Tight silicone pants, skin-clinging shirts, some glittering, very expensive shoes, here they are: Berliners biking to work, roller skating home and running through the park. Or they bungee-jump from the Park Inn at the Alexanderplatz and practice flips at the skate parks. Special sports events, such as the traditional city marathons held several times throughout the year, shut down some of the capital’s busiest streets. Hundreds of spectators, volunteers, police officers and the media are involved; athletes compete on foot, on bike or on skates. My favorite is the Midnight Marathon. Nothing, but pounding feet and blinking lights.
A few days ago, on my way home, I noticed an elderly man with no legs in an old wheelchair. With his hands pulling on the wheels, the little man kept his eyes on the ground, silently conquering the sidewalk by very small distances. Meanwhile, people hastened by, ignoring the frail creature in their midst. I offered him my help, which he accepted by nodding his head graciously.
Off we were: I was pushing him, the chairs’ inflexible wheels twisting in all directions. Ahead of us: cobblestones, holes, bumps and obscurely angled ramps up and down, some high, not wheelchair-equipped sidewalks. Within seconds, I was soaked in sweat.
Over the course of the next few days, I observed people with different kinds of handicaps. Mastering their daily routine with patience, determination and skill: past cobblestones, stairs, train tracks and grapes of people everywhere. A man in a wheelchair wanting to get on the Sbahn informed the station assistant beforehand, another needed a lift for the train, a third, getting off the let-down ramp of a bus, slipped his hands into leather gloves before rolling along his way. I watched two girls, around 7 or 8 years old, deeply engrossed in conversation. One was in an electric wheelchair, weaving in and out of stumbling holes and bumps on the sidewalk, using its navigation stick craftily, the other girl walked speedily besides her, carrying a large McDonalds paper bag. They took a detour, after the little wheelchair driver spotted a construction site ahead.
For the blind Berlin presents a very different kind of maze to conquer. Construction noise, jaywalkers, malfunctioning traffic signals and inconsiderate drivers confuse the otherwise sharp ears. The blind man crossing Warschauer Strasse, attempting to make the pass to Grünberger Strasse, lost his orientation briefly after a traffic light signal stopped playing the sounds so familiar to him and a cable car crossed his path, but with a little direction from me, he trotted along.
Berlin has a lot to offer for all of us. We are good in organizing roadblocks for marathon runners, skaters and bikers – why can’t we make the daily detours for the wheelchair bounds and cane-needy a little bit easier?
© Colleen Yorke. All rights reserved. 2015.