I first encountered Wuppertal more than few years ago when watching Wim Wender’s 1974 film “Alice in the Cities” as the films main character had to find this child’s grandmother after the child was dumped in his care rather abrutly. Then he finally tracked granny down to her house in Wuppertal. The second time was back in 1997 when I was caught in a massive traffic snarl up driving from Herford to back to Paris. Two hours of non movement before I exploded in a fit of rage in my Transit Van where I dropped several c-bombs into my outburst. I’ve never been a lover of traffic.
Wuppertal is home to around 340,000 people and situated south of the industrial might of the Ruhr, East of Düsseldorf and North East of Cologne. It’s know for being an extremely hilly city with steep slopes everywhere. A topography which has limited the city’s grow in a way. It’s also the birthplace of Friedrich Engels, the birthplace of Aspirin (by Bayer), the birthplace of Horst Tappett (Inspector Derrick) and film director Tom Tywker who directed Run Lola Run and kindly introduced me to the many delights of Franka Potenta. It’s also famous for it’s rather unique Mass Transit Transportation system, The Wuppertaler Schwebebahn.
The Schwebebahn is a suspended monorail system designed by Eugene Langen between 1897 and 1903 with the first track opening in 1901. Trains hang from a elevated monorail track mounted above the river Wupper and the surrounding valley once the river part of the route ends. There aren’t many places in the world running this sort of transport system. There are one or two in Japan, one in Chiba (now the world’s largest and one inside Ueno Zoo), another small one in Germany in Dresden (which I’ve also been on), one in Goa and there’s also one in Memphis and was made semi famous being used by Tom Cruise in the film “The Firm” as he tries to escape from the hitmen of the law firm he’s about to shaft.
So we arrived at Wuppetal’s bleak Hauptbahnhof and made our way into the centre of town down a slightly Clapham Junction-esque underground walkway with various fast food offerings. The Schwebebahn station for the Hauptbahnhof is pretty much next to the main station. Then as we got our first glimpse of the Schwebebahn the vertigo sufferer in our group piped up with a “f**k that, I can’t go on that”. We waited to see if it was just a diva moment but to be fair to the boy wonder it looked scary enough even if you don’t have vertigo. So we popped him in a taxi after efforts to plonk him onto a bus bore no fruit. As we climbed the stairs to the platform my knees wobbled a bit and then the train came in. As people get on and off the train sways from side to side. The ride when it gets going is pretty awe inspiring really, especially when it banks quite sharply to the side going around corners. My legs felt a bit jelly like when I got off. Still it got us to the Stadion am Zoo in less than 15 minutes. A rather unique and marvellous way to get to a football ground. Supporters of Memphis and Chiba must feel the same. 25 million people use this system every year.
Wuppertal’s Stadion am Zoo has been renovated and upgraded in recent years (2005-2008). It now holds 23,067. It started life as a Velodrome (with an ultra fast concrete track) and held the World Cycling Championships in 1927 and 1954. It was also used by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels for two seperate rallies ahead of the 1932 German General Election. 50,000 turned up to see the Hitler rally. The 2005-2008 renovations changed the ground from a crumbling velodrome and crumbling terraces to a ground with 3 large and steep terraces and a modern main grandstand. It’s now a great stadium with the back drop of the woods behind it with some factories and the distant sight of the Schwebebahn behind the main stand. The food kiosk does good Schnitzels, Frickadelles and sausages. Tasty and at 3 euros a pop very reasonable.
The local team Wuppertaler SV Borussia have played here since their formation in 1954. Wuppertaler were staunchly an Oberliga (lower regional league) side for many years, they then had a good cup run in the 1962-1963 season where they wee knocked out by Hamburg in the semi final. The club then started getting more successful in the late 1960’s and finally won promotion to the Bundesliga 1st division in 1972 and finished a credible 4th in their first season, which also meant qualification for the UEFA cup. But they were knocked out in the first round by Ruch Chorzow by an aggregate scoreline of 8-6. Since then they had an additional season and a bit in the top flight, 4 or 5 seasons in the second division and have then been a Oberliga/Regionaliga team since.
It was a very cold afternoon. Hats, gloves and scarves the order of the day. An impromptu betting game broke out. He who held the ticket when the team scored scooped a cash prize of 14 euros. My hopes raised when lumbering baldy forward Christian Knappe raced forward but then lost his footing under pressure and fell in a awkward heap just outside the penalty area. Eddie Stobart as I renamed him in my acute disappointment had actually managed to get outpaced by two defenders and to my amazement the defender who crocked him wasn’t the last defender. To be fair to Herr Knappe the game was so bad and he was the class act on the pitch despite his turning circle of a crude oil tanker and pace of Jan Molby.
The game ended 1 a piece in front of a quite embarassing 725 fans. 725 fans in a city of 340,000 is quite honestly a disgrace for a city that has a football team and a decent stadium. Especially one that serves Gluhwein on a cold day. I know that our continentals don’t appear to share much love towards lower division football but I would’ve expected 2,000 or 3,000 at the very least. It does seem a shame. But I suspect I saw the problem Wuppertaler SV Borussia face when I saw a few young lads walking to the the train station wearing the shirts and colours of FC Schalke 04. I guess when you have a fantastically comprehensive (and cheap) local/regional transportation and have around 20-25 teams to choose from then the lowly local club will suffer, which given the demographic nature of the town, steeped quite literally, in working class and industrial heritage is a crying shame.
The boy wonder managed to control his vertigo on the way back to the Hauptbahnof on the Schwebenbahn. He sat there, head down, immersed in his own thoughts. We fuelled him with chips as a reward.