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Germany with a physical challenge

As we flew home from our last trip, my husband expressed a desire
to see Germany which is totally outside of my knowledge base.
I am depending on everyone here for assistance.
First, my restriction: While I can easily walk two or three miles
unassisted on flat land, I have great difficulty with up and
down (stairs or ramps). I walk with one or two canes depending
on the terrain and can be a little “tippy.” I can do about two
flights of stairs carefully but then must have a break.
I can no longer ride a bike.
As travelers, we enjoy cities and as our son terms it, “old stuff.”
We do not shop and only enjoy museums in moderation. I can easily
spend two hours in a cathedral going around and around.

We prefer train and bus travel over renting a car but we are
willing to rent a car if absolutely necessary. We travel with
convertible backpacks. We will be travelling the last two weeks of May.
I tried to include everything I could think of but I’m sure I missed many things.
So, with all that in mind, do you have any suggestions for an itinerary?
We considered just the eastern side of Germany from Berlin down
to Munich and Bavaria. I am very worried that I will not be able to deal
with castles on hills and the like. Gorlitz sounds interesting but
is not an absolute must. So, any ideas?
We are flexible and willing to go someplace else if this trip is going to be too difficult.

Posted by
4968 posts

It would of course help to know a little more about your interests.

The Rhine and Mosel Valleys could meet the needs you've stated. There's an incredible amount of "old stuff" in the area - like 1,000-year-old castles. Most towns and cities are situated near and spread out along the river banks and can be walked across easily within your distance limitations. Public transport in the area tends to be excellent. Trains run mostly along the rivers and connect towns of significance as well as minor places in between. Buses go everywhere trains don't and are in sync with the train schedules. You can't hike up to Cochem's Reichsburg Castle? No problem - there's a bus for that. Cheap local/regional daypasses like the Rheinland-Pfalz ticket cover virtually all trains and buses:

Rhainland-Pfalz Ticket

Mosel highlights

Rhine Villages

Reichsburg Castle in Cochem

Marksburg Castle - w/shuttle

Some not-too-big cities in the region of interest that are accessible with the R-P ticket:

Mainz, Trier, Koblenz, Speyer, Worms

Posted by
865 posts

We considered just the eastern side of Germany from Berlin down to Munich and Bavaria. I am very worried that I will not be able to deal with castles on hills and the like. Gorlitz sounds interesting but is not an absolute must. So, any ideas?

Berlin to Munich via Görlitz could work very well. How about this itinerary:
1. Berlin. The city is huge but flat, and offers very good public transport. If you like it a bit less hectic try to spend one or two days in Potsdam, which is surrounded by several royal parks (not just Sanssouci) and generally a very pleasant area. All of the parks offer plenty of benches.
2. Spreewald. This is a beautiful region where the Spree river meanders in thousands of small waterways through meadows and forests. You can do guided boat tours on punted barges to old Sorbian (a Slavic minority) villages.
3. Görlitz. IMHO it's a must see, one of the best preserved towns in Germany. Again relatively flat, and also with a few benches between the train station and the old town. Try to spend the night there, some hotels are in perfectly preserved buildings from the 16th century. And you can set your foot on Polish soil.
4. Bautzen. This is a town you could do as stopover from Görlitz to Dresden. It's a Baroque town surrounded by medieval fortifications... and the cultural centre of the Sorbs. The fortification are high above the river, but the town itself shouldn't be a problem.
5. Dresden. The reconstructed old town is small, and the museums world-class. Even if you aren't interested in museums some of the are so unique, like the Green Vaults and the Turkish Chamber, that you should see them anyway. From Dresden you can do day trips on nostalgic paddle steamers to other sights in the surroundings. The only one which you definitely can't see is Saxon Switzerland (by boat), but all others, like Königstein fortress, Meissen, Pirna or Pillnitz palace, can be reached, often by those small mini- trains which drive on roads... no idea how they are called. Bautzen and Görlitz can also be done on day trips from Dresden.
6. Erfurt. This is one of the biggest and best preserved old towns of Germany, and only the cathedral is on a relatively small hill.
7. Weimar. The town is ~30min away from Erfurt and can be done as a day trip from there... or the other way around, depending on where you prefer to stay for the night. Weimar is flat and a very pleasant small town with a nice old town, castles and palaces, parks and sadly also a KZ. The town is hugely important for Germany, it's where Goethe, Schiller, Herder or Nietzsche lived, the Bauhaus was founded and the first democratic constitution was signed (= Weimar Republic).
8. to Munich. Sorry, can't help you with Bavaria, but I'm sure others can... ;)

Posted by
58 posts

Sorry that my message above is so hard to read. For some reason, my message from my work computer did not wrap and you have to scroll across to read it all. I will try to post it more clearly later. Thanks!

Posted by
12040 posts

If it helps, northern Germany is relatively flat. My favorite city in the entire country, Hamburg, is well worth the visit.

I think you may have trouble visiting most castles, because as you noted, they tend to sit on the top of hills. Even if there is a shuttle (like Marksburg noted above), you still have to walk further up hill to reach the castle. I don't know the castles that well in northern Germany, but perhaps Schwerin Castle would provide an easier visit.

Posted by
6542 posts

My parents, aunts and uncles traveled extensively throughout their 60's, 70's and early 80's. They later just went on high quality tours, like Rick Steves' European tours.

When aging seniors get to where they're mobility challenged, it's then time to make some changes in their mode of travel. And if it requires tours to simplify matters, just do it.

Posted by
7640 posts

As much as I enjoy the Rhine towns and castles, I don't think this works well for you. Getting up to the Marksburg itself means a lot of very steep stairs and the tour of the castle is a ton of stairs, also very steep. Many of the train stations along the Rhine have flights of stairs to get to the tracks. If you did want to see the Rhine, I would take a ship the whole way. Mainz to Koblenz. Yes, it takes a few hours, but you get to see all of the castles.

Going for one of the flatter areas of Germany, as suggested might be a lot better. Berlin, Hamburg, Potsdam, or Dresden. While in Berlin you could even do something fun like a Trabi Tour. They also have great boat tours in Berlin and Hamburg.

Posted by
4654 posts

A few words on public transport:

In large city-centre railway stations in Germany there are almost always elevators. However, smaller railway stations often have only steps up or down to the platforms. Additionally station platforms are often very low, and boarding trains often means climbing up two or three steep ladder-like steps (paradoxically, this tends to be worst on long-distance trains, many local trains now have low floors). It's not uncommon to see elderly people having to be physically lifted onto or off trains by travelling companions or good samaritans.

The Berlin subways have many unavoidable steps and elevators only at the largest or newest stations. If you are going to Bavaria, the majority of subway stations in Munich and Nuremberg have elevators but they can be difficult to find. If large stations have multiple exits, there is usually an elevator at only one of them. It will be signposted from the platforms, but entering a station can be more difficult in terms of finding which entrance is accessible.

This can be a particular problem as in many German cities public transportation is seen as a single network and there are no surface bus or tram routes which parallel subway lines.

In the majority of German cities most buses and trams are low-floor. However in the former East Germany, there are some smaller town tramways which still use exclusively older tram cars with high floors and steep steps to board.

Posted by
11613 posts

If you check transportation websites, they may list services - like lifts or escalators - at specific stations.

In my experience, castles have interior staircases that are usually steep and narrow, often without handrails. Getting to the entrance is only the beginning of the climb. But I've sometimes remained at ground level in courtyards and still enjoyed the castles (injured foot temporarily).

Posted by
4968 posts

Jo 1: When I suggested the Rhine/Mosel, some of the details of your mobility issues - the canes and the stairs - were not readable your first draft with formatting problems. So yes, the castles themselves, even though you can reach them easily enough, may not be easy for you, as others have pointed out. And the train stations are in fact peppered with stairs; in Bacharach, for example, the tracks going in one direction are quite easy to reach, but to travel in the opposite direction, it's a long down staircase, a walk under the tracks, then a long up staircase to the platform.

That said, I don't think you need to avoid the area, and I will respectfully disagree with Jo 2 when she says you should try to see the Rhine area only from the deck of a cruise boat. It's scenic, but you will completely miss out on the charm that awaits visitors in the villages themselves, which are spread out mostly along flat areas on the river bank and easy to navigate on foot.

I would look for sure at Boppard. Boppard is a lovely town with a fine river promenade (where you'll find the cruise boat docks) and a handsome, mostly flat old town area and numerous attractive half-timbered buildings. There is also a very cool chairlift ride there you can take to a nearby peak for a look at the river scenery and town and maybe a beer or coffee on the terrace of the Gedeonseck cafe/restaurant. Boppard is served by train but also by bus 650 from transportation hub Koblenz every half hour. So you take the train to Koblenz, use elevators to reach the street level, then board bus 650 and arrive in Boppard in front of the train station. No stairs at all.

Bus 650 at Boppard station
Boppard half-timbered house
Gedeonseck terrace overlooking Boppard

You might use the cruise boats from Boppard to travel to other nearby villages (St. Goar, Oberwesel, Braubach) and back. Those places are mostly at river level and will be easy to walk through on foot as well. Note that Braubach, on the east bank of the Rhine, is also easily accessible from Koblenz by direct bus.

View over Oberwesel

From Koblenz, you can also travel to Cochem, the most delightful town on the Mosel River. Cochem's station has been totally remodeled with elevators to accommodate the disabled. When you exit the station at street level, there is no elevation gain at all to speak of as you walk into the old town zone. On foot, it's very easy to reach the cruise boat docks and just about everything else except the castle. I would take the shuttle bus up to the castle even if you aren't going to walk through the place. The scenery is great from up there, and you may actually be able to access and enjoy the falconry show (6 days/week) if you do. From Cochem, you can cruise up to Beilstein and back, or take a daytrip to Trier (Germany's oldest city and a treasure trove of Roman history) by train; Trier has newly installed elevators that get you from platforms to the street level.

Cochem (level walking on both sides of the river)

Posted by
102 posts

Even with mobility issues all of Germany is open for you. Yes, avoid hiking up to castles or climbing church towers, but all the larger cities are built on flat terrain.

There is no reason to limit yourself from any area in Germany. Even many of the villages at the foothills of the Alps are built on flat ground with the mountains towering above.

Posted by
1261 posts

I have pretty bad arthritis in my knees and worry about descending rather than climbing up. I have not experienced any difficulties that I could not anticipate and avoid. In this I agree with Christopher above. One situation for which I must prepare is exiting trains. Some step-downs are pretty extreme so I look for a hand-hold. To control that I must follow the custom and be at the train door when the train stops. Exiting riders are generally allowed to exit before new riders climb on board; but, the time to do that is tight. You can find yourself being jostled if you are trying to exit while others are boarding.

Websites like HRS.com will tell you if hotels have elevators. On one trip, we were on the 4th floor in several hotels with no elevator.