From plan to reality-a history of a cableway

SI Urban: How was the idea of building a cable car for the Federal Horticultural Show 2011 actually conceived?

The new symbol of the city of Koblenz: Deutsches Eck and the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress connected by a cable car. Photos: Joachim Hofmann-Göttig.

Joachim Hofmann-Göttig:

With an expected two million visitors, we feared the city could experience traffic gridlock, especially in the bottleneck of the Ehrenbreitstein area and on the Pfaffendorfer Bridge. A cable car connecting Deutsches Eck and the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress seemed a pragmatic solution which was crucial for the creation of an integrated concept of the Federal Horticultural Show on both banks of the Rhine.


But not everybody was initially keen on the idea, were they? As the secretary for culture at that time, I heard the opinions of both sides of the table: the Federal Horticultural Show planners and the cultural heritage authorities. I submitted a proposal to accept the cable car temporarily for the Show and for a period of 3 years. Both sides could live with that. Was it difficult to find the ideal locations for the stations?


Of course, it was one of the main issues, though less so with the upper station – the cable car was to run across Fortress Park to the Fortress – but more so with the lower station which was planned right in front of our precious Basilica of St. Castor near Deutsches Eck. Both the state and the church cultural heritage authorities were concerned about this location. Other locations, such as Lützel to the north of Deutsches Eck, were examined, especially because they lay outside the world heritage district.


But then these other proposals were dismissed as there were serious doubts as to whether these locations would be acceptable for the Federal Horticultural Show visitors. From today’s perspective, it is clear: only the location that was chosen could guarantee attractiveness of both the Show and the cable car.

Prof.Dr. Joachim Hofmann-Göttig

From May 1991 until April 2010, the State Secretary for Culture and Regional Representative for the UNESCO World Heritage in the Rhineland-Palatinate. During this period, he was responsible, among other projects, for the recognition procedure in relation to the “UNESCO World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley“ and issuance of permits for the Koblenz cable car by the state cultural heritage authority and the UNESCO. From 1st May 2010 until 30th April 2018, Lord Mayor of the city of Koblenz. As the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the BuGa 2011 Koblenz GmbH at that time, he was also responsible for the success of the Federal Horticultural Show and a successful outcome of the debate with UNESCO over continued operation of the cable car – for now until 2026. Since 1st May 2018, independent business consultant in the European area, a. o. in the fields of culture and tourism, also in connection with cableway projects, with offices in Koblenz (GER) and Domburg (NL).


Today, the cable car is a symbol of the city but were there any doubts about the project before it was completed? Certainly. At first, both the residents and the city council were quite skeptical about it. Many doubted whether the Show or the cable car could be economically profitable. That’s why it was crucial that DOPPELMAYR was ready to assume the risk associated with both the investment and the operation; no public subsidies were granted for either of them. And it is still the case today. That’s also one reason why the residents’ current acceptance of the project is so high.

The cables are checked and serviced yearly to ensure the cable car’s safety and longer operating life.


But the cable car project was not implemented only as part of the Show, was it? It was clear to all those involved that having a cable car would be a vital prerequisite for the success of the Show. Then later, especially during the test operation phase in the summer of 2010 and already during the Show’s construction phase, many visitors realized how attractive the cable car was also as an environment-friendly ultra-modern mode of transportation.


Since then, there has been an on-going discussion in Koblenz on how the cable car could be better integrated into the city’s public transport network. Introducing a round ticket (including a visit to the Fortress and the use of the cable car, the inclined elevator and the ferry) was the first step towards this goal. With the opening of a new large housing area just outside the Fortress grounds (Fritsch Kaserne), the discussion about the cable car – not only as a tourist attraction but also as a means of transport of the future – has gained a new dimension.


How did the cooperation with the cable car manufacturer turn out? DOPPELMAYR assumed all risks associated with the investment and the operation against a contractually secured share of the income from visitors. With the higher-than-anticipated demand, DOPPELMAYR’s share of the income grew too, of course. As the demand continued to be high also in the years after the Show, DOPPELMAYR was ready to continue operating the cable car at its own risk.


The same will apply also to the Federal Horticultural Show 2031 (or possibly 2029) project. The cooperation has been fair and reliable so far. DOPPELMAYR has earned great recognition in Koblenz and in the whole region. Despite the great support, there were also obstacles that had to be overcome before the completion… After the difficult battle with the cultural heritage authorities, there was considerable opposition also from the residents because trees had to be cut to build the lower station and support pillars.


One thing we were lucky about here in Koblenz was that the cable car route was planned exclusively above public land although in terms of getting permits, the crossing of the Rhine and of a railway route turned out to be quite difficult. But we were able to manage those too, together with the municipality of Koblenz. I know from other projects how lucky we were not to have the cable car route planned above private gardens as that would have triggered even greater resistance, as experience from elsewhere shows.


How was the cable car opening ceremony? The cable car was launched with a great celebration attended by the Federal President and the Prime Minister. The success of the opening celebration and of the first days of the Show was decisive for the change in the attitude of the residents.