Germany – Planes, trains and automobiles

I’m back from a 10 day trip to Germany. No pictures yet, but I should have them in a couple of days.

I’ll start with transportation.

I flew United from Denver, via Dulles (once a totally fun airport, now a sad remnant of its former glorious self). I upgraded to Business class and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As is my wont, I called United several bazillion times to remind them that I needed an aisle chair and an onboard wheelchair. Since my return trip was with Lufthansa, just for fun I called them two or three times as well.

Security in Denver was pretty quick. The TSA employee who frisked me insisted I take my shoes off despite TSA’s new policy:

People with disabilities, those with prosthetic devices, and those with medical conditions DO NOT have to remove their shoes during this heightened security level. Those with disabilities who keep their shoes on will be subjected to additional screening that includes a visual, physical and explosive trace detection sampling of their footwear.


I requested that she swab my shoes, she refused and insisted that it was policy that the shoes come off. Surprisingly, no one uttered a peep about the hex wrenches in my carry on bag.

Everything about Business class is good except that I couldn’t get the footrest up and down by myself (not enough leg muscle power), and the seatback in front of me was so far way that I couldn’t reach it (I know, all Economy passengers should have such problems). On the Dulles – Munich flight, thanks to careful liquid intake management, I only asked to be taken to the lavatory once. The flight attendent who helped me confessed that in her experience, she only needs to haul out the onboard wheelchair about once a year.

In Munich I was met by a “Sani”, a medical worker, who accompanied me from the plane to the (locked) elevator, to baggage claim, and out into the world. This is not the norm in the US.

My relatives came to get me via public transport, as they were not sure whether my wheelchair would fit in their car (it does, and I have the pictures to prove it). They had picked up several MVV ( Munich Transport and Tariff Association) publications on accessible public transport, which we relied on heavily.

Munich has trams (streetcars), S-Bahn and U-Bahn (underground), and busses. I took trams, S-Bahn and U-Bahn. Trams were the easiest: wait at the head of the platform where the tram will stop. The driver will see you and extend a little ramp. The driver will probably ask you where you plan to get off. There is a wheelchair designated spot (no tie-downs) at the front of the tram, with a couple of collapsible seats for your companion(s).

The S-Bahn and U-Bahn were harder. One driver told us that there was a hand-crank ramp he could deploy; no other driver volunteered that information. Depending on the age of the train and the station, there was a medium to large gap between the platform and the train, and possibly a medium step up into the train as well. Since I was always with someone else on the train, we didn’t bother to try and get any kind of ramp deployed; my uncle went in first and grabbed the front rigging as I popped a wheelie so that I wouldn’t drop the casters into the gap (this was before I discovered he’d just had hernia surgery!).

Despite MVV’s claims to the contrary, signage for elevators in U-Bahn stations was very poor. We did a lot of hunting around.

I did not have the opportunity to ride a bus, but most of the busses I saw had middle doors with wheelchair lifts.

In Munich, we only used a private car once. I brought my Colorado disabled parking permit with me, as the ECMT Council of Ministers have granted reciprocal recognition of parking permits with the United States (among other countries).

I took the train from Munich to Stuttgart. To get a wheelchair spot, you need both a ticket and a reservation. You tell the DB what assistance you need to board. I made my arrangements in person at the München Hauptbahnhof, but you can also make arrangements online or by telephone (0180 5 512512).

We were instructed to report to the “Service Point” (yes, that’s what it’s called) at the train station 20 minutes before the train left. Because this was also the morning the pope was arriving in Munich, we allowed extra time and arrived early. The lady at the Service Point sent us on down to the track and told us we would be met. Just as the train came in, a DB employee also showed up driving what looked like a small forklift, which turned out to be a portable wheelchair lift, just barely wide enough for my fairly narrow (24 in = 61 cm) chair. DB wheelchair lift

I was traveling on an ICE (InterCityExpress) train. The corridor was easily wide enough, and there was allegedly a wheelchair accessible restroom, but I didn’t check it out. All announcements, to my surprise, were made in both German and English, and there was also a display in the car showing the route and time to the next stop.

Shortly before our arrival in Stuttgart, I grabbed a crewmember and said I would need assistance exiting the train. His brow furrowed, he inquired as to whether I had arranged it in advance, and I assured him I had. In Stuttgart I was met by 2 DB employees and no lift. I was asked to stand and walk out of the train. Since that wasn’t going to happen, one of the “meeters” began to scold me for not having given the DB the right information. I allowed as to how I had, and they seemed to have gotten it right in Munich. In the meantime, a crewmember standing behind me got tired of the argument and summarily told his colleagues to grab hold and lift, and that took care of the problem.

I spent the rest of my stay in Tübingen, where I didn’t use any public transport. We did get a copy of Barrierefrei durch Tübingen, a city map showing all permit parking spots, wheelchair accessible toilets and telephones, and routes through the city including curb cuts and grade.

My return flight was with Lufthansa, Stuttgart-Frankfurt-Denver. When I checked in for the international segment, I reminded them about the aisle chair, etc. This caused a minor furor, as there was no such indication in my record (quelle surprise!). This was complicated by the fact that, unknown to me, I had apparently managed to evade the Sani who should have escorted me to my next gate. Due to some delay in turning the plane, however, the aisle chair turned up well before we were able to board. On this flight I made several trips to the lavatory and found the crew eager to assist; I was told several times to be sure not to hesitate to make any needs known. Since I was once again a peon in coach I found the seat cushion to be inadequate and wound up sitting on my wheelchair cushion instead.

More trip fun to come!



  1. mdmhvonpa

    Sounds like although you had a few issues in 10 days , seems like you were well accomidated!

  2. Patricia Tryon

    If you got by with only “minor furor” on Lufthansa, Mr OotFP would say that you were blessed ;-)

  3. Christiane

    Manual trackback:

    I hope you enjoyed your time in Germany nevertheless.

  4. AL Masters

    Very cool. Sounds like a fun trip. Enjoyed reading about your adventure, and lok forward to more.
    AL Masters

  5. AL Masters

    Take a moment to look at my proposal for Disability Travel Registry. I quoted your article in my blog entry today when mention the proposal…
    AL Masters

  6. Daughter

    I like your new background…how very apropos. Mmmmmm, zwetschgenkuchen! Actually, I googled “plum cake german” and that’s what I came up with…is it close? LOVE.

  7. Katja

    Hello, Daughter, how nice to see you here! Zwetschgenkuchen is exactly right.

  8. darrenh

    I never get why the press for all the notice, when it only seems to make actually make a difference about a third of the time. Once your’re on a train, isn’t it more than a little silly to even ask about whether you have given notice? That you have to give notice at all tires me. The world should just be ready for the eventuality that someone might need a aisle wheelchair, for example.


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