Wheelchair test in the summer crowdsTourism
The tourist information office at the Boettcherstrasse on the market square has recently introduced a new wheelchair hire service, which is available free of charge. So, even if you pick up an injury ahead of your trip to Bremen or you are unable to walk for any other reason, you can still explore the city. I took this as an opportunity to test out a wheelchair and create a barrier-free version of Bremen’s tourist trail, which is marked out by metal discs in the ground.
I am not unfamiliar with wheelchairs outside of work, but I have never actually followed through with my plan to complete a tour using one. How does it change your perspective and how other people look at you?
Our wheelchair hire service gave me the perfect opportunity to finally try out a wheelchair and devise a barrier-free tourist trail based on first-hand experience. It could also be helpful for anyone visiting the city with a pushchair.
The wheelchair is a lightweight Breezy Parix, which can accommodate weights up to 130kg. So far so good, the weight is not a problem. There are brakes located at the front by the wheels as well as round the back for the carer.
I should point out that the wheelchair doesn’t have any anti-tip devices at the rear and is not that easy to move if you’re a novice. It’s therefore important to have someone on hand to push. Telling myself that all those sessions down the gym must have achieved something, and in search of adventure, I set off alone in true ‘do as I say, not as I do’ fashion. Ordinarily, users will have to leave ID and a 50 euro deposit.
The tourist trail through the old town is marked out on the free city map, which is available from the tourist information offices and many hotels and provides important information on selected sights. It follows the same route as our audioguide tour. I’ve included the download links for this tour but you can also hire audioguides directly from the tourist information offices.
Getting from the tourist information office to the start of the trail
The regular tourist trail starts on Obernstrasse, because that’s where our tourist information office used to be. Now that we’ve moved, the trail route is a bit illogical, but never mind. First I need to get to Langenstrasse. There’s a step-free entrance on the right-hand side of the tourist information office and a lift to take me to the upper floor where I collect the pre-booked wheelchair.
Time to get started. I take the lift back down to the ground floor, then I proceed down Hakenstrasse towards Liebfrauenkirchhof on the corner of Obernstrasse. The route to this point is my first challenge; I’d never realised how hilly Bremen is, even though it’s actually really quite flat! I am virtually eye-level with the children and dogs I pass by, which is a new experience for me. It’s quite sweet, actually. And the weather is a dream. With all this putting me in a cheery mood, I get properly started.
Bremen’s market square with its World Heritage attractions
It’s mayhem on the market square. That’s to say, the square is full of devout worshippers shining as brightly as the sun. From where I was sitting, I didn’t see the girls coming who wanted to talk to me about God and I couldn’t even take a step back. If they hadn’t stood so close, the situation would have felt less intimidating from my perspective.
If you take a look around the market square, you’re bound to have a better experience. Rather than an array of behinds, you should be able to admire rows of faces – of all the magnificent historical buildings, that is. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares you’ll ever come across in Germany. The impressive town hall and Roland statue even enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status. I particularly like Roland, because he symbolises freedom. Straight across from the town hall is the Schütting guildhall, a beautiful reminder of the city’s mercantile heritage. The pretty gabled houses on the west side of the square make a great picture and strike a contrast with the State Parliament building on the east side.
The lazy brothers in Böttcherstrasse
From the market square, the route leads through a narrow link road to the left of the Schütting and on to Böttcherstraße. Above the entrance to the passage is the majestic Bringer of Light, a relic from a dark period in German history. Diagonally above this stand the Seven Lazy Brothers, who also have a fountain made in their honour in the Handwerkerhof courtyard. I stop by the fountain, which also depicts the Bremen Town Musicians, and take the opportunity to enjoy the shade and the quiet while gazing at the lollipops in the sweetshop window. Then I get back on my feet for a proper browse of the rather narrow sweetmaking workshop.
To the Schlachte Embankment!
The regular trail continues through a tunnel from Böttcherstrasse to the Schlachte Weser promenade, passing under Martinistrasse. I take the pedestrian crossing at street level, passing by St Martin’s Church, and have huge fun whizzing down the ramp. Wheeeee! Anyone looking to stop for a bite to eat in one of the restaurants or cafés on the Schlachte should not go down the ramp yet, but instead turn right and continue along the upper promenade. Bar Celona has a good accessible toilet.
The trail markings on the ground point left, but I make a quick detour to get a photo of the ships on the lower embankment. I see them all the time but they never fail to impress.
From Schlachte to Altenwall
The trail continues towards Tiefer. I quickly ask the lion to lend me some of his strength, because it is tough going. Ordinarily, I would go through the tunnel towards ‘Schweini’ the pig and on to the Schnoor quarter, but the step-free route takes me a slightly longer way. I can’t manage the incline up to Altenwall on my own and have to get up and push my own wheelchair, and then explain to a random passer-by that they aren’t witnessing a miracle. The view towards Osterdeich and Café Sand more than makes up for the lengthy detour and would be missed on the original tour. This would also make a lovely spot for a break.
The crowded narrow lanes of the Schnoor
You approach the Schnoor quarter at the square with the Heini Holtenbeen statue. From here, you take a narrow lane to Wüstestätte square. Though it is very tight and very busy, everyone’s really friendly and considerate and they all make way for me – as they have done throughout my tour. As I continue down the Schnoor itself, it’s as if the wheelchair was made for the path. The top left of the following pictures show the passageway with the little metal trail markers set into the ground.
There’s step-free access to the House of History via the rear of the Packhaus theatre, where I was immediately offered assistance by the friendly staff all dressed in historical attire.
The route then turns left at the Kaiser Friedrich restaurant and continues past St John’s Provost Church. Since there are steps there, I follow the path down Am Landherrnamt to Domsheide and on the corner of Balgebrückstrasse and Dechanatstrasse I rejoin the official route, which leads me across streets, tram rails and cycle paths. Extreme care must be taken here, and I was glad that I knew the road layout so well. So, keep your wits about you!
Cathedral, market square and, at last, the Bremen Town Musicians
As I reach St Peter’s Cathedral, I can breathe a sigh of relief, so long as I don’t steer into the barely recognisable cycle lane. From a peaceful spot on the edge of the market square, I admire the facade of the cathedral. For those who want to look inside, the wheelchair-friendly entrance is round the corner. Alternatively, the Bibelgarten makes a relaxing spot for a bite to eat.
I pass through the town hall arcade (watch out for the tram that runs right alongside it) to reach the other side of the town hall and the most famous statue of the Bremen Town Musicians – the work of Gerhard Marcks. I then roll down Hakenstrasse back to the tourist information office, where I return my wheelchair.
This was a fantastic experience, and I’m so glad I got to do it. I found the wheelchair to be a brilliant aid that would give me the freedom to get from A to B if I were unable to walk for some reason and would otherwise have to think about cancelling my plans. Admittedly, it would have been better if I’d had a nice companion to give me a push. And to buy me a lollipop!
The access-for-all Bremen discovery trail
At bremen.de you’ll find the 2 kilometre route of the access-for-all trail. Use it as a guide, but be sure to take your time to make your own detours and really explore each district. You should only whizz round the trail in one go if you’re short on time. It’s always worth keeping your eyes peeled for other attractions on the wayside, like the Hole of Bremen or the carillon.
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