The Wuppertal overhead railway has attracted a lot of nicknames in its time: the steel centipede, the iron thread, the stalwart dragon. It’s even been described as an angel. Whatever you choose to call it the overhead railway has enjoyed a unique reputation around the world for more than 100 years. A journey from one end to the other and back lasts around an hour. Passengers have the impression they are flying through the sky. For both the rails and the wheels are connected to the ceiling of the train. 12 metres below flows the River Wupper. The railway only leaves the river in the West near Vohwinkel where it sweeps above the streets for somewhat more than 3 kilometres. The whole journey offers wonderful views of the city. This is not only due to the height of the trains but to Wuppertal itself – more precisely to the nature of the Wupper valley, which is the literal translation of “Wupper-Tal”. It’s narrow and deep which means that the city itself had no alternative but to expand along its length and follow the course of the river like the overhead railway. Thus passengers are able to glide over a crowded city landscape of old textile mills, residential areas and squares most of which sprang up in the early industrial era. A trip in the so-called “Kaiser’s wagon” promises a very special experience. This is the wagon in which Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife took their places for an official preview of the overhead railway shortly before it was completed.
The overhead railway is made-to-measure for Wuppertal. Because it is completely unencumbered by the network of roads beneath it provides a swift connection between the two ends of the long and winding city. Since most of it was built over the river it also took up very little valuable building space and saved an immense amount of expense in buying up land. Its prototype was constructed in the sugar factory of a Cologne business man named Carl Eugen Langen, one of whose passions was trying to solve tricky technical problems. He invented an overhead railway system for carrying goods around his own factory and this so convinced the city fathers of Wuppertal that they elected to copy it for their own ends. Construction work on the 13.3 kilometre long steel framework began in 1898. Three years later on 1st March 1901 the first trains went into operation. Now the overhead railway carries more than 23,000,000 customers a year and is acknowledged to be one of the safest means of transportation in the whole world. At the moment it is undergoing a thorough overhaul and modernisation but when this is completed it will scarcely look any different from what it did one hundred years ago.