Since we’re on our way to Germany anyway and we have a day to kill, we figure why shouldn’t we spend it on an upside down monorail? We have a choice between using Cologne or Düsseldorf as our base, but we pick Cologne since it has colourful houses. Pretty much colourful houses, cobblestones and friendly cats is all a city needs to impress us. Or even just two from three.
Wuppertal’s public transport system isn’t really called the upside down monorail. It’s actually called the ‘Electric Elevated Railway (Floating Tram) Installation, Eugen Langen System’. However, it should be called the upside down monorail since that is a both shorter and a much more vivid description of what it is. Germans call it the schwebebahn for short, which is a cute alternative if you don’t like our suggestion.
It’s only a short train ride from Cologne to Wuppertal, but upon arrival construction in the city makes it a little difficult to actually find our way from the train to the monorail. Even getting tickets proves to be difficult, given we have to undertake the whole process in German. Also we are hungover and tired, which doesn’t help our analytical abilities. Alas, we persevere and eventually take our first glimpses of the upside down monorail. The track follows the Wupper river, hanging between 8-12 meters above ground, and as we finally see a carriage approach it looks very much like this shouldn’t work.
You might assume this mode of transport is a fairly new development, but actually it has been operating for well over 100 years. There’s only been one fatal accident since its opening in 1901, so that probably means that it works okay. It is apparently called one of the safest transport systems in the world (although it is not clear who is making such an assertion).
The track was modernised starting in the late 90s and finally being completed in 2013 (it was during this phase that the fatal accident occurred). The original carriage that carried the Kaiser on the schwebebahn’s inaugural voyage is still in use, and is available for special events and dinners. Surprisingly Wuppertal’s upside down monorail is not the only one of its kind – there are a few other similar systems still in operation in Japan, one in Dresden and strangely, there is also one in Memphis (which briefly featured in the Tom Cruise film The Firm).
There aren’t any obvious advantages of this arrangement over a more conventional monorail where it sits on top of the track. It seems to take up the same amount of room in the city, and given that there are so few it must cost more to maintain. According to a quick google search, it is less affected by snow and ice than other types of transport systems, although in summer it’s hard to imagine this being a problem.
Hanging upside down means that the monorail swings. Depending on your perspective this may be a way for the monorail to travel corners quicker (Myles) or is terrifying (Keelie). If you fall into the terrifying camp, embarking or disembarking will occur with a slight jump while you look for somewhere you might be able to hold on for dear life should you have underestimated the amount of swing and begin to fall for to your death. Not a particularly relaxing experience.
We decide to get an all day ticket and ride from one end of the line to the other. We don’t actually know anything much about Wuppertal, except that the only reason tourists come is to ride the upside down monorail. Along the journey we discover that there is a fair in town that day (which of course we stop at, because fairs), that the town has a gigantic Bayer factory and some very German looking houses, as well as managing to get Myles his first McRib in Germany. They also have at least one huge rat that we managed to spot. So I guess we actually did know everything about Wuppertal.