Pam Goes to Berlin
A few weeks ago my able-bodied friend and I travelled to Berlin, Germany for a week’s vacation. I hadn’t been to Europe in about ten years and was looking forward to visiting that city in particular because of it’s rich history, and wanted to squeeze in as many sights on my list as possible. Leading up to the trip I’d done some of the usual accessibility research on a few web-sites including wheelchairtravel.org, but found that for me, too much research was beginning to make it feel more like a term paper and less like a pleasure trip. So after reserving the right hotel, https://www.casacamper.com/en/berlin/hotel.html which had the right bed height and roll-in shower, and checking that the museums were accessible, I decided to just wing the rest and hope for the best. Here is a picture of the hotel bathroom and shower. I showered in my wheelchair because the chair they provided would not have been safe for transfers. Also, notice that there are no grab bars. For the first 24 hrs I was really concerned that I might fall until, brilliantly, it occurred to me that I could just slide the shower chair over to the toilet and secure it up against the wall so I could lean on it safely. Suddenly, my troubles in the bathroom were over and I felt right at home. What a relief. It’s always the little (big) things!
I’d read that there are no accessible taxis in Berlin, but as a para, I can usually transfer into a regular cab without much difficulty, and I was hoping that we would be able to walk to most of the things we wanted to do and thankfully that turned out to be the case. One thing I did not think of ahead of time, (and it’s probably better that I didn’t know this) is that the sidewalks and street surfaces in most of what was E. Berlin, where we were staying, are made up of mostly small (meddlesome) bricks with thick mortar between each brick which makes for a very bumpy and dangerous ride if you’ve got small front casters. Sidewalks are also interspersed with areas of the dreaded cobblestone which I cannot roll over without the fear of getting thrown out of my chair. At least half the time I was being dragged backwards across constant rough terrain. Interestingly, there are lots of bicycles and not a lot of cars on the roads so it’s not unreasonable to actually wheel on the streets rather than the sidewalks (I’m not recommending this!) except that the streets have tons of tram tracks that I needed to do wheelies over. In this picture you see a smooth area in the sidewalk, but never fear, it doesn’t last long before more bricks will appear. The good news is that I suspect power chairs would have no problems whatsoever. I would say that the accessibility in Berlin is mostly good, though more spotty than our cities of equal size.
Every museum I went to with the exception of Check Point Charlie had accessible bathrooms and entrances. Here I am trying toget through the turn-style which was the only way to enter themuseum, and there was no elevator to the second floor, but myfriend took lots of pictures for me so I didn’t feel completely deprived.
Near by our hotel, hidden between two buildings was an interesting looking alley way. We saw a small sign for an Anne Frank gallery upstairs and guess what? there was actually an elevator that took us up to the most extensive exhibit of her outside of Holland. This guy showing me the elevator was so interesting and fun to talk to. Of course, like most everyone I met, he spoke German, English, and had pretty good command of a third language.
This picture shows the German version of a curb cut with distinguishing ridges for navigating the streets if you’re blind. I think it is so much safer than the bubble version we have. For people in manual chairs those bubbles are dangerous.
And finally a photo of the smartest and strongest airline helper. I was sitting in the last seat in business class (we were bumped up) and so had a wall behind me. I didn’t know how she was going to grab me to put me into the aisle seat. Suddenly (this photo doesn’t quite capture it) she had managed to stand on the armrests from behind to pick me up. You had to be there really! She, by the way, spoke five languages.
To end my story I’ll just say that traveling is what you make of it. Unexpected things will happen - some good, some not so good. As long as you’re relatively safe, it’s always an adventure, a story to tell, a memory to capture. Till next time (if there is a next time) Happy Trails!