Over the past few years we’ve enthusiastically reported on how, with the support of the German National Tourist Board’s ‘Barrier Free’ scheme, visiting Germany has become a superb holiday option for disabled people.
We’ve collected a few of our favourite postcards:
Potsdam is just on the south west outskirts of Berlin and by quirk of geography happens to be a city in its own right. Although it’s on the tram and bus routes and is connected to the centre of Berlin by rail, that’s really where any idea of ‘bustle’ ceases. The streets are quaint and quiet and you’re more likely to find an artisan bakery than a brand chain coffee shop.
Strolling from the train station, you’ll immediately reach the park known as Freundschaftsinsel (Friendship Island) connected by the road bridge to the rest of the city. The area hosted a garden festival a few years ago and as a result, the park has since upheld a new tradition of beautiful planting and sculpture display. The paths are firm and accessible and suit bicycles and wheelchairs alike. It’s a celebration of the senses given that there are plenty of sensations (touch, sight and sound) to explore. The edge of the Havel river is a beautiful place to stop and watch the trout catching flies and admire the water lilies.
The city is dominated by the Sanssouci Palace, home of Frederick the Great which was completed in 1747 and is said to be a real reflection of the imagination of its founder.
Although the gardens are accessible, people using wheelchairs will need some assistance simply because some of the landscaping and paths are pretty steep. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon and again you’ll be treated to a sensory festival provided by the wind in the river reeds, fountains, tress, flowers and crunching of gravel beneath feet. Blind people will get a really good measure of the estate by running fingers over the beautiful bronze raised map, complete with Braille notes.
Outside of the palace grounds, the Brandenburger or ‘Broadway’ as it is known locally is pedestrianised and again, although the streets are still partially cobbled, flat flagstones have been added, making them far more suitable for anyone with mobility or visual impairments.
Tourist Information can give further details about tours, including those for blind people where the guides are encouraged to take along models and cut-outs of the architecture in order to give a better understanding of the surroundings.
Potsdam’s railway station is also ‘barrier free’ and there are several tram stops that are suitable for wheelchairs with over half of all trams and buses fitted with low floor technology.
Where to stay
Hotel am Jägertor
The Hotel am Jägertor has an elegant and luxurious atmosphere. They only have one accessible room but it is not in the least sparse or clinical. The room has a beautifully appointed wetroom that includes a roll-under sink and gadgetry such as an angle-adjustable mirror and electric flush toilet.
Eiffel National Park
Germany is famed for having some of the most picturesque scenery in Europe. If you have the means it’s well worth visiting the Eifel National Park.
The Eifel National Park is a perfect retreat for wildlife (I spotted mice, woodpeckers and snails the size of a lemon) and walking fans. Facilities include level paths (suitable for wheelchairs – with a choice of gradient 5°or 7° depending on how fit you’re feeling). There is also a blind trail with all signage available in raised wording in different languages (including Braille). Best of all there’s a bench every 200m, so take your time and relax.
The small but picturesque town of Rheinsberg has a romantic, quiet atmosphere, complete with its own fairytale palace. In fact, such is the feel of the place that it famously inspired turn of the century author, Kurt Tucholsky to write his best known novella: ‘Rheinsberg. A Picture Book For Lovers’ which is renowned as one of the most beautiful love stories ever penned in the German language.
The lakeside location only adds to the romantic feel of the place and it would be something of a shame not to take advantage of the water.
RollyTours provide two accessible catamarans that can be used for tours of the lake or hired for individual boat trips.
Where to stay
Haus Rheinsberg, Hotel am See
This is the most complete idea of what an accessible hotel should be. The layout is simple and spacious and cleverly utilises windows, terraces and balconies to bring the stunning light and views of the lake indoors.
The rooms are plain but pleasant and most have some kind of view towards the lake. The wetrooms are excellent and profiling beds can be requested – other equipment is available for loan.
All of the facilities are brilliantly thought out for wheelchair users and people with visual impairments.
Koblenz is a beautiful city in the west of Germany within reach of Cologne and Frankfurt and makes a superb destination as either stand-alone city break or a base for exploring the wider region.
The city offers some beautiful ‘getting away from it all’ spots. A promenade by the fast flowing Rhine is a must. From the town it’s just a passage through the grounds of the Palace of the Electors of Trier, once the site of Imperial glory and now a museum that often hosts horticultural exhibitions on its sweeping grounds. It also includes an accessible playground for youngsters with an enchanting garden to the rear which is all but a sensory installation given the fragrances of herbs in bloom and the accompanying bees that buzz in gentle appreciation.
In the air
At the rear of the basilica the peninsula narrows to a shape reminiscent of the bow of a battle ship. This is incongruous with history but fits into the massive scale of the 14 metre tall equestrian statue of William 1of Germany. As if the ground level view wasn’t magnificent enough the cable car leading up to the Fortress Ehrenbreitstein gives a vista from 118 metres in the air.
Once again accessibility is built in as standard with wide, level and politely slow access as the cable car gently glides through the station to collect her passengers. (Because the station is always manned, you can actually request that the car stops to give you time to board at your own speed.)
Once at the top of what is Germany’s longest cable tram there’s a tremendous view across the valley and access to the historic Fortress Ehrenbreitstein that has kept watch over the city for centuries. Again, with audio-guides, ramps and even a route for blind people to follow with their canes etched into the ground it’s another example of the care with which the city accepts disability.
Where to stay
Mercure Hotel Koblenz
Strolling distance from town and positioned next to the river with plenty of access. www.mercure.com/Koblenz
Restaurant (and hotel): Diehl’s Hotel overlooks the confluence and has several accessible rooms.
Koblenz tourist board:
Berlin is a city that prides itself on welcoming everybody as equals and has effectively taken away the barriers that can so often frustrate disabled tourists.
Barrier Free is a simple concept that’s been attracting followers involved in all aspects of disability travel in Germany such as attractions, hotels and even train operator, Deutsche Bahn (who’ve incorporated facilities for visually and hearing impaired people as well as lifts and the like for people with mobility issues in major stations like Hauptbahnhof). The idea is simple; to become more inclusive, specifically towards disabled people in terms of access and facilities.
Berlin is a city that wears its history lightly but at the same time visibly. There are still large portions of the notorious Wall left standing in situ as a reminder to darker times. Perhaps a different city might have cleaned up entirely in an effort to forget the catastrophic misjudgements of the past.
Anybody that visits Berlin will immediately feel the warmth and charm of the place. Some of our clichés are somewhere nearer the mark than others, such as those that suggest that Germans are organised and tidy of mind. This, of course, is no bad thing when strolling around clean and pleasant city centre environs punctuated with green spaces and frilled with lines of trees. The pavements are broad, level and in some places, segmented for the use of wheels and walkers. Berlin is a cycling city and this lends itself very neatly to the needs of people with mobility impairments and particularly to wheelchair users.
Berlin retains a huge respect for its past but manages to combine this with a progressive perspective based on universal design and inclusivity.
If proof were needed, a trip to the Reichstag, home to the German Government is all that’s needed to reassure you that the Barrier Free movement means just that. The dome of the building has literally been replaced by a glass structure of the same shape so that people can stroll around the interior spiral ramp, taking in magnificent 360 degree views as they go.
Berliners are very clearly determined that division be a thing of the past and that divisive barriers have no place in their home. Since the Wall came down there has quite obviously been a collected sense that inclusion is to be a vital part of what makes Berlin so great. Berlin is now home to a hugely diverse community of people from 180 different countries and as recently as 2012 in fact, Berlin received the Access City Award, the highest mark of distinction of its kind from the European Commission.
Where to stay:
Scandic, Berlin Potsdamer Platz
Situated about a mile away from the Brandenburg Gate, this smart and modern hotel offers a high standard of access and facilities, including the small touches like stick holders and vibrating alarm clocks.
Apparently, this part of the city was under British control during the division of Berlin so it’s virtually home-from-home!