It was even better than I'd expected. I wanted to run up to people on the train and say, "do you realize that you get to commute every day on the coolest train ever?" Obviously, Wuppertalians are more blasé about the situation. (If you watch my video, linked below, you'll see that no one chooses to sit in the only remaining empty seat because it's next to me-and I've already established myself as the crazy lady with the camera.)
A Swiss friend later told me that "schwebe" roughly translates into "gliding," and that's just what it feels like-a gliding train. When the train picks up some speed in between stations and then hits a curve, the cars sway significantly. In fact, riders are warned about the sway when they step on and off of trains at stations.
The city of Wuppertal lies in a relatively steep valley around the Wupper River, which means that it would be technically difficult to excavate for a subway (due to the high water levels) and that a singular, linear primary transit line makes sense. If you bear with my crude sketch below, you can see that the riverbed is infrequently intruded upon by the train's frame footings, and the train frame is at a height that allows it to easily cross over even truck traffic on the roads.
(I want to begin my next set of questions with the stipulation that I am not some monorail nut. Though I really do marvel at Kim Pederson's backyard monorail in Fremont, CA. Favorite quotation: "imagine how much of the garden and fence we would have needed to rip out to put in a garden light rail instead of this!")
I await your feedback, dear readers.
My research in Essen was a part of a German Marshall Fund Comparative Domestic Policy Fellowship.
See all of my Schwebebahn photos on flickr.
See a video I shot of the ride on youtube.