An opera singer’s train station

This railway station was built in 1913 as the main station of the then-booming industrial city of Barmen, which had not yet been incorporated into the city of Wuppertal. The station had a large and elaborate entrance hall (on the right in the photo) with several ticket counters and extensive baggage and freight facilities. The entrance hall was big enough to accommodate a full-scale welcoming ceremony and a brass band, just in case the emperor or some other important dignitary should arrive by train and have to be greeted by the mayor and the city council.

Barmer station centenary 1913-2013

Today the station is called Wuppertal-Barmen (Barmer means ‘of Barmen’) and serves as a stopping point for three regional express lines and two local (S-Bahn) lines, but it is not the main station for Wuppertal (the station in Elberfeld has that distinction) and there is no longer any baggage or freight service. The ticket counters have long since been replaced by machines and the large entrance hall stood more or less empty for many years.

In the early 21st century the German railway system DB put the station building up for sale, and in 2008 they unexpectedly found a buyer, the Vienna opera singer Kurt Rydl.

Kurt Rydl, the owner of the Barmer station

The top line of this poster reads Großer Bahnhof für die Oper. This means literally ‘a large station for the opera’, which it is, because the Wuppertal opera house is just across the street, but it is also a play on words because the expression einen großen Bahnhof machen in German can also mean to put on an elaborate and festive welcoming ceremony for someone — as they would have done for the emperor if he had ever found the time to travel here.

(Actually the emperor did visit the Wupper Valley once, but that was earlier, in 1900, when Wilhelm II and his wife Auguste Viktoria came höchstselbst = ‘highest themselves’ to try out the new suspension railway. But he never visited Barmen as far as I know.)

(One of the disconcerting things about the German language is that in earlier centuries it had a special groveling vocabulary and servile syntax for use when speaking to or about the emperor or other potentates such as dukes, princes or margraves. Höchstselbst is just one example of this.)

The singer Kurt Rydl, born 1947, is an operatic bass (basso profundo) who has been a mainstay of the State Opera in Vienna for over forty years. He bought the station building sight-unseen on the advice of his brother-in-law Thomas Leipoldt, a former sea captain who runs the café and bookshop in the station building. Leipoldt is the great-grandson of the man who founded this café and bookshop in 1921, and his sister is Rydl’s wife Christiane.

Historic clock on the station façade

In the eleven years since they bought the station, Kurt and Christiane Rydl have invested heavily in restoring the historic building.

One of the first things they did was to have the clock fixed, after it had been broken for many years. The unusual thing about this clock is that in place of numbers it has the letters of the words “WUPPERTAL BARMEN” spread out around the circle.

The Rydls have also refurbished the station’s large hall so it can be used for cultural events of all sorts.

I later found out that the large hall had been used for several years in the 1990s as a disco, run by none other than Alfred Biolek (1934-2021), who used to host talk shows and cooking shows on German television. Biolek was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable opera fan whom I met several times in the 2005/2006 season when he was hired by the Frankfurt Opera to host a series of late-night talk-show type evenings called Oper Lieben = Love Opera.

As I mentioned, the railway station Wuppertal-Barmen is just across the street from the opera house. Actually when you cross the street you come to the back of the opera house, so you have to walk around the building to get to the entrance.

When I went to Wuppertal I took an ICE train (InterCityExpress) from Frankfurt to Düsseldorf and changed there for a regional express which stopped in Wuppertal-Barmen. When I got off the train I was surprised to find that opera music was playing over loudspeakers downstairs by the exit doors, and the sign pointing to the bookshop said they had a wide selection of books and periodicals, including opera literature.

Station “Alter Markt” on the suspension railway

Not far from the opera house and the train station Wuppertal-Barmen, there is also a station of the Wuppertal suspension railway (Schwebebahn) called Alter Markt (= Old Market). So the opera house is very well served by public transport. I also found a small hotel nearby (Hotel zur Krone), which was quite convenient.

My photos and text in this post are from 2019 (updated in 2021). 

See also Korngold in Wuppertal and Over the Wupper.

4 thoughts on “An opera singer’s train station”

  1. I love you aside about the German language and its earlier “groveling vocabulary and servile syntax!” meant to flatter dignitaries.

    I remember that the language’s even more enduring, but now perhaps fading, built-in facade of respect and politeness seemed quite foreign to me, coming to Germany from the more casual US in the 1980s.

    Wuppertal sounds like a great destination!

    1. Yes, but I don’t have the impression that it has been a huge success. Tonight they are having an “Ü40 party” (for people over forty) and next Saturday there will be a “Super Ü30 party”. That sort of thing.

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