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Reviving the past in Duisburg and Wuppertal


Artikel door Ian Witte


This article is a report about the excursion that was organized by the Buitelhucht committee on the 8th of June. We travelled to Germany for this excursion, where we visited two well-known attractions that are of great inspiration for our field of study. These include the Landschaftpark Duisburg-Nord and the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal.

The day was kicked-off with some delays at the rental place for the vans. In the end we left well over an hour after the scheduled time, but that was compensated to some extent by reaching speeds of up to nearly 180 kilometer per hour on the German Autobahn. The first stop of the day was in Duisburg, where the highlight was the Landschaftpark. This is a well-known project within the Field of Landscape Architecture and therefore of great interest for the landscape architects among us.



The left image shows an overgrown industrial structure; the right image shows the view from the viewing platform on one of the blast furnaces


On their website it is described that the Landschaftpark is a former industrial site that was operated by Thyssen Ironworks from 1901 until 1985. After it was decommissioned, most of the structures are still left standing as they originally were, and a park was developed around it. Most of the designed implementations such as stairways seamlessly blend in with the former industrial site, which makes it difficult to recognise what is designed and what is not. This design approach shows great respect to the Genius Loci and acknowledges the structures as an industrial monument. The structures are left within their unique context, where large part of the site are still inaccessible for visitors. This stands in contrast with a similar project in Monterrey, Mexico. There, the first steel and iron foundry of Latin America was in part renovated and stripped of its context and left as a beacon within a park with many designed elements, which also functions as amusement park and convention centre.



For comparison: The decommissioned forge of Parque Fundidora in Mexico (left) was renovated with many designed elements, which stands in stark contrast with the lack of designed elements of Landschaftpark Duisburg (right)


The Landschaftpark in Duisburg is approximately 180 hectares in size. Personally, I experienced the park to be much smaller. It did not take more than half an hour to walk around the central part that contains the forges. A dug-out river splits the park in two. This river used to be contaminated with industrial pollutants during the thriving days of the industry, but nowadays it is home to a rich biodiversity. The Landschaftpark is open all day long, all year round. An important design principle was that the park should be well-accessible for events. As a matter of fact, there was a sports event being held on the day that we visited. The crowd of people made the former industrial site feel alive like it was the centre of a city, despite its empty surroundings and location within one of Duisburg’s suburbs.


Many different sports were performed during the event that was held on the day that we visited. The image depicts a basketball match, but there were other sports like kickboxing, vault jumping, wall climbing, and even aerial acrobatics with motorcycles.


Although large areas of the park were inaccessible to visitors, some of the buildings were actually made accessible. The most striking of these places was the viewing platform all the way at the top of Blast Furnace 5. All around the furnace and the rest of the Landschaftpark were informative signs – often only with German inscriptions – that explained the visitors what they were seeing and how the forges worked.


After spending several hours wandering through the Landschaftpark, the group returned to the vans and drove over small country roads through the iconic West-German landscape to Wuppertal, the home of the Schwebebahn. Opened in 1901, it is the oldest of the seven suspended railways that are currently operational around the world. ‘Suspended’ means that the train functions like a monorail, but hangs below the tracks instead of driving above them. This explains the German name ‘Schwebebahn’, which translates directly to ‘flying railway’.

The Schwebebahn was originally named after Eugen Langen, who was its lead designer and engineer. His design for the railway was proposed to several German cities, but was only accepted by the former towns that are now merged into Wuppertal. Being so densely built in a narrow river valley, these towns needed a space-efficient transport solution, and they believed Langen’s Schwebebahn to be the most promising to solve that problem. The biggest part of the railway is namely constructed above the river Wupper.


Interior of the train, which was modernized in 2015


We boarded the train at the easternmost station, Vohwinkel. The first part of the track runs above the streets, but after the fifth station, the track reaches the river and curves along with it. The entire length of the Schwebebahn is 13.3 kilometer long and it has a total of 20 stations. It carries approximately 80.000 passengers every single day, and trains depart every three to six minutes. Despite this frequency, we experienced that the train was rather crowded with passengers, especially in the middle section. We travelled all the way to the far end that is Oberbarmen station, which took about thirty minutes. The whole group managed to take their seats in the back of the train, from where there was a fantastic view over the river.


The view from the back of the train


It may be impossible to construct a railway like the Schwebebahn nowadays, from the perspective of regulatory restrictions and the interests of local residents. For instance, in some parts the train runs right in front of people’s houses, which causes vibrations, noise and can harm their privacy. On top of that, maintenance of both buildings and the tracks is difficult due to this density. In 2008, there was a collision between a train and a crane truck that was working below the tracks.


The tracks run for a small portion above the street, close to buildings. On every pillar is a sign that warns construction workers not to use a crane near the tracks.


There were two other notable incidents in the history of the Schwebebahn. In 1999 occurred the only deadly incident when a train collided with an object that was left on the tracks by maintenance workers and crashed into the river. The other incident was in 1950, when a circus attempted a publicity stunt by bringing a young elephant on the train, whom accidentally fell out of the train and into the river.

As written before, Wuppertal is not the only city with a suspended monorail. There are only two other systems that were developed as urban public transportation. Both of them are located in Japan, in the cities of Shonan and Chiba. Currently I cannot find why city planners had the preference of constructing a suspended monorail over a ‘casual’ monorail, a subway or a tram.


At the stations there is a good opportunity to observe the mechanisms that drive the trains


All in all, our trip on the Schwebebahn was both relaxing, inspiring, and educative thanks to all the lessons that we learned. Personally, I would surely recommend a visit to the Landschaftpark and a ride on the Schwebebahn. If you prefer to travel in style, then you can choose to book the Kaiserwagen, which is the original train that Kaiser Wilhelm II used to travel on the Schwebebahn in 1900, before it opened.


Referenties:

[image] México en Fotos. (2009). Parque Fundidora, Monterrey. Wikipedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parque_Fundidora,_Monterrey1.jpg


Industrial heritage circuit | Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord. (n.d.). https://www.landschaftspark.de/en/industrial-heritage-circuit/denkmal-huttenwerk/


Suspension railway: history. (n.d.). Schwebebahn. Retrieved July 6, 2023, from https://schwebebahn.de/en/geschichte-der-schwebebahn



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