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Fribourg’s stinky funicular

Fribourg’s 116-year-old funicular is powered by waste water. The smelly transport sparks curiosity among tourists and pride among ecologically-minded locals. (Photos by Ester Unterfinger, text and sound by Islah Bakhat,

A light fog veils the old town of Fribourg. It’s 8.45am and at the upper station of the Fribourg Funicular, which links the town centre to the lower town, the first of the day’s passengers are arriving. They chat with the driver before taking their places in Cabin 1 for the quick but picturesque trip to the lower town.

Entirely renovated in 2014, the green retro machine is a source of fierce pride for the locals of Fribourg. It is unique in Europe according to the Fribourg tourism website. “It is actually one of the last ones to run on waste water from the town, which is used thanks to a system of counter weights.”

The funicular was first put into service by the Cardinal Brasserie in 1899. The business, which no longer exists, thought up the idea of the funicular to help the workers who lived in the lower village at the time.

Initially shy, driver Laurent Verdon soon warms to his subject as he talks about his work. Verdon has been driving the funicular since 2004 and recounts his experiences over 11 years with passion, kindness and humour.

A person only needs three days of training to drive the funicular. Experience and a set of strong arms are key to driving and applying the breaks on the old machine.

The atmosphere is jolly, and cordial, friendly chat with the passengers comes naturally. Verdon sells the tickets, carries prams, assists those in wheelchairs to the elevator, waves to the driver in the opposite wagon, all with a smile.

Translated from French by Sophie Douez

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR