The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

The Railway Series

Wuppertal’s Suspension Railway

The suspension railway in the Wupper valley is the world’s oldest operational monorail, and for the first 98 years of its existence the Schwebebahn was also the longest one. The 13⅓-km-long line was built between 1898 and 1903 to connect Vohwinkel, Elberfeld and Barmen, three towns that today are part of the city of Wuppertal, in the south of the Ruhrpott, the Ruhr region. In Vohwinkel, the train runs at 8 m above the street, then east of the Wuppertal Zoo, the train travels the remaining 10 km at a height of 12 m above the riverbed of the Wupper, at an average speed of 27½ kph. A return journey takes about an hour; audio guides in German & English are available to accompany you on your ride.

The Wuppertal suspension railway in Vohwinkel
The Wuppertal suspension railway in Vohwinkel

Once local traffic in the narrow Wupper valley had substantially increased due to the region’s industrialization, the authorities in Elberfeld and Barmen decided in 1894 to build an elevated railway over the shallow river. A year later, the mayor of Vohwinkel signed a contract to extend the line westward. (In other places one would probably have built an underground, but here the substratum was too hard to tunnel through.) It took five years and 19,200 tonnes of iron & 2⅗ million rivets to finish the railway. Operation started in March 1901, once the first section was completed. The original Kaiserwagen № 5, used by Emperor Wilhelm II & his wife in 1900 for a test drive, is still in use for tourist tours. The third-generation GTW 72 trains are currently being replaced by G15 trains, whose most attractive feature is the panoramic rear window. Therefore you’d better try to commandeer the back seats when riding the new trains.

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For further reading (in German) about the Wuppertal suspension railway, please see the article Ein Engel mit Nieten statt Flügeln on the FAZ website. The film Neues Schweben in der Stadt (10 min., in German, also available in English) tells the story of the city’s landmark.


I was 32 years old and elephant Tuffi was only four when we travelled on the Schwebebahn together on the morning of Friday 21 July 1950. Tuffi was employed at Circus Althoff, whose director took her on a ride as a marketing ploy. But she didn’t like it at all, jumped out of the carriage and fell twelve metres, ending up in the Wupper river. Fortunately, she suffered only minor injuries.


Cool: railway operator Wuppertaler Stadtwerke published a cab ride video (53½ min.) of a G15 train riding the Schwebebahn all the way from Vohwinkel to Oberbarmen & back.


Ab Mittwoch, den 12. August 2020 fährt die Schwebebahn nur noch samstags und sonntags. Diese Einschränkung wird voraussichtlich bis zum Sommer 2021 andauern.