Step by Step – or No Country for Old Men (or Women)

I grew up in Germany, but have lived in the United States for 19 years now. During that time I have traveled to Germany 11 times to visit my family. The longer I live here, the more I appreciate the fact that every public place – including restaurants, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, even state and national parks – is handicapped accessible. I am not an old woman yet, but I have an old knee injury and think it is common courtesy to make accommodations for the handicapped. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Germany.

I am particularly baffled that every pub and restaurant in Germany – aka Gasthaus – is determined to place their restrooms in the worst possible place: in the basement, which – of course – can only be accessed over a circular staircase one generally sees in horror movies. I had a particularly awful experience during my recent visit to a restaurant with friends. Not only did I have to climb down a short staircase before mastering the narrow circular staircase, but when I left the restroom I stood in the pitch-dark hallway! It is a miracle that I did not fall. Later a friend admitted that she once ended up in the restaurant’s kitchen in her quest for the facilities. This practice excluded both old people and parents with small children from having a social life.

What’s worse, however, is the fact that even doctor’s offices and pharmacies are not handicapped accessible. My aunt, who walks on a walker, had to actually switch doctors because she could not access her primary care physician’s practice anymore! In an aging society, that is a huge problem that no one seems to address.

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