Berlin – the capital of modern Germany with a population of 3.5 million. A push to make Berlin 80% of traffic public transportation and 20% private vehicle. The city named by the European Union (not just Germany) as the Access City of 2012! Berlin is the kind of city that someone may have suggested that you add to your bucket list. After visiting her for the first time you find yourself hard pressed to remove her from the bucket list because you know deep down that your relationship with Berlin has just begun. This is the city you have to see for yourself! In short….just go!!!!
From the large, new Berlin main train station spreads out the vast, interconnected trams, trains, buses, subways; the majority of which are accessible to wheelchairs, the visually impaired and hearing impaired. The main station (Hauptbahnhof) can be aptly described as a city within a city. Tom Hanks could easily live there without being noticed by any one.
The ultimate goal is to have the total system fully accessible. They are well on their way. Not only is there accessibility; there is information available on line and by telephone regarding specific stops and assistance. There is a brochure to educate people on the accessible features and how to manage them. As well, there are weekly courses at rotating stations where people can practice using the transportation system.
There are too many hotels to name when it comes to accessibility. Hotels from 5 star to youth hostels have accessible rooms. And not just one or two as we are used to in North America. One chain has 60 barrier-free rooms!! Many others have 15 – 20 in various categories and sizes. As with other tourism products, there is ample information available regarding the specific features of these hotels so that individuals can choose a hotel that fits their specific needs.
We stayed coincidentally in one such hotel in the Mitte region of Berlin – the artsy, trendy area. The hotel has received the commendation for being barrier free. The front entrance from the street is level to automatic doors. There is an accessible public washroom on the main floor beside a small business centre. There is a spa in the basement of the hotel consisting of massage treatment rooms and sauna. A second accessible door leads to an inner courtyard. The elevator is large enough for a large wheelchair to fit and has a lowered control panel with Braille.
Restaurants: The Berlin Tourist board has a list of accessible restaurants, outlining their individual, specific features, as well as a list of accessible public washrooms requiring the Euro Key in in order to access (refer to blog on Germany).
Attractions: Berlin is a city of many sites catering to many tastes; historical and modern museums and architecture; classical or eclectic musical taste; international cuisine; parks and cultural events as well as 24 hour cafes and clubs. While much reconstruction was necessary following the 2nd world war, this also allowed the city to develop a modern infrastructure. Thus, there are large pedestrian malls, museums and theatres, all with modern accessible features. The historical sites have been retrofitted as well in order to achieve the goal towards Berlin being barrier free.
There is not as much cobblestone as found in other cities. In some areas, where there is cobblestone, attention has been given to providing a barrier free, smooth surface within the cobblestone area.
The Berlin Tourism Office has done an outstanding job of identifying the accessible features of each attraction. They have also developed step-free walking tours of the city which can be taken with a local, expert guide or through companies which offer tours using an accessible vehicle. One Hop-On Hop-Off service provider has made ½ of his fleet accessible.
The German Bundestag (Parliament) is accessible for people with disabilities. Induction loops assist visitors with a hearing impairment in hearing plenary debates and lectures in the visitors’ galleries. The Reichstag Building can be accessed via ramps. The exhibition on parliamentary history in the Deutscher Dom is accessible. A tactile model of the Reichstag Building, the plenary chamber and dome, as well as the parliamentary and government district, enable blind and visually impaired guests to explore the forums of German democracy.
The Berlin Wall is of major interest and the history and remnants of the wall are prominent features in the city. In various parts of the city, there are displays and remnants of the wall which are shrouded in steel fencing to keep people for taking souvenirs. Several sites are welcoming to persons with disabilities.