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Five of the most unusual types of transport in Germany

Public transport is designed to get us from A to B, but these quirky transport options in Germany are an experience in themselves. And the best thing? You can use the €9 ticket for some of them.

The Schwebebahn travels along Kaiserstraße in Wuppertal. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Güttler

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you’ll be aware that Germany is launching a mega cheap transport ticket this summer. From the start of June, people will be able to travel on unlimited local and regional transport for just €9 a month – and the ticket will be valid anywhere in the country. 

With everyone looking forward to getting out and about this summer, we thought we’d take a look at some slightly unusual ways of getting from A to B. 

Beyond the everyday buses and underground trains, you can find some truly awe-inspiring and quirky modes of transport in Germany. Here’s a rundown of some of the more eccentric parts of Germany’s transport networks, from futuristic suspension railways to charming steam trains. 

READ ALSO: €9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

Wuppertal Schwebebahn 

Just outside of the Ruhrgebiet in the otherwise unassuming city of Wuppertal, you’ll find an upside-down train line that wouldn’t look particularly out of place in a Blade Runner film. 

The Schwebebahn, or suspension monorail, was originally opened in 1901 and runs along around 13 kilometers of track that meanders with the flow of the River Wupper. For around 10km of the journey, passengers soar just 12 feet above the water on the suspended track, and for the last 3km, the Schwebebahn sails above the streets of Wuppertal and even crosses the A46 motorway. 

The Schwebebahn’s striking look and winding riverside route aren’t the only things that have given it cult status. Back in 1950, a circus thought up a quirky (and very strange) marketing trick: they decided to bring their elephant Tuffi along for a ride on the famous train. The noise and motion of the Schwebebahn was far too much for the frightened elephant, who crashed through the side of the train car and leapt straight into the river.

Tuffi in the Wupper

Postcard of the moment when Tuffi leapt into the Wupper from the Schwebebahn. Source: Wiki Commons

Thankfully, Tuffi survived the fall, and the incredible moment was captured on camera to verify that the unbelievable event did, in fact, take place. She’s even got her own statue (the Tuffistein) that sits in the river to remind people of her heroic endeavours, as well as a memorial statue in the town.

These days, Wuppertal’s identity is so closely bound up with the Schwebebahn that it’s hard to imagine it anywhere else. That’s ironic, because the designer of the suspension railway, Eugen Langen, actually offered it to Berlin, Munich and Breslau before Wuppertal – and the other three cities turned it down.

Despite its sci-fi look, the Schwebebahn is used as part of the ordinary transport network by around 80,000 Wuppertal residents every day. If you fancy a trip to the North Rhine-Westphalian town over summer, you can ride on the Schwebebahn using your €9 ticket.  

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

Cable cars

Anyone who’s been to a mountain resort in Germany will have travelled by cable car -´possibly in order to reach the slopes on a skiing trip. In recent years, though, researchers have increasingly looked at this airborne mode of transport as a realistic way to fill holes in public transport networks.

In symbolic show of support for this principle, Berlin’s state government plans to integrate the famous cable car in Marzahn’s Garten der Welt into the city’s public transport network by the end of 2022. That means that people with an ordinary monthly ticket with Berlin’s main transport operator, BVG, will be able to soar over the gardens and enjoy spectacular views of the exotic garden and the former East Berlin for free. (For now, however, a combi ticket to the Garten der Welt and cable car is €9.90 for adults, €5.50 for concessions and free for children aged five and under.)

There have been similar discussions in Cologne, where a 930-metre long cable car carries passengers over the Rhein river from the Zoo to the Rheinpark. However, the Cologne cable car is still very much a tourist attraction rather than an ordinary part of the transport network, and it’s unclear whether it’ll become part of the city’s transport network anytime soon. The connection between the two parks is useful for tourists though, so if you want to take a ride on it, a return for adults will set you back €8 and a return for children costs €4. 

Cologne cable car

A cable car travels between over the Rhein with the spires of the Cologne Cathedral in the background. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

In Bonn, meanwhile, plans are afoot for a brand new cable car route that would be fully integrated into the city’s public transport system. The 4.3 kilometre track would run transport passengers through the air from the district of Beuel on the right bank of the Rhine and across the river to Venusberg. According to current plans, the cable car will stop at five stations: Schießbergweg in Beuel-Ramersdorf, Post Tower, UN Campus, Loki-Schmidt-Platz and Bonn University Hospital.

Not to be outdone, the Bavarian capital of Munich is formulating its own plans for an aerial transport link. The idea is for the cable car to run along an 11km stretch of the Frankfurter Ring from Fasanerie S-Bahn station in the west to Unterföhring in the east, crossing Englisher Garten and the Isar River along the way. However, the plans have hit some hurdles as researchers are questioning whether the cable car would really offer value for money. 

The campaigners for the new line are nonetheless quick to point out that more than half (122) of Germany’s 206 cable cars are located in Bavaria as a means of ascending the mountains. “So in which metropolis would an urban cable card be more appropriate than in Munich?” they ask. 

READ ALSO: How cable cars could boost public transport links in Germany

Rasender Roland 

Moving away from southern Germany to the far north, you’ll find an old-fashioned chap with a big personality who can transport you across the island of Rügen.

Rasender Roland – translated as ‘Racing Roland’ or ‘Raging Roland’) – is a charming narrow-gauge steam train that has been connecting towns along the southeast of the island for more than a century. Getting on in the southeastern town of Putbus, it takes about an hour to travel to the picturesque Baltic resorts of Binz, Sellin, Baabe and Göhren further down the coast. 

Rasender Roland in Rügen

Rasender Roland travels through a thicket of trees in Rügen. Photo: pa/obs SWR/Tourismuszentrale Rügen | SWR – Südwestrundfunk

Passengers who stay for the entire journey can reward themselves with a crispy fish roll at the legendary fish smokery near Göhren station – best enjoyed on one of the windswept sandy beaches. 

You may be wondering what speed would count as “racing” for a steam train, and the answer is 18 miles per hour, which is about the same as a fast cyclist. However, holidaying on an island like Rügen – just like travelling on the Racing Roland – is all about taking it slow and enjoying the ride. 

To make it even better, Racing Roland is part of the island’s regional train network, so you can enjoy this unique experience at no extra cost with your €9 ticket. 

READ ALSO: What tourists visiting Germany need to know about the €9 public transport ticket

Amphibian bus 

In the northern port city of Hamburg, the sea has always played an important role. From the days of the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages right up until today, the waterways have brought trade and prosperity to the region, and numerous ferry routes are integrated into the transport network to transport people across the water.

If you’re looking for something a little bit different, though, look no further than Hamburg’s very own amphibian bus, which takes you on a tour through both the city streets and through its bustling harbours in one fell swoop.

RiverCity HafenBus

The RiverBus sails through the HafenCity in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christian Charisius

The HafenCity Riverbus picks people up in the historic warehouse district of Speicherstadt, near the Elbphilharmonie, and transports people on solid ground to the Entenwerder peninsula in Rothenburgsort, one of Hamburg’s oldest districts. At this point, passengers will get to experience its miraculous transformation from bus to boat. 

Entering the Elbe in its ship form, the Riverbus continues its journey upstream, taking passengers through Tiefstack and Billwerder Bay and along to the freshwater mudflats of Holzhafen, where it turns back to Entenwerder. 

The trip on the RiverBus is essentially a guided tour, so it definitely costs more than your ordinary public transport. To experience the metamorphosing bus, adults will pay around €32, and children aged 5-14 will pay €21. 

If that’s a bit too steep, you can still travel on the water using one of the many ferries in Hamburg’s public transport network – and these are included in the price of the €9 ticket.  

Handcars or ‘Draisines’

Back in 1817, an inventor called Baron Karl Draisin invented what many believe is an early precursor to our modern-day bicycle. His Laufmachine (running machine), which became known as a Draisine, was a human-powered, two-wheeled and steerable vehicle that offered an alternative to riding a horse.

Later on, the term Draisine came to be associated with similar contraptions on railway tracks, which could either be powered by pushing levers or by peddling. Apparently, around 38 of these handcar routes still exist in Germany, and the longest is in the Pfalz mountains, running for 40km between Altenglan and Staudernheim. Luckily, this one’s driven by peddles – and you can even get a motorised e-bike version – so you won’t have to worry about getting sore arms along the way. 

Handcar in Lingenfeld

Schoolchildren travel by Draisin near the town of Lingenfeld in Rheinland-Pflaz. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Ronald Wittek

Outside of the Pflaz region, you can find handcars (known as Draisinenbahnen) in every state in Germany – aside from Bavaria. In Brandenburg, for instance, there are numerous places to travel by Draisinenbahn: one in Mittenwalde, one between Zossen and Mellensee, and another to the northwest of Berlin at Tiefensee

Though Draisins originally served a crucial function in railway repair and maintenance, today they are generally private tourist attractions, which means they won’t be included in the €9 ticket.

Nevertheless, in some rural corners of Germany, they’re still the most fun and energising way to get from A to B – so be sure to look up your nearest one next time you’re in the countryside. 

READ ALSO: The 9 best day trips from Berlin with the €9 ticket

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For members


‘Double processing time’: Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Germany, Austria and another of other countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

'Double processing time': Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 member states to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.