Remember Tuffi, the elephant who leapt from the Wuppertal Suspension Railway?
Wuppertal, Germany, boasts not only the world’s oldest electric elevated railway with hanging cars known as the “Wuppertaler Schwebebahn” or Wuppertal Suspension Railway, but it also has a unique story involving its suspension railway, a circus owner and a 4-year-old Indian elephant, a story that celebrates its 68th anniversary this June.
An unusual marketing event
On July 21st, 1950, the circus director Franz Althoff planned what he thought would be a highly-visible marketing activity for his circus: he would take his elephant, Tuffi, for a ride on the local suspension railway. Althoff was known for his unusual and often bizarre marketing stunts, and the result was that he had managed to attract people from far and wide to enjoy the spectacle.
Too much excitement for Tuffi
Tuffi was probably well-used to people, so the sight of the reporters and crowds of fans on the day was unlikely to have been a problem. She had successfully travelled in a tram to Oberhausen’s town hall with Althoff a few weeks earlier, so she was well-used to the odd things that were expected of her. The suspension railway, however, wasn’t simply a tram. The monorail’s huge spider-like legs that supported the rails stretched across the Wupper, allowing the railway carriages to float above the water below.
Tuffi was coaxed into the railway wagon and initially remained still as the carriages began to move. As the carriage moved ahead, Tuffi lost her nerve and after a short journey of less than 2 minutes, she trumpeted wildly and broke free, running through the carriage before breaking through the wall and plunging into the Wupper below.
Unhurt and an instant celebrity
Fortunately for Tuffi, she managed to hit a muddy spot when she fell into the water, leaving her with only minor injuries. Unfortunately for the many reporters and journalists watching the spectacle, the incident happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that not one was able to take a photograph of Tuffi’s fall!
In spite of the lack of photos, Tuffi’s leap into the Wupper captured the hearts and minds of locals and visitors alike and depictions of the event immediately became part of the Wupper tourism trade, appearing on postcards, cups and soaps, with the story being retold in books and on tours locally.
Turning a local, historical event into a visit-worthy experience
Tuffi’s story is still told in Wuppertal and because of her iconic status in the region, it made sense for MK Illumination to propose creating an illuminated light figure of the elephant to stand proudly in Barmen’s old market as part of the city’s winter lighting display.
The resulting 6-meter-high, 3D, illuminated elephant formed the striking starting point of a string of lights, which extended to the Kugelbrunnen at the end of the central shopping street “Werth” during the winter months, and proved to be popular with visitors from near and far, who loved