Set deep in the beautiful green canton of Bern, Switzerland, a little red train car chugs its way up and down a treacherously steep track – adventurous hikers can have the ride (and views!) of a lifetime on the one and only Gelmer Funicular (Gelmerbahn).
The funicular was originally built in the 1920s to haul heavy materials and equipment up to the top of the mountain for the construction of the Gelmersee reservoir and dam. Now, the car shuttles 24 people each time, approximately 30 times per day, with the first ride up at 9:00AM and the last one down around 4:00PM (see the official schedule and book tickets here). The Gelmerbahn only runs in summer/autumn months, usually late May-late October.
The ride takes 8-10 minutes one way (so the videos you have seen on Instagram making the ride look like an insanely fast rollercoaster are on hyper-speed!), and you have plenty of time to enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley and mountains. There is only a drop-down bar (think Ferris wheel style) to keep passengers safe, but the car neither jolts, tilts, nor goes fast enough to worry about safety.
Once you reach the top, it is an absolute must to hike around the gorgeous turquoise lake (Gelmersee). This must be the Swiss-Banff equivalent; I swear, I have never seen water of such a stunning color. The hike around the lake takes approximately 2 hours, though if you are in the habit of pausing frequently or taking 23720 pictures (like me), you may want to allow yourself significant extra time, as this is not a place that you want to feel rushed.
Some important facts and tips for your Gelmerbahn trip:
How to get there:
By foot: if you are staying at the closely Handeck Hotel/Naturresort, you will only need to walk 5-10 min, either down the road, or over the hanging bridge (much more fun option) to get to the lower terminal of Gelmerbahn.
By car: there is a parking lot out in the grass/meadow just down the road from the Gelmerbahn (follow signs)
By public transport: 5 min walk from nearby bus station Handegg, Gelmerbahn
Sure, Detusche Bahn is fantastic – (read: Deutsche Bahn is fantastic when your train shows up on time, leaves the station on time, does not stop intermittently during your journey for no apparent reason, and indeed arrives at your intended destination, also relatively on time). Beyond this, WIFI functionality is a blessing, not a given (sorry business commuters) and a seat? Good luck finding vacancy on that 4pm train from Munich to Frankfurt, and even if you do, better not put in your earphones yet, for you will most likely soon hear an indignant “das ist doch mein Platz”- classic German bluntness (aka you’re in my seat- aka get out). Hey, not blaming anyone here, but hopefully shedding a small light on the occasional struggles of DB will help all you would be Germany-explorers avoid a 6-hour train trip as a permanent hallway-floor fixture, being stepped over (on) by all who pass.
DB has become a (fond?) joke of our time and regular commutes in Germany, indeed not to sound completely disenchanted with the system- generally, the trains are indeed quite nice, comfy, and get you around pretty much anywhere and everywhere you would need to get to in the country (and sometimes beyond); DB easily and regularly connects to train providers of other countries (think France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc.) for weekend trips-galore. DB also offers perks and privileges (we’ll ignore cost for now), such as the Bahn-100 card, which allows unlimited travel throughout the country on any DB regional train or city underground. 1st class, while (annoyingly) exclusively for 1st class ticket holders (ok, fine), provides a somewhat calmer and more spacious surrounding, and perhaps the extra leg room is even worth the splurge- we’ll leave that up to you to decide. Cross your fingers for a smooth train… otherwise we advise you to hang on to your Starbucks, and trips to the bathroom? Don’t even think about it.
A few of our favorite hacks for essential DB survival:
So, with that said, we genuinely hope you enjoy your adventures in Germany! We would kindly nudge you to practice logical and smart train-station navigation, beginning with arriving early (at least 10 min before your departure time if a seasoned DB-goer, or up to 30+ min if you are 1. A newbie, 2. A baby sloth 3. Hopelessly confused (also forgiven) – you will need this extra time to wait in line at the Reisebüro for guidance or 4. Simply enjoy wandering aimlessly around (at times, the amusing) establishments that are German train stations (note: avoid heroin dealers). Look to the giant board for your train departure info (sometimes platforms change last minute or there may be delays), and if still confused, we urge you to find someone in DB uniform (usually blue or red) rather than scurrying around asking any and every one on your platform, who, to be honest, are probably either 1. Tourists, who are just as confused as you 2. May not speak the language you are trying to communicate in well enough to fully assist you 3. May give you false information, even with the best of intentions – this way, you will certainly save some time and headache.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed your trip and thank you again for choosing Deutsche Bahn” – did we really have a choice?? Oh, the irony.