1852 till today
More than 120 years of üstra
üstra has been carrying passengers for more than 120 years: by horse-drawn bus, on rails, on wheels and even on a solar-powered boat across the Maschsee, üstra has been keeping Hanover moving for over a century and helping to shape the city as it is today – it’s time to look back and take stock.
1852: Riding like a king on the horse-drawn omnibus
In the beginning there was just a horse, a driver and a horse-drawn omnibus – back in October 1852 the first Hanover public transport route from the railway station to Schwarzer Bär went into service. The later King Ernst August of Hanover (reigned 1837-1851) was not at all amused by the rapid development of public transport, finding it insufferable that “any cobbler or tailor” could travel as quickly as himself. Not just quickly; the horse-drawn omnibus was also cheap – just a groschen a ride, a quarter of the price of a cab, and a regular service.
The first public transport in Hanover started on the initiative of three hire carriers, acute businessmen seeking to turn citizens’ needs into ready cash. Their enterprise paid off; by 1854 business was blooming, and already there were other routes and excursion lines like the service to Limmer springs.
1893: The electric tram puts 461 horses out of work.
The very popular horse drawn bus routes merged in 1892 to form the ‘erste Hannoversche Omnibus-Kompanie’, founding the ‘Straßenbahn Hannover’ share company that was renamed üstra in 1921. In 1872 the city on the river Leine got its first horse trams. With initial funding from the Berlin ‘Continental-Eisenbahn-Aktiengesellschaft’ rail company, tracks were laid and further trams bought – but after 66 years the horses were obsolete and the more powerful electric trams conquered the streets of Hanover. 461 horses were put out to grass. The first ‘Elektrische’ went into service on the between Königsworther Platz and the Royal Gardens in Herrenhausen in 1893.
1918: Horseless trams carry passengers, milk and coal.
With the ‘horseless tram’ a new chapter in the transportation history of Hanover opened in 1918. It had taken a few years for the City Fathers to give tram director Theodor Krüger permission for the overhead power line trams, but then Hanoverians whizzed along at 10 – 15 kph, through town or out into the country as far as Hildesheim, Pattensen, Sehnde or Laatzen. There the local citizenry celebrated their new connection to the outside world enthusiastically; a newspaper article of 4 February 1900 stated: “Our village has gained a great deal with the tram service. Land prices have risen quite significantly.”
But not only people were carried by the ‘Straßenbahn Hannover’. Milk, cement, coal from the pits in the Deister hills, wheat and sugar were all transported to town. In 1912 an astonishing 411,000 tonnes were carried, surely the high point of Hanover freight service, the largest of its era. Six power stations provided electricity to run the trams and had enough to spare to supply rural communities with light and power.
In 1902, however, tram director Theodor Krüger was obliged to stand down because the high investment costs of the track and power lines left no profit for the city. Later, however, Krüger’s expansionist policies paid off: in 1914 there were 307 kilometres of track on which around 61.5 million tickets were sold.
1923: 90 billion marks for a tram ride
In 1920, two years after the First World War, tram workers struck for higher wages for the first time, not knowing that they were at the beginning of a long depression. In 1921 the company name changed to ‘Überlandwerke und Straßenbahnen Hannover Aktiengesellschaft (üstra)’ ‘Überlandwerke’ showed that the company was no longer just a provider of transport but also of electricity, but even this second string could not lift the company out of crisis.
During the runaway inflation of 1923 ticket prices were raised 35 times until just one tram journey cost up to 90 billion marks – crazy figures in chaotic times, but these hard times were to endure; in 1932, when every third Hanoverian was unemployed during the world economic crisis, things also looked bleak for üstra. The number of passengers had halved as ‘people’s transport’ became a luxury.
Travelling had become much more comfortable in the meantime – electric heating, glazed driver’s cabs and, from 1925, the first üstra bus service from Chamissostrasse to Hansastrasse – but hardly anyone could or wanted to afford it in those days of financial hardship. Further measures such as establishment of the Preussische Elektrizitäts-Aktien-Gesellschaft (PREAG) in 1927, introduction of the first steel cars or founding of the Hannoversche Stromversorgungs AG electricity company were also ineffectual.
1936: The first üstra Maschsee boat takes to the water
In those hard times, however, there was no shortage of ideas, one of them to start a service on the waters of Hanover’s Maschsee artificial lake. The first üstra sailing was on 21 May 1936.
The Second World War brought death and hardship to Hanover. On 16 Mai 1941 üstra reported its first bomb damage, in Vahrenwald, Döhren and Hildesheim. üstra vehicles were also in service as transporters of the wounded and ambulances. At the end of the war the destruction was all too plain: 94.8 percent of homes and 94 percent of industrial and commercial premises destroyed; just a third of all the üstra vehicles had survived. The trams were used among other things for carrying away the rubble, the tons of material sorted by ‘Trummer-Frauen’ women, out to Rehten, Pattensen and Koldingen. Vegetable wagons were borrowed from Belgium and converted for passengers, and all were grateful, from the fresh young things to the old prunes – “Rather a bumpy ride than a comfy walk,” was the jokey headline of a local paper.
1952: Rural tramlines replaced by buses
With the 1948 currency reform things began to look up again for üstra. In May 1950 the new line to the trade fair grounds was inaugurated, and in 1952 the rural tramlines began to be replaced with bus services. In 1953 the freight transport service finally closed down. Around 1960 the company name changed to Hannoversche Verkehrsbetriebe (üstra) Aktiengesellschaft. In those years üstra made rapid progress; after single-man running the first ticket cancellers were introduced in 1964, and on 23 June 1965 the City Council approved construction of an underground railway system.
1970: Greater Hannover Transport introduces the common tariff
In the turbulent sixties and seventies a wind of change blew along the river Leine – Marxist idealism and Peace and Love brought unexpected consequences for üstra when, in the summer of 1969, the company found itself confronted with the ‘Rote-Punkt-Aktion’ campaign by Hanoverians. Thousands demonstrated against proposed fare rises and trams and buses were brought to a standstill. Idealistic motorists stuck a red circle on their windscreens and collected carfuls of passengers at bus and tram stops. The campaign succeeded, üstra and the City Council bowed to the citizens’ will – and fares became dramatically cheaper.
In March 1970 the ‘Großraum-Verkehr Hannover’ Greater Hannover Transport association started work by introducing a common ticket pricing system for all journeys with all local transport operators. The association acquired a majority shareholding in üstra from the former main shareholder Preussen Elektra.
Into the 1980s growing districts of the city like Ricklingen, Mühlenberg, Empelde, Langenhagen and Alte Heide were connected. In 1980 the company name was changed again to reflect its new aims: üstra Hannoversche Verkehrsbetriebe AG (transport enterprise).
1992: üstra celebrates its centenary
For its 100th birthday on 22 June 1992 üstra had good reason to celebrate. The network had developed excellently and a year later the first low floor buses came into service.
In 1994 came signs of the direction the enterprise was to take: nine designer stops (the BUSSTOPS project) were set up; üstra was to take a more prominent place in the cityscape and commit itself to environmental protection. The first 15 natural gas-powered buses came onto the streets.
Customer services have also had a facelift: in November 2002 üstra Service Center City opened downtown on the Platz der Weltausstellung as a central information and advice facility for all passengers. Arts projects were supported, the city takes a higher profile with passenger TV, the newly developed cashless ticket machines and not least with the design of the TW 2000 tram by Jasper Morrison. üstra is the first transport enterprise to train two Kaufleute business graduates in transport services.
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