On the Swabian Railway

Posted on August 09, 2016 by Caren-Malina Butscher, Images by Robert Hack, Deutsche Bahn, Fotolia

mtu-powered trains carry not only locals but large numbers of tourists through the Südbahn railway line from Ulm to Friedrichshafen - a popular holiday region.
Lake Constance, Germany

"On the Swabian Railway, There's lots of stations on the way: Stuttgart, Ulm and Biberach, Meckenbeuren, Durlesbach. Tra-la, tra-la, tra-la-la..." Wait! Just hold on a minute there. Unless you want to have the tune going round and round in your head for the rest of the day. The "Swabian Railway Song" is known far and wide and a firm favourite among the Swabians themselves. The present-day Südbahn railway line from Ulm to Friedrichshafen was first built in 1847. Today, mtu-powered trains carry not only locals but large numbers of tourists through the popular holiday region of Upper Swabia to Lake Constance.

The red-liveried Deutsche Bahn Interregio Express draws up slowly alongside Platform 3 at the main railway station in Ulm just before 12:00 midday. Its brakes squeal loudly as it pulls to a halt. Thomas Korber and Melissa Ardern are already waiting on the platform. They have their bicycles with them. Fully loaded up with
large rucksacks, rain capes and drinking bottles, the Australian couple are on a twelve-day trip through southern Germany. They started out in Augsburg where Thomas’ parents hail from. The Deutsche Bahn train that will take them from
Ulm to Friedrichshafen is powered by an mtu Series 4000 engine. Although the reputation of Lake Constance as a perfect holiday destination has spread even as far as Australia, the two visitors from Sydney are unaware that this very railway line was made famous by a song penned in 1853. “We love the scenery, and we’re really
looking forward to Lindau and Friedrichshafen because we’ll be able to go swimming in Lake Constance with a view of the Alps. And there are fantastic cycling routes as well,” says Melissa.

Ulm to Friedrichshafen driven by 2,718 hp

Between May and October there are large numbers of cyclists on the region’s tourist routes – they are important customers for the railway. At precisely 12:12 the diesel locomotive’s 2,718 hp sets the train on its way to Lake Constance. Locomotives driven by mtu Series 956 or 4000 engines depart from Ulm every hour en route to Friedrichshafen via Biberach, Aulendorf and Meckenbeuren. The ‘Swabian Railway Song’ names the stations along the route: Stuttgart, Ulm and Biberach, Meckenbeuren, Durlesbach. In reality, Durlesbach comes before Meckenbeuren. But though the different order in the words of the song may be down to poetic license, it does accurately reflect the actual importance of the stations concerned. Durlesbach station was closed in 1984. But a railway memorial consisting of an old steam locomotive, a tender and two carriages remain to commemorate the famous Swabian song.

The Australians Melissa Ardern and Thomas Korber were on a cycling holiday through south Germany. They were taking the train from Ulm to Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance.

Exploring, swimming, rest and recuperation

As soon as the Australian couple get to Friedrichshafen by train they intend to carry on
along the Rhine by bike. Basel, Strasbourg and the Black Forest are on their itinerary. “For me it’s the perfect holiday - travelling alternately by train and bike through the countryside. And the good rail connections really make it very simple to plan your route,” says Thomas. “Plus, you have the perfect combination – exploring, swimming, rest and recuperation – what more do you need?” he says.

Andreas Wentzel is a train driver with Deutsche Bahn. Holiday routes are his everyday fare.

Mountain panorama from Aulendorf

Lush meadows, pretty rivers, broad panoramas, baroque churches – the delights of Upper Swabia are there for all to see from the railway carriage window. For the Deutsche Bahn train drivers, the Ulm to Friedrichshafen line is their everyday fare.
“Even though it’s such a familiar route to me, it's still something special to see the view open up to the Swiss mountains after Aulendorf,” says Andreas Wentzel. As a train driver with Deutsche Bahn he travels this route on a regular basis. “The Südbahn line is an attractive and very wellused route. With connections to Lake Constance,
Switzerland and Austria, this region is one of the most important in the whole country for tourism,” Wentzel observes. The service is busy with commuters in the morning and evening rush hours, and used by schoolchildren, locals and tourists during the day. “Whatever the time of day, the trains are nearly always full,” he says.

Freight services since the 1900s

In the early 19th century, the question of transporting goods from Germany to Switzerland and on to Italy was more important than passenger services. The construction of a canal was considered an alternative to the railway at
the time. But building a railway line proved the better solution. Multiple routes that could join up to form a network of northern, western, eastern and southern lines were to serve the transport needs of the then Kingdom of Württemberg.


The Ulm-Friedrichshafen line is an attractive and very well-used route. With connections to Lake Constance, Switzerland and Austria, the region is one of the most important destinations in the whole country for tourism.

By order of the King

King Wilhelm I of Württemberg involved himself personally in the planning of the railway line in the early 1830s. But the process was taking too long. The communities that were in consideration for the siting of the stations could not agree among themselves who should get the rail link. The King started to lose patience. He wanted to be able to reach his summer residence Kloster Hofen in today’s Friedrichshafen region as quickly as possible from Stuttgart by the latest means of transport. He is said to have placed a ruler on the map and declared, “This is the route the line will follow!” The Ulm to Friedrichshafen line was completed in 1847. And with its arrival, not only did commerce and industry in the region receive a boost, but all at once people had access to a different world. A world in which long distances were no longer an obstacle.

Satirical song about uncertainty

“To the Swabian Railway, Came a farmer one fine day, Went to the desk and asked refined, ”A ticket if you'd be so kind“, Tra-la, tra-la, tra-la-la... The ‘Swabian Railway Song’ was written six years after the first official journey. The rural population in those times was uncertain about the effects of technical progress, and the satirical song is said to have been penned by students from Stuttgart. But regardless of who its author was, it clearly reflects the concerns of the local populace. The end of the song is quite a tragedy. The farmer's goat comes to a rather gory end, its owner having tied it to the back of the train as he was used to doing with the horse-drawn mail coach, unaware of how much faster the train was.

The promenade in Friedrichshafen is a popular place for tourists in the summer. With a view of the lake and the mountains, it is a perfect spot to unwind...

Friedrichshafen as industrial center

The first workers’ trains appeared around 1900 as part of the industrialization process. The Südbahn railway thus contributed to the development of Friedrichshafen as an industrial town. Diesel locomotives have been running on the Südbahn line since the 1930s. The first railcars to undergo trials there as early as 1924 featured engines
made by Maybach, the company that became mtu. With the arrival of new modes of transport, however, the importance of the Swabian Railway diminished not long after. Freight transport moved onto the roads and private transport was on the rise. But today, many travelers are returning to the trains – time spent on a train can be put to such good use.

Sabine Schmidt (left) and Angelika Petri were born in Ulm. They know the Swabian Railway Song very well from their childhood.

Childhood memories

“On the Swabian Railway, May travel all with means to pay. Lass and lad, man and wife, Cow and oxen, all forms of life. Tra-la, tra-la, tra-lala...”. Sabine Schmidt and Angelika Petri know the Swabian Railway Song almost off by heart. The two natives of Ulm are on their way to Aulendorf to visit an old friend. “The song brings back
memories of childhood. We use to sing it a lot,” says Angelika Petri. “The Upper Swabia region is a very special place. It's a beautiful region with fantastic scenery, small villages and towns, lots of spas, cycle routes and hiking paths,” says Sabine Schmidt. As long as the older generation is still around, people will still sing the Swabian Railway Song because it was their universal hit – of that the ladies from Ulm are in no doubt.

Stefanie Saschewag and Norbert Hopfner had spent a few days away from their home in Berlin visiting relatives near Lindau. They took the ‘Swabian Railway’ from Lake Constance to Ulm before changing trains for the onward journey back to the capital.

Train journey itself like being on holiday

Some people travel the Südbahn line to go on holiday; others to make the journey home. Stefanie Saschewag and Norbert Hopfner are changing trains at Ulm station with bags and suitcases from a leisurely few days away from home. The two Berlin residents have been visiting relatives in Austria. “My parents live near to Bregenz so we spent a week there, away from the big-city bustle in Berlin,” explains Norbert.
What he likes about his boyhood home on Lake Constance is its holiday feel. “It’s pretty strange, but as a Berliner by choice, I really do feel as if I’m on holiday in this picturesque, rural locality. I certainly don't have to fly to far-off places to relax,” he says. For his partner too, a week on the shores of Lake Constance is as good as a
seaside holiday in Spain or Italy. “I love nature. On the journey from Friedrichshafen to Ulm you still feel like you’re on holiday – even though it is already over. Everything is green all around. The people are friendly and, compared to Berlin, I like the remoteness here,” says Stefanie as a native of the German capital.

“On the Swabian Railway, There's lots of stations on the way: Stuttgart, Ulm and Biberach, Meckenbeuren, Durlesbach. Tra-la, tra-la, tra-lala...” By now you are bound to be wondering how on earth you can get that repetitive line out of your head. Psychologists recommend an easy sudoku puzzle. The author of this article will be
interested to see if that works!

The content of the stories reflects the status as of the respective date of publication. They are not updated. Further developments are therefore not taken into account.

Point of contact

Aaron Haußmann
+49 7541 90 7778

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