The tour leader and guide on our recent Düsseldorf trip, did a sterling job by providing us with an interesting and varied programme of places to visit, pubs to try and beers to enjoy. He also looked after all the transport arrangements, going so far as purchasing the requisite number of tickets, using group offers wherever possible. We then shared the costs between ourselves. This was the same arrangement which applied on the visit we made to Jihlava, in the Czech Republic, two years ago.
I’m sure our guide won’t mind me describing him as something of a “public transport buff”; but then he did work as bus driver of several years, prior to retirement. He is well known in CAMRA circles for promoting buses and trains as a means of getting to and from the pub, and contributed the section in the “Gateway to Kent Pub Guide” entitled “By bus or train to the pub.” This is something I am all in favour of, especially as it is surprising to learn that many people are unaware of the public transport links in their own area; preferring instead to jump into their car and drive to a particular pub.
|Trolley bus - central Solingen|
It’s a bit different when holidaying abroad, and whilst some people might decide to hire a car, it kind of defeats the object when it is beer you are after. Most European countries seem to have better public transport systems than what we have in the UK. They attract more investment and are often fully integrated, meaning it is possible to switch from trains to buses and then onto trams or even the underground; all on the same ticket.
On my own forays abroad, I have normally done a bit of homework prior to departing, and have sussed out train times or details of bus routes etc, in order to get to a particular location and back. Sometimes though it is nice to just sit back and let someone else do all the donkey-work.
The first full day of our stay in Düsseldorf saw us taking a train in a south-easterly direction, to the town of Solingen. After leaving the station we boarded a trolley bus which, for those not old enough to remember, is an electric bus that draws power from overhead wires (generally suspended from roadside posts) by means of spring-loaded "trolley poles". Our bus was heading towards the town centre, which is set on a hill a fair distance from the station. I discovered upon returning home that the city of Solingen operates the largest of the three remaining trolleybus systems in Germany, so I am not surprised that our bus-enthusiast guide took us there.
The terrain was surprisingly hilly as our bus climbed out of the valley, but eventually we reached the centre of Solingen. There was time for a quick coffee plus a visit to the cash machine before catching a different trolley bus; this time to Vohwinkel; a location which forms part of the Wuppertal conurbation. Vohwinkel is also the start of the Schwebebahn, a 110 year old Suspension Railway which operates at a height of around 40 feet above the River Wupper, and which runs for a distance of just over 8 miles to Oberbarmen.
The Wuppertal Suspension Railway came into operation in 1901, opening in sections. It took until June 1903 before the full stretch of line from Vohwinkel in the west to the eastern terminus at Oberbarmen opened. Nowadays the railway carries approximately 80,000 passengers per weekday through the city. An extensive modernisation programme began in 1997, during which much of the supporting framework was either strengthened, or replaced. Many of the stations were also rebuilt and brought up to date.
This was the second unusual mode of transport of the day, and a quite amazing one at that. Our group tickets were valid on this most unusual of railways, so we ascended to the platforms and waited for one of the two-car trains to arrive. We didn’t have to wait long as during the week, the trains run at four minute intervals. Once aboard, we settled down to enjoy the ride.
|Werther Brücke station|
I was sitting directly behind the driver’s cab, so had an excellent view as we travelled along, suspended in the air. For the first few stops, the track follows the course of the street, and it seemed strange passing houses and businesses at just below roof level, but before long we noticed the train was following the course of the River Wupper, some 40 feet below us.
It seems incredulous in this day and age that a railway could be constructed above a river, but I strongly suspect that at the turn of the last century the Wupper river was not the pleasant water-course it is today. There was a industrial purpose to the railway back then, as there were many factories and other works along the banks of the river and, as we noticed, agro-chemical giant Bayer still has a presence there today.
After a journey of around 25 minutes, we alighted at Werther Brücke station which is three stops from the end of the line. We were making for the Wuppertaler Brauhaus, which is a large brew-house housed in a former swimming baths. Our route took us through a busy pedestrianised shopping area, which didn’t look promising as a location for a brew-pub, but we eventually found the place we were looking for, tucked away in a pleasant location well away from the shops.
As the Wuppertaler Brauhaus is somewhere worthy of its own post, I will end here and cover this excellent brew-pub and beer garden in a separate article.