Schwebebahn first came into existence. It looked so strange with full cars of people suspended over roads with traffic and the Wupper river.

Schwebebahn
The Schwebebahn. © Malte Reiter

When the Schwebebahn was first started, Wuppertal was actually two different cities: Barmen and Elberfeld.

It wouldn’t be until the 1930s that the cities would be merged to form Wuppertal.

According to the official Schwebebahn tourism site, the railway was officially started in February of 1830 after the Elberfield City Council decided to examine the project.

A few weeks later, in March of the same year, the Barmen City Council decided that way as well.

A few years later, the two cities agreed to work in conjunction with one another in the creation of the unique engineering feat. In 1898, construction of the Schwebebahn was officially begun and the project was underway.

Official Opening in 1901

After a couple of years of construction and test drives, the railway was officially opened for the public on March 1, 1901. Since it was made available to the public, the railway has always been extremely popular. It’s reported on the Schwebebahn website that by 1925 the train had carried about 20 million passengers.

Given the size of the cities’ populations at the time, this was an incredibly impressive feat. Since the Schwebebahn’s early days, it was obvious that the landmark was not only an attractive mode of transportation for residents but also for visitors and tourists in the area.

Elephant on the Tracks!

Schwebebahn elephant
Tuffi the elephant! © Der Grüne Zoo Wuppertal Photos.

By 1950, cars were becoming a more popular mode of transportation and railways had a new type of competition.

However, the Schwebebahn was still fairly popular. In order to drum up some more publicity, a stunt was staged in conjunction with the Circus Althoff.

It was decided that Tuffi, a circus elephant, would ride the suspension railway in the summer of 1950.

However, as soon as the four-year-old elephant was put on the train, she got nervous and jumped off! Luckily Tuffi wasn’t too injured from the stunt.

This bizarre story is one aspect of Schwebebahn’s history that makes the railway system so interesting.

Model Trains

Schwebebahn model trains are a popular item in Germany.
Schwebebahn model trains are a popular item in Germany.

Since the incident with Tuffi, the Schwebebahn has memorialized the history of the railway suspension system with miniature models of the train.

The miniature train models are 27.5-centimeter replications of the actual Schwebebahn. They are created at a 1:87 scale and feature very specific attention to detail.

One such model, known as the “Special Edition G15 Tuffi Jump” can be bought in the visitor’s shop or even purchased online.

This special edition of the model train comes complete as an exact replica of the Schwebebahn with an image of a cartoon elephant painted on the side.

Schwebebahn
The Schwebebahn. © Malte Reiter Photos.

The City of Wuppertal

One of the things that make this train so unique is the city that surrounds it.

On the Schwebebahn tourism website, Wuppertal is described as “a lively, modern city in the middle of the Bergisches Land region.”

The city has a population of about 350,000 so sometimes traffic can make trips around the city a little bit longer.

However, the city’s unique suspension railway system is a reliable and cheap way to travel around the city while avoiding traffic.

Part of what makes the Schwebebahn so attractive to both tourists and residents is that it’s an easy way to get around the city.

The Train Route

If you’re interested in visiting Wuppertal to see the Schwebebahn, you can use the unique mode of transportation to visit other places in the city. The rich history of the area makes for great sightseeing across the city.

Zoological Garden on Schwebebahn Route
Zoological Garden. © Malte Reiter Photos.

Arguably one of the best stops on the route is the Wuppertal Zoo. The city’s industrial history also makes for intriguing architecture and city centers.

Town halls, shopping centers, and eighteenth-century historical homes are available for visiting depending on which stop you get off at!

The River Wupper

One of the best features that can be seen from the Schwebebahn is the river Wupper.

Although it was once known as a polluted feature of a rundown industrial city, the river Wupper is now another beautiful feature of both the city and the views that can be seen from the Schwebebahn.

In the age of transportation apps, train rides can sometimes fall to the back burner. However, in the interesting city of Wuppertal, Germany, a trip is not complete without a ride on the Schwebebahn.

Don’t Miss Out!

The suspension railway gives visitors a whole different perspective of this specific city—and even cities in general!

It’s not every day that you can experience a ride through a crowded urban area suspended above it. With twenty different stops along the way, this thirty-five-minute ride not only offers a once-in-lifetime experience but also an affordable way to travel.

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