Berlin Diary: Barrier-Free?

     |    Saturday, der 4. September 2010



Access or Obstacle?

Steps invite entry into new worlds. A transition from one level to another. From one space to another. Steps belong to everyday life – especially in Berlin. Especially if you live on an upper level in an apartment house. Many of us walk hundreds of steps every day. There are 111steps from the ground floor to my front door. I take steps for granted.

But do steps always represent access? Or are they at other times literally an insurmountable obstacle? I need to have a bone in my right foot operated on. Nothing major. Routine procedure. While talking to a friend who had exactly that operation, I realized in a flash that surgery would mean… how on earth do I get around in the city? What will it be like to be “transportation challenged”? To be challenged with just getting out the front door? Berlin… the steps. The U1. The everything… That got me thinking about steps. Access or Obstacle? It all dawned on me when I saw this interesting stairway at the Warschauer Strasse U-Bahnhof. Taking pictures of it. Steps can really be a major hindrance.

Take a sweet look at this stairway next time you change trams or trains at Warschauer Brücke. Watch the city crowd saunter along the train platform and step into the waiting U-Bahn. Berlin’s famous U1 – the subway line with the orange cars that snakes its way partly above ground from Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg to Schöneberg and into the West City – is an access nightmare. Few of the stations have a lift – and all of them have scores of challenging steps – Görlitzer Bahnhof is notorious. I watched the folks getting in and out of trains for quite a while at Warschauer Brücke.  There was not one person using crutches or with a wheelchair.  Hmmm, I wonder why.  A question going through my mind since then is: what would it take to make Berlin access friendly?