Sunday, September 1, 2013

Berlin - Sep 2013

Brandenburg Gate

For the first time in my couchsurfing adventures, I was not able to find a host in Berlin. I sent out many requests and one girl even sent me an invite, but her apartment had stairs. So I ended up renting an entire apartment from a guy through Airbnb. His place was one of the very few that had an elevator and no stairs anywhere. It was also close to a metro station and not too far from the centre of Berlin. It was a 1 bedroom apartment with living room, kitchen and washroom I had no trouble with. The owner travels a lot for work and rents out his place when he’s not home. After a few days, I thought about moving to another place so I could experience a different part of the city. But once I started getting settled and used to the public transportation, I decided it would be much easier to just stay there. I ended up staying for just over a week and he was there for 2 nights and slept in the living room. The apartment had everything I could ask for and only cost me 30€ a night.


Overall, I was very impressed with the accessibility of Berlin and I would rank it right up there with London. The city is fairly flat. There were cobblestones in random places, but it’s nothing I couldn’t manage.

Airport staff uses the
'stair-climber thingy' to
get me on the plane
I flew Easyjet which had a direct flight from Amsterdam to Berlin for supercheap. The planes are nothing fancy, but they treated me very well. I got special assistance getting on and off the plane and no one was ‘annoyed’ for having to help a disabled person as what sometimes happens when flying. Their planes don’t connect to the terminal. So you take a special bus that literally drives 2 minutes on the tarmac to your plane and then they use one of those mechanical stair-climbing chairs to get you onboard.

Toilet with overhead
bar at Frankfurt Airport
Finding accessible washrooms can be a challenge. I used my tried and tested routine of finding a coffee shop or hotel. And like in Amsterdam, I did have to resort to some back alley urination.

Wheelchair seating on S-bahn train
All the buses and trams are completely wheelchair accessible. Most of the metro stations have elevators. Some don’t so you’ll have to plan an alternate route. You can plan a “barrier-free” route using the BVG site. It saved my ass many times!
My only issue was getting used to the German names and learning the difference between S-bahn and U-bahn. But the best part of all is that the transit system is free for the disabled!

ICE train
My flight back to Vancouver was from Frankfurt so I had a figure out a way to get there. Flights were very expensive so I decided to take a fast train called ICE. As with most inter-city trains, these have 3 very high steps to get in so you have to request special assistance. An employee will operate a manual lift to get you on. Once inside you’re fine. There’s a designated space for wheelchairs and an accessible toilet.
Here’s the problem: once I got to Frankfurt station, there was no one there to help me off. Somewhere, there’s a breakdown in communication. At the risk of getting stuck on the train to the next stop, some kind people actually carried me off. I had a take a 2nd train to get to Frankfurt airport and an employee helped me get on, but I encountered the same problem again at the airport. No one was around to help off and I had to get carried again. For me in my manual chair, I can be carried. It’s annoying and you have to swallow your pride, but whatever. But if I had a powerchair I’d be completely screwed and that’s what angers me. If you’re going to have a special needs accommodation system in place, you have to make sure it works.


Alexanderplatz fountain
Berlin doesn’t really have a downtown, but there is a central area. My favourite starting point was Alexanderplatz which is only a single 10min train ride from where I was staying. There’s lots of people and a shopping mall, and from there you can pretty much get to anywhere in the city.

Berlin Wall Memorial
I did manage to visit one museum – the German History Museum. I found it fascinating to learn about 2000 years of German history. There’s a discounted rate for the disabled and everything is accessible. Postdamerplatz is another area that’s very modern compared to the rest of Berlin. There’s a shopping mall and huge theatre. I visited the Berlin Wall Memorial which is free and was intrigued by its history. I also saw Checkpoint
Charlie and Brandenburg Gate. All flat and easy to get around. Tierpark and the Victory Column are gorgeous.

On my last day, I met this cool German girl in Alexanderplatz. She showed me around Hackescher Markt where there is really cool graffiti art and we watched live music in the park on museum island.

Hackescher Markt


Berlin nightlife is unlike anything I have ever experienced anywhere. The culture here is very free and liberal, especially when it comes to alcohol. I saw people drinking on the metro, outdoors on the streets, sidewalks. And the bars pretty much stay open until people go home which could be all night. Another thing I’ll mention is that Germans are all about techno music – and it’s usually minimal techno. Just look it up on youtube and you’ll know what I mean.

Violetta, my partner in crime
at Club der Visionaere
On my 2nd night, I joined some couchsurfers at Club der Visionaere. This former boathouse is very cool because it’s an open-air venue located on a river and it’s pretty much open all night. You would never find anything like this in Canada or probably North America. I met this fun Russian girl there and we partied the night away. We left at 5am and there were still people there!

The next night, I couldn’t find anyone to go out with me so I went solo to Berghain which I heard was one of the most famous clubs in Germany and the world. It’s located in an old power station. I’ve heard Berlin nightclubs are notorious for being selective on who they let in. In other words, you can wait in line for hours, get to the front, and the bouncer can simply turn you away with no explanation. I got to Berghain at about 1am on a Saturday night (or Sunday morning I should say) and there were at least 200 people waiting in line. There was no way I was going to wait hours for a chance to get in so I pulled out the disability card. I went to the front of the line and I asked the bouncer if there were any stairs inside. He said we have an elevator to take you up so it’s no problem. I said it’s just me, can I go in? And he let me right in. No wait! I saw others getting turned away and the people at the front had this look on their face like ‘who the fuck is this guy?’. So I pay my 15€ cover and then this huge guy leads me through a series of dark corridors, and heavy, locked doors and finally up the elevator. I thought to myself either he’s going to kill me and no one will find my body, or I’m going to the coolest nightclub ever. There are actually 2 different clubs. The main one is Berghain which at 1:30am had hardly any people. There was a lot of smoke, laser lights, and scattered bodies moving (not dancing) to booming techno music. Honestly, they looked like zombies. I was so freaked out that I was ready to turn around and walk right out, but then I remembered how lucky I was to even be there in the first place so I stayed. Now the one thing I hate about these nightclubs is that they allow smoking and if it weren’t for that, I could have stayed for much longer. The whole place looks like something out of a Saw movie. There are many dark rooms that you can explore. Apparently, people have sex, but I didn’t see any of that. After a while I went to the other club in the building which is called Panorama Bar. The music was slightly more upbeat, but it was still techno. I left at around 5am and there were still at least 200 people in line. As I was leaving, I asked the bouncer what time they closed and he said very casually Monday morning. Holy crap! He told me I could even come back tomorrow with my hand stamp. Then I asked when they opened and he said Thursday night. So apparently you can party from Thursday night to Monday morning straight! Berghain was definitely an experience, but I’m not sure if I would ever go back there.

Late nights with couchsurfers
at Suicide Circus
I joined some couchsurfers one night and went to Suicide Circus. It reminded me a lot of a tree house. Seriously. I don’t think it’s an actual building. I think someone went to Home Depot, bought a bunch of lumber, and built a nightclub. Haha. They play techno. I was here on a Wednesday night and stayed until 5am. There’s Berlin nightlife.

On my 2nd last night, I needed to take a break from the techno so I did some research and found a couple places that played charts (or top 40 as we call it) , hip hop, and house. Me and another guy I met a couchsurfing meetup tried to get into 40 seconds in Postdamerplatz. When we got to the front, I asked if there were stairs inside. He turns to my friend and says “we have no space for him” and motioned for us to leave. Meanwhile, a group of 10, better-dressed people right behind us all went straight inside. To this day, I still don’t know if I was discriminated against because of the wheelchair or they just didn’t want us in there. In any case, it was one of the rudest experiences I’ve ever had. I knew of another place called E4 close by and the bouncer practically begged us to come in. This place played great non-techno music and we found some fun girls to party with. The only bad part was that they closed at 4am.

On my very last night I had to leave the city at 4am which sucked because that meant I couldn’t party late. There was one more famous club I wanted to see called Weekend in Alexanderplatz. We got to the front and the bouncer asked who was playing tonight and I didn’t know so he turned us away. Damn! That’s a total of 3 clubs I got turned away from. We found another club just around the corner called Sky Club and we got in no problem. Unfortunately, it was only 11:30pm and we were the only ones in the whole place.  At 1am there were still only a few people there, but I had to leave so I could get back to my apartment, pack, and catch my train to Frankfurt. So my last night of clubbing was uneventful, but overall my nightlife experience in Berlin was very unique.

Berlin is an amazing city. It’s very wheelchair accessible. I loved its liberal and artistic culture. I wasn’t planning on staying here so long. I actually wanted to see Munich for a few days, but I enjoyed Berlin so much I just decided to stay.

1 comment:

  1. This is great! I am a fellow wheelchair user and I have set up this site so we can get every piece of information that is useful for wheelchair users in one place-it would be great if you could come and share your information and then link to your blog for people who want to read more information on the destination? Hope to see you there soon!