60 Years of Cologne Cable Car


Germany’s fourth largest city is famous not only for its impressive cathedral and good beer; Cologne boasts also a historic cableway that has a lot to offer.

For 60 years, the Cologne Cable Car has been transporting passengers across the Rhine. No one ever thought it would run for so long. But the Cologners have not allowed their landmark to be taken away from them.   


It all started in 1957 with the Federal Horticultural Exhibition. The city planners came up with the idea of making an alternative way across the Rhine, in addition to the Hohenzollern Bridge, and thereby opening up the Horticulture Exhibition grounds also from the north. A cableway with small, four-seat gondolas was built, initially to be in operation for only five years.


The cableway – the first one in Europe to cross a river – turned out to be a big hit: as many as 2,400 persons per hour could be transported while enjoying a bird’s eye view of the city. After this great success, the city officials decided to extend the operation for another season. 


Cable Car Becomes a Big Hit


First doubts about the continued operation of the cableway came when construction of a city motorway, also crossing the river, started. There was concern that drivers might be distracted by the cableway. But the Cologners had grown fond of their Cable Car and did not want to give it up. In the end, the municipality decided to continue running it, though with a changed route.


And so, even today, we can enjoy the bird’s eye view of Cologne. Thanks to Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe AG (KVB) (the Cologne Transport Companies), which took over the Cable Car, and their numerous modernising and marketing activities, the operation of the Cable Car is no longer loss-making. Since 2014, the Cable Car has been managed by Sonja Lorsy and Thomas Miebach. Birke Müller interviewed Ms. Lorsy during festivities held on the occasion of the Cable Car anniversary:

Si Urban: The Cologne Cable Car was the first cable car running across a river in a city. Was it a pure tourist attraction then or did the Cable Car serve also as a means of transport over the Rhine?
Sonja Lorsy: No. The Cable Car was built just for the purposes of the Horticulture Exhibition. It would not have been suitable for more extensive transport due to the small size of its cabins.


In Europe, people are starting to understand the advantages of cable transport in urban areas. Berlin is one example of a city that decided to go this way with its cable car over the Gardens of the World. But here, too, the cable car is mainly a tourist attraction. Did the Berliners need support from the Cologners?
No, the Berliners managed by themselves. I can’t honestly think of any project in Germany that has solved traffic issues by cableway. Even in Koblenz, the reason for running the local cable car over the Rhine is mainly tourism. In Wuppertal, on the other hand, first initiatives have been taken and in Bonn, cableway as a solution to traffic issues is currently being considered.


How many passengers are transported yearly?
In 2016 it was 490,000 passengers and in 2014 a record number of 503,000 passengers. Fluctuation is always possible. The situation strongly depends on the weather. As soon as the Cable Car opens in March, it is overwhelmed by crowds.

When the weather cools down again, the number of guests immediately drops. That is why we run the Cable Car only from March until November. During the winter we perform inspections.

The Cologne Cable Car is presented in a nostalgic way. Is there a marketing strategy behind it? Does one attract more people to the city in this way?
Yes, definitely. People love it. But regardless of that, the gondola cabins are protected as historic landmarks. Which does not mean that we are against innovations. We always try to think of something new to attract guests, such as night and wedding rides, which are received extremely well.


As the motorway was being built, there was concern that drivers might be distracted and there could be accidents. Did it ever come to anything like that?

No. And it is hardly possible anyway since there is always a traffic jam on the bridge.


Initially, most of the passengers were German. Has that changed in the meantime?
We have guests from around the world. Our homepage is available in 9 different language versions. When people come to Cologne, taking a ride with the Cable Car and visiting the park on the Rhine is simply a must-do.


What is your personal opinion of cableways in cities? Do you think this smooth way of getting around will prevail in the following years?
I think that cableways are a great means of transport. Convenient and fast. But unfortunately, I doubt that this is something that works for Germany. The cableway must always lead across some land. And the residents are sure to obstruct it, I’m afraid.


What are your plans for the future?
We would like to install radiotelephones in the cabins so that we can make announcements, for example during wedding rides or other events.

And lastly, a personal question: How often do you take a ride with the Cable Car yourself?
Sadly not very often, I’ve only ridden three times this season.


What do you like best about riding it?
It is absolutely lovely to see the city from above. And, in addition, one can enjoy the peace – a perfect way to relax!


Cologne cable car

  • Line length approx. 930 m
  • Maximum angle approx. 40 %
  • Cabin capacity 4 persons Operating cabins per hour 400
  • System capacity per hour 1600 persons
  • Speed 2.8 m/s
  • Transit time approx. 6 min.
  • Number of stations 2
  • Number of towers 3
  • Number of cars: For the journey 37  for the stations 7 total 44 cars
  • Engine power 2 x 37 kW