Since I started working in Ireland, I use most of my holidays to go back to Germany for Christmas, celebrations or simply to have a proper summer. I love catching up with family and friends, but at the same time I also want to travel to new places.
This May my boyfriend and I combined attending a birthday party with sightseeing in Germany. Before this trip I had seen more of Ireland than of Germany. Most people don’t travel their own country and Germany is a large country, so there were plenty of cities I hadn´t been to. During this trip we visited Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Munich, Augsburg, Leipzig and Gera, my home town in Thuringia. Visiting Germany as a tourist gave me a different perspective on some aspects of German culture.
How Accessible is Germany for someone with a vision impairment?
It really depends on where you go and what you want to do. German public places and tourist attractions provide reasonable levels of accessibility. It is rarely perfect but manageable. In most cities you will get along with English, although speaking German definitely helps especially when asking for directions or reading information on websites and listening to announcements on public transport.
I googled the museums we wanted to visit to find outif they had audio guides or special tours. If not we joined “normal” tours in English. Some museums said they would provide us with a “special” tour if we paid extra for the guide. That is fair enough if you are a group and can split the cost, but I argued that we we should have the same access to the museum as a sighted visitor and that people with disabilities can’t always be expected to turn up in a group. In every case I got a tour for free or to a reduced price. In return I promised to write reviews about our visits. They will follow later in this series.
Using Public Transport
You can get everywhere by public transport. Most cities have at least busses and trams, the major ones offer also subways or undergrounds. These well connected transport systems make it easy to get around, but it can be challenging to find the right platform in a station that looks like a gigantic shopping centre.
I still have a German travel pass, which means I and an “assistant” can go for free on regional trains and local public transport. For the fast trains (ICE and EC) I only get the assistant’s ticket for free. I bought our tickets for the longer journeys online through the DB Navigator App (Deutsche Bahn App) a few weeks in advance and never paid more than €30 per journey. However, these reduced tickets are bound to a specific departure time. I think the “assistance” is supposed to be sighted, but we always got away with it.
You can book assistance at the train stations to show you to the plattform and to meet you off the train to bring you to the exit. However, the service has to be booked through the Mobilitätzentrale (Mobility centre) at least 24 hours in advance. If you don´t speak German it would be easiest to send them an email at MSZ@deutschebahn.com with your contact information, travel details, what kind of assistance you need and if you travel with luggage and use a cane or guide dog. Bring the cane even if you don ´t use it, so the assistance can recognise you. If you have some vision look out for someone with a bright red hat, shaped like a police uniform cap.
If you have an ICE or EC ticket the mobility centre also bookes you a seat reservation free of charge. That also makes it easier for them to find you on the train and you don´t have to wander around looking for a non-reserved seat.
Overall the assistance works very well, the only disadvantage is that it can´t be used spontaneously. If we were not bound to a certain departure time and the train was frequent enough, we turned up early and found the plattform ourselves. Ironically, the meeting points for the assistance are sometimes harder to find than a plattform.
There are also several private bus companies like FlixBus. These busses connect the major cities and even have destinations allover Europe. They are cheaper than the trains and the App is easy to use and the tickets are digital so I don‘t have to worry about paperwork I can’t read. There are no free tickets for travel pass owners, but on request the bus companies often give a free ticket for the „assistance“. Contact customer service and give it a go.
My golden rule is: Always ask for reductions for people with disabilities, especially in tourist attraction. Public transport companies are not required to accept foreign travel passes. But you can always try, especially if you have a kane. Train conductors have to sell you a ticket at normal price without charging an extra fee for buying on board, because the ticket machines have touch screens. The larger stations also have a „Reisetenzrum“ travel centre with a ticket counter.
Planning is Key
This sounds stereotypical German, but I really believe that I get more out of a holiday, If I take the time to do some research. Where do I want to go? What is there to see and how do I get there. Without planning I would waist valuable time finding out all this information when I get there.
I’m a big fan of apps. I find that booking.com and Tripadvisor for IOS are more accessible and less cluttered than their website versions. The IPhone speech software VoiceOver reads most text fields and buttons on the screen. I save all my travel documents to ICloud files and make them available offline to access them even without internet.
Listen to other people’s reviews on Booking.com. I booked a hotel with a 2 star rating in Frankfurt and regretted it. More about that in a future post on Frankfurt. Read the property descriptions carefully. How far is it away from the hotel away from the centre, are there restaurants and shops nearby, how good is the transport connection. You can also look at the property in Google Maps, which leads me to the next point.
Google Maps Lists
For this holiday, I created a private Google maps list with places to go in each city we visited. These included not only tourist attractions, but also restaurants, pubs Cafés and parks. Food-wise I want local cuisine and healthy and cheap options, which mostly turn out to be Chinese or Indian. Read the reviews, sometimes they even tell you what is near the location. Use the public transport options in Google Maps for directions and select your hotel or a major train station or square as starting point. Also have a look for a local public transport App in the App Store. Some cities even produce a visually impaired friendly version of their app. Don t hesitate to add more places than you will probably visit to your Google Maps list. You will find that some things are near each other and it is good to have a choice.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Germany as a travel destination. All the preparation sounds like a lot of work, but it will ultimately make the holiday more enjoyable and a bit more stress free.
What experiences do you have travelling to Germany? Or are you planning a trip to Germany and have any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments.