A region dedicated to barrier-free tourism

Vacationing in Germany is "hip" - or at least that's what a number of polls say. Among German holidaymakers, disabled travelers are more likely to spend their vacation in German tourist resorts. The Ruppiner Land in the North of the state of Brandenburg is an ideal destination: it is full of lakes, canals and forests and is establishing itself as a model region for barrier-free tourism.

The region goes under the names of Ruppiner Land, Ruppiner Schweiz, Ruppiner Heide or Ruppiner Wasserpark - all suitably idyllic designations for this unique region northeast of Berlin about which the great German Romantic writer Fontane wrote in his "Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg". This region, which is one of the most densely forested in Germany, has an abundance of water: 170 crystal-clear lakes nestle among the rolling hills, which together with the neighboring Mecklenburgische Seenplatte (Mecklenburg Lake District) form Europe's largest water reservoir. And if it's culture you're after, places like Oranienburg, Neuruppin, Kyritz, Lindow, Rheinsberg and Fürstenberg offer a whole range of interesting sights.

We've arranged to meet up with Siegried Schmidt, the wheelchair using representative of the Haus Rheinsberg Hotel, to discuss some of the barrier-free offerings in the region. From the lake terrace you have a wonderful view across Lake Grienerick, only a stone's throw away, while enjoying the culinary delicacies the restaurant puts in front of you. What a way to start the day!

Haus Rheinsberg has as it were fired the starting gun for barrier-free holidays throughout the region. Their achievement is setting a very high benchmark. As an added benefit, hotel guests are looked after by local medical practitioners and physiotherapists. And the shopkeepers and other businesses in Rheinsberg adapted themselves and their premises to their disabled clientele a long time ago. Even Rheinsberg castle, a first-class tourist attraction, has added an elevator and can be visited in a wheelchair. As part of the EU-sponsored project for "barrier-free tourism for everyone in Brandenburg," holiday providers are also having their skills improved through comprehensive and target-group-oriented training and support measures. Dr. Hansjochen Scheffter, Head of the Neuruppin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has initiated a working group for tourism service providers in the region, with the aim of further extending and linking the barrier-free amenities.

Disabled otters and barrier-free brick transport railway

We set out to visit the Kunsterspring animal park which provides a home for rare indigenous species such as wolves, lynxes, wild cats, aurochs and white storks. We drive past the conveniently low cashier's desk in our wheelchairs, into the European otter reserve which, like the whole park nestles idyllically in its natural river valley surroundings. We are welcomed by nine-year old "Stummel" (Stump), an otter who got his name from an amputated paw, and who is particularly tame. Well over half of the entire area, which covers a total of 16 hectares, is easily accessible in a wheelchair, although some of the terrain is too steep even for a seasoned wheelchair driver like Siegfried. "We are happy to organize assistance provided you give us notice", says Herr Mancke, manager of the animal park. The restaurant is barrier-free and there are disabled toilets. Noticing a step at the entrance to the "petting zoo", Schmidt remarks that they need a ramp there. But once he's surrounded by a dozen friendly goats, he stops bleating.

We drive further along the "Deutsche Tonstraße" to the Mildenberg brickworks park, where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about processing clay and burning bricks. The Technical Museum shares the area with two large brickworks, both of which are protected historical monuments. During their glory years, around 1910, 57 ovens were producing 625 million bricks every year. In Mildenberg, they are totally prepared for disabled visitors. All information panels and exhibits in the museum are clearly visible from a wheelchair, and you can even get into some of the impressive ovens with their huge burning chambers. If you want to see it all at your leisure, take a trip on the narrow-gauge railway which used to transport the clay. Get into one of the adapted mining trucks which takes you on a 90-minute trip through the brickworks park to the last clay mine still in use in the neighboring village of Burgwall.

Source: Gunther Belitz, This article was published in HANDICAP magazine, the Magazine for quality of life, Issue 2/2004.