The bottom station of the Obersalzbergbahn with the open platform is an inconspicuous structure on the banks of the Berchtesgadener Ache.
Photo: Roman Gric
New ropeways


The Obersalzberg Cable Car

Seventy years ago the Obersalzbergbahn opened as Berchtesgaden’s first cable car, a pulsed-movement aerial ropeway with a total of eight cars in four 2-car sets.

Created by Roman Gric

Some bold proposals for the construction of a cable car in Berchtesgaden were made before the First World War already. One idea was to construct a ropeway from St. Bartholomä on the shore of the Königsee to one of the Watzmann peaks via the highest face of the Eastern Alps, the 2,000 m high Watzmann east face. But this and other projects for ropeway access to the virgin terrain of the central mountain range of the Berchtesgaden Alps were ultimately rejected.

First ropeway for Berchtesgaden

After the 2nd World War, Berchtesgaden wanted to exploit the tourism potential of one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in Germany and build on the reputation it had established as a tourist resort before the war. In April 1949, Berchtesgadener Bergbahn GmbH was founded with the aim of constructing the Jennerbahn from Schönau am Königsee (see ISR 6/2019, pp. 14-16). One of the initiators and founders of the company was the well-known German mountaineer, mountain rescuer, skier and ski jumper Josef Aschauer from Berchtesgaden. When the company failed to raise enough capital to construct the Jennerbahn, the smaller Obersalzbergbahn was built as a pilot in 1950. The Jennerbahn itself was not completed until three years later.

Photo: Roman Gric
Two pairs of cabins always meet in the mid-station.
Photo: Roman Gric

Ropeway with special solutions

The Obersalzbergbahn was not designed and built by any of the established ropeway manufacturers of the time. Although built as a prototype installation, it has proved its worth in 70 successful operating years. The structures for the installation were erected by Master Builder Bickel of Munich, while the mechanical systems were delivered by Mechanik Voggenreiter.

The Obersalzbergbahn is a pulsed-movement reversible with four groups of two cars each. Cars 1+2 and 3+4 operate between the bottom and middle stations, and cars 5+6 and 7+8 between the middle and top stations. All eight cars are attached to a continuous-loop haul rope with spring-loaded grip. In order to maintain the correct distance between the two cars in each pair, they are connected to each other with a hinged metal frame. The installation has one-piece track ropes that pass through the middle station: they are anchored in the bottom station and tensioned with counterweights in the top station. Each of the eight cars can carry four adults and one child.

Railroad components

Almost all the components of this installation are unusual. The drive in the bottom station was an in-house solution. It originally had two separate bullwheels, each with a DC motor with two gear wheels for the transmission. One bullwheel ran forward and the other in reverse in line with haul rope travel in the motor room. One man was needed simply to control the speed of the two drives. That is how the system operated until the big refurbishment in 1996. Only then was a drive motor and a gearbox with two cardan shafts to drive the two bullwheels installed and the system converted to semi-automatic operation.

Because of the post-war shortages, components from the Deutsche Reichsbahn (the railroad operated in the German Reich) were used to build the ropeway in Berchtesgaden. The deflection sheaves for the counterweight ropes for the track rope tensioning system in the top station, for example, are spoked wheels from a retired steam locomotive. This can be clearly seen by the balance weights at the wheel center and the point at which the locomotive’s driving rod was once attached (see Figure). Other rope sheaves reveal their railroad origins, too. The Deutsche Reichsbahn was also the source of the nine towers on the line. They are lattice towers from the overhead catenary system with cross members fitted to the tower heads plus four guy ropes for additional stability. The cross members carry the track rope shoes and the sheave trains.

In 1996 the former Hölzl company, a cable car manufacturer based in South Tyrol, carried out a complete refurbishment of the ropeway. Following several changes of ownership, the Obersalzbergbahn is now operated by a private company, Obersalzbergbahn GmbH.

“Despite modernization, our cable car has hardly changed in terms of original appearance. Even the original track ropes are in such good condition that they can still be used. With such small moving masses and the low line speed, the levels of wear are low. In the past, it took six employees to run the cable car, but now, with the modified drive and CCTV monitoring for the mid-station, we need only two,” says Andreas Bruckmann, managing director and proprietor of Obersalzbergbahn GmbH.

Important role for tourism

From the bottom station on the banks of the Berchtesgadener Ache near the Berchtesgaden marketplace, the 1.5-kilometer-long Obersalzbergbahn reaches the top station on the Obersalzberg – Scharitzkehl road. That provides access to an excellent 50 km network of walking trails at an altitude of about 1,000 m. There are many fine walks to be had from both the middle and the top stations. There is an easy 1.5 hour walk, for example, from the top station of the Obersalzbergbahn to the middle station of the Jennerbahn, with various hostelries en route where you can relax and enjoy the local fare. A Wiegand summer toboggan run (flume toboggan) is open in summer starting right next to the top station at Alpengasthof Hochlenzer.

A level two-kilometer walk from the top station takes you to a documentation center with a contemporary history exhibition and bunkers from Hitler’s restricted “Führer" zone as well as the bus stop for the Kehlsteinhaus and an eagle enclosure. In winter the Obersalzbergbahn is also used to carry tobogganers to the top of a 4.7 km long toboggan run.


Together with the Hochjochbahn in Schruns, the Schaubachhüttenbahn in Sulden and the Schladminger Tauern Cable Car on Hauser Kaibling, the pulsed-movement Obersalzbergbahn with its 4x2 cars is one of the four reversibles in the world today that operates with four cars (or groups of cars) and a middle station where passengers have to change.

With this mode of operation, the transport capacity of a reversible, which decreases with increasing line length, is almost twice as high as normal thanks to the doubled number of cars. Two cars or two groups of cars, which meet in the middle station, travel to and fro on each track rope with a carrier spacing of half the length of the track. At the middle station, the passengers change to the next cabin or group of cabins to continue their journey in the same direction. The station must be built exactly in the geometrical middle of the line.

A four-car system used to be operated on the Patscherkofelbahn in Igls near Innsbruck, on the first Gletscherbahn Kaprun I, the first Penkenbahn, the former Ehrwald – Zugspitzkamm ropeway operated by Tiroler Zugspitzbahn and on the Nebelhornbahn.

Technical Data

Berchtesgaden – Obersalzberg pulsed-movement ropeway

Elevation of bottom station530 m
Elevation of mid-station770 m
Elevation of top station1,020 m
Line length1,530 m
Vertical difference490 m
Number of towers9 + 2 portal-type towers
Track rope diameter 25 mm
Haul rope diameter16 mm
Drivebottom station
Rated output33 kW
Haul and track rope tensioningtop station
Number of carriers4 x 2
Line speed2.7 m/s
Transit time12 min
Rated transport capacity80 pph
Manufacturer, commissioningMechanik Voggenreiter, 1950
RefurbishmentHölzl, 1996
CarriersIn-house production

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