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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


How the Greens want to replace Germany’s €9 ticket deal

New proposals drafted by the Green Party have set out plans for two new cheap travel tickets in Germany as well as a shake-up of the country's travel zones. Here's what you need to know.

How the Greens want to replace Germany's €9 ticket deal

What’s going on?

Germany’s €9 travel deal has been hugely popular this summer, with an estimated 30 million or so passengers taking advantage of the offer in June alone. Now the last month of the three-month offer is underway, there are hopes that the ticket could be replaced by another deal that offers simple, affordable travel on a regional or national basis.

There have been a few ideas for this floating around, including a €365 annual ticket and a €69 monthly ticket pitched by German transport operators. Now the Green Party has weighed in with a concept paper setting out plans for two separate travel tickets to replace the €9 ticket. The paper was obtained by ARD Hauptstadtstudio on Friday. 

Why do they want two different tickets?

The first ticket would be a regional one costing just €29 a month and the second would be a €49 that, much like the €9 ticket, would be valid for the whole of Germany.

This would allow people who mainly stay in their local region to opt for the most cost-effective option while long-distance commuters or those who want to travel further afield could opt for the nationwide offer.

Presumably the ticket would once again be valid for local and regional transport only rather than long-distance trains like the ICE. 

To simplify the system even more, the Greens also want to introduce new travel zones for the regional monthly tickets.

READ ALSO: Has Germany’s €9 rail ticket been a success?

How would the travel zones change?

According to the paper, Germany would be divided into eight regional zones that would include the Berlin-Brandenburg area, the eastern German states of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and the northern states of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. 

The zones take passengers “statewide at a minimum”, the paper says, for example in the larger states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North-Rhine Westphalia.

However, as the map below shows, states will also be clustered together to make larger regions.

One of the major draws of the €9 ticket has been the flat-rate system that allows passengers to travel anywhere in the country using the same ticket. This appears to be what the Greens are trying to replicate with their proposals. 

READ ALSO: What happens to Germany’s €9 ticket at the end of August?

How would this be financed? 

As you might expect, the Green Party is placing less eco-friendly forms of transport in the crosshairs as it looks for cash to fund the cheap tickets.

The first way to free up cash would be to end tax breaks for people with company cars. In addition, taxes on CO2 emissions would be increased. 

This would result in “additional revenues for the federal government and the states, which could flow seamlessly into the financing of cheap tickets”, the paper states. 

However, the Greens don’t set out how much money they think this would bring in or how much the discounted tickets would cost the state in total. 

Is this definitely going to happen?

At the moment, it seems that the Greens are the main voices in the coalition government pushing for a longer term travel deal – and they continue to face opposition from the pro-business FDP.

Unfortunately for the Green Party, the FDP happen to be heading up two crucial ministries that could both play a role in blocking a future offer: the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry. 

However, with four out of five people saying they want to see a successor to the €9 ticket in autumn, Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) is currently under pressure to come up with a replacement as soon as possible. 

A passenger sits on the platform a Berlin Hauptbahnhof

A passenger sits on the platform a Berlin Hauptbahnhof waiting for a train. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Joerg Carstensen

At a press conference a few weeks ago, he promised to discuss this with the state transport ministers after analysing how successful the ticket had been.

In particular, researchers will want to look at how many people ended up leaving the car at home and taking the bus or train instead.

Though the data on this is inconclusive at the moment, some studies have shown reduced congestion on the roads while the ticket was running.

In a survey of The Local’s readers conducted last month, 80 percent of respondents said they had used public transport more with the €9 ticket and 85 percent said they wanted to see a similar deal continue in the autumn.

Of the options on the table so far, a monthly €29 ticket was by far the most popular choice.

READ ALSO: ‘Affordable and simple’: What foreigners in Germany want to see after the €9 ticket