Trips on the World’s Oldest Electric Suspension Railway in 1902 & 2015 Show How a City Changes Over a Century

Today we take a ride on the world’s old­est elec­tric sus­pen­sion railway—the Wup­per­tal Schwe­be­bahn in Ger­many.

Actu­al­ly, we’ll take two rides, trav­el­ing back in time to do so, thanks to YouTu­ber pwduze, who had a bit of fun try­ing to match up two videos dis­cov­ered online for comparison’s sake.

The jour­ney on the left was filmed in 1902, when this mir­a­cle of mod­ern engi­neer­ing was but a year old.

The train pass­es over a broad road trav­eled most­ly by pedes­tri­ans.

Note the absence of cars, traf­fic lights, and sig­nage, as well as the pro­lif­er­a­tion of green­ery, ani­mals, and space between hous­es.

The trip on the right was tak­en much more recent­ly, short­ly after the rail­way began upgrad­ing its fleet to cars with cush­ioned seats, air con­di­tion­ing, infor­ma­tion dis­plays, LED light­ing, increased access for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and regen­er­a­tive brakes.

An extend­ed ver­sion at the bot­tom of this page pro­vides a glimpse of the con­trol pan­el inside the driver’s booth.

There are some changes vis­i­ble beyond the wind­shield, too.

Now, cars, bus­es, and trucks dom­i­nate the road.

A large mon­u­ment seems to have dis­ap­peared at the 2:34 mark, along with the plaza it once occu­pied.

Field­stone walls and 19th-cen­tu­ry archi­tec­tur­al flour­ish­es have been replaced with bland cement.

There’s been a lot of building—and rebuild­ing. 40% of Wuppertal’s build­ings were destroyed by Allied bomb­ing in WWII.

Although Wup­per­tal is still the green­est city in Ger­many, with access to pub­lic parks and wood­land paths nev­er more than a ten-minute walk away, the views across the Wup­per riv­er to the right are decid­ed­ly less expan­sive.

As Ben­jamin Schnei­der observes in Bloomberg City­Lab:

For the Schwebebahn’s first rid­ers at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, these vis­tas along the eight-mile route must have been a rev­e­la­tion. Many of them would have rid­den trains and ele­va­tors, but the unob­struct­ed, straight-down views from the sus­pend­ed mono­rail would have been nov­el, if not ter­ri­fy­ing.

The bridge struc­tures appear to have changed lit­tle over the last 120 years, despite sev­er­al safe­ty upgrades.

Those steam­punk sil­hou­ettes are a tes­ta­ment to the planning—and expense—that result­ed in this unique mass tran­sit sys­tem, whose ori­gin sto­ry is sum­ma­rized by Elmar Thyen, head of Schwe­be­bah­n’s Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Strate­gic Mar­ket­ing:

We had a sit­u­a­tion with a very rich city, and very rich cit­i­zens who were eager to be social­ly active. They said, ‘Which space is pub­licly owned so we don’t have to go over pri­vate land?… It might make sense to have an ele­vat­ed rail­way over the riv­er.’

In the end, this is what the mer­chants want­ed. They want­ed the emper­or to come and say, ‘This is cool, this is inno­v­a­tive: high tech, and still Pruss­ian.’

At present, the sus­pen­sion rail­way is only oper­at­ing on the week­ends, with a return to reg­u­lar ser­vice antic­i­pat­ed for August 2021. Face masks are required. Tick­ets are still just a few bucks.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Fly­ing Train: A 1902 Film Cap­tures a Futur­is­tic Ride on a Sus­pend­ed Rail­way in Ger­many

Trains and the Brits Who Love Them: Mon­ty Python’s Michael Palin on Great Rail­way Jour­neys

A New Dig­i­tized Menu Col­lec­tion Lets You Revis­it the Cui­sine from the “Gold­en Age of Rail­road Din­ing”

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.