Come with us on a journey through the history of Bahnwelt, from the opening of the railway depot in 1898 to its current use as a museum.
When the old railway station in Darmstadt at Steubenplatz could no longer absorb the increasing freight traffic, a new, large switch yard was built greenfield in Kranichstein in 1898. A railway depot with a department for the maintance of wagons and locomotives was attached. Parallel a roundhouse was built for keeping the locomotives for the goods trains.
In 1970, the Museumsbahn e. V. was founded in Darmstadt to operate a so-called vintage trains on the Odenwald Railway as a living memory of the era of the steam locomotive. For this purpose the steam locomotive 98 812 was purchased. The Bundesbahn Directorate in Frankfurt/Main strictly rejected the use of steam locomotives in their district, so the locomotive was located at the depot of Ulm, as the Bundesbahn Directorate in Stuttgart was open to the idea. From there, special trains ran on the lines of the Deutsche Bundesbahn in cooperation with the Ulmer Eisenbahnfreunde (UEF) from 1971 onwards.
In 1971, the first own wagons were acquired and kept on a rented track in the locomotive shed in Darmstadt-Kranichstein. The idea was to refurbish it there for operation with the 98 812. In order to have reserve locomotives available, the steam locomotives 98 727 (“Zuckersusi”) and 184 DEG (today 184 DME) were acquired in 1972.
After more wagons and locomotives could be accommodated in Darmstadt-Kranichstein and public’s interest grew to visit these vehicles. On April 30, 1976, the facility was opened under the name “Railway Museum Darmstadt-Kranichstein”. It was the first railway museum in Germany. The concept of the museum was to assemble a collection of vehicles that provide a cross section of the historical and technical development of the railways. The former depot of Kranichstein should be restored to an open-air museum with its operating and workshop facilities. The concept was also open to allow that some of the vehicles in the collection should stway be in working order in order to make railway operations in the steam locomotive era “tangible” in the truest sense of the word.
When Deutsche Bundesbahn banned the use of steam locomotives in 1977, steam trains could only run on private railways. For this reason – and also to equip the line with typical “accessories” of the steam locomotive era like telegraph lines, historical level crossings and semaphores – an own museum line was neccesary. Therefore the railway line Darmstadt Ost to Bessunger Forsthaus was opened in October 1984 as the railway museum’s own railway line.
The 100th anniversary of the tramsystem in Darmstadt in 1997 led to the recreation of Germany’s first steam-driven tram, which became known as the “Fiery Elias”. This tram reminded of the early start of the tramsystem – a steam-driven suburban railway. One year later, this also gave birth to the “working group for historic HEAG vehicles”, which is now part of the Bahnwelt Darmstadt-Kranichstein.
In 2002, Deutsche Bahn AG closed down the Darmstadt-Kranichstein switch yard and scheduled it for demolition. To ensure that the historic railway depot was preserved with its reason for existence, namely the switch yard, the concept of the museum was further developed in 2003 and expanded to include the project “Kranichstein switch yard industrial and transport monument”.
In 2010, the railway museum celebrated the 175th anniversary of the railway in Germany with a large vehicle parade. Additionally, in order to jointly preserve and present the development of the railway in the Darmstadt area, the different railway clubs in Darmstadt joined forces and formed an umbrella organisation, called “Bahnwelt Darmstadt-Kranichstein” in beginning of the 2010s.
The railway infrastructure of Bahnwelt Darmstadt-Kranichstein comprises the entire Kranichstein railway depot, including the former goods wagon repair shop to house the wagon collection. On the museum line from the station “Rosenhöhe” (Darmstadt Ost) to the stop “Bessunger Forsthaus”, special trips with historic steam trains were regularly organised until 2015. As soon as circumstances allow, we plan to carry out train rides again. In addition to the presentation of the vehicles and other railway-related collections (including uniforms, tickets, railway superstructure), “lost” technologies (e.g. rivet technology, repairs of copper locomotive fireboxes, etc.) are also preserved in the museum’s workshops and kept for future generations. Special trips, operation days and other events are held at the museum. ARGE HEAG offers special trips with the steam tram “Fiery Elias” and electric trams several times a year. A popular event is the historic border inspection near Darmstadt’s forest cemetery, which recalls the time of the French occupation of Darmstadt. In addition, the depot with the historic trams can be visited four times a year.
Of course, the Bahnwelt is constantly evolving. One of our biggest projects at the moment is the reerection of the second half of the locomotive shed, which was removed by the Deutsche Bahn, in order to be able to offer a protective roof to as many of the historic vehicles as possible. In addition, we would like to offer regular steam train rides on our museum line and on Deutsche Bahn AG tracks soon again.