Aerial view of Dortmund, © Johannes Höhn

Dortmund for every­one

Ac­cess­ible ex­plor­a­tion in Dortmund

I am setting out on a journey to explore Dortmund’s diversity in a wheelchair together with my husband Lorenz. Dortmund is the largest city in the Ruhr Area. It was named an accessible tourist destination based on the nationwide “Reisen für alle” (“Travels for Everyone”) labelling system. During our city trip, we quickly find that this industrial town has a lot to offer beyond coal, football, and beer.

At the very start, tour guide Anja Hecker-Wolf from Stadtkernobst provides a great overview of the traditional history, diverse cultural programme, and the town’s transformation into a technology city. Her city tours are designed specifically for people with walking disabilities and for wheelchair users. Anja is a local who knows the stories that characterise the Ruhr Area in great detail. She likes to couple information with entertainment, familiarising her guests with Dortmund’s joys and vices in as little as an hour. We have found it a great opportunity to learn a lot about the city and its past, including the time of the witch hunts, very quickly.

Our tour through the city of Dortmund leads across lowered curbs everywhere, making progress in my wheelchair Lutzi pretty smooth as long as we stay on the tourist paths. Another way to discover the city is riding the sightseeing double-decker bus, which is also accessible to wheelchair users. However, I prefer a city tour without a vehicle in good weather since my wheelchair has a small motor.

Museum Ostwall in Dortmunder U, © Frank Vinken

Our next stop is the Phoenix-See. Rain sets in while we are still enjoying our ice cream cups. As the afternoon is promising even more warm summer rain, we quickly change our plans and focus on art at the Dortmunder U.

Once a brewery building, this landmark of the city has become a centre for art and creativity since. A number of exhibitions showcase art from the early 20th century to the present day here. The lift carries us from one floor to the next as we pass through the different exhibition rooms to look at impressive works of art and installations. As a cultural centre, this place cooperates with many other cultural venues, leading to a string of ever-changing events, workshops, lectures, and video evenings on offer. The U-Tower, as the building is often called, also contains a selection of gastronomy as the roof terrace called “The View”, the entertainment gastronomy “Zum Goldenen U”, and the barbecue restaurant “Emil” take care of guests’ physical well-being. The building and everything in it is accessible without any steps, equipped with wheelchair-accessible restrooms and lifts to reach all floors.

We have dinner at the restaurant “Emil” in the vaulted cellar of the Dortmunder U. Though located in the building’s basement, the restaurant surprisingly comes with a green outdoor terrace, where we speedily pick our seats. The menu features some unusual, ever-changing creations under the motto of “Barbecue & Sea”. Steak classics are complemented by some exotics such as Iberico Pluma, corn-fed chicken, or salt marsh lamb. The “Surf” category holds sea bass along with octopus. We pick tacos and roast beef with snow peas and mushrooms and enjoy a nice evening together.

  • Dortmunder U, © Johannes Höhn
    Aerial view of Dortmund, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
    The Ems Canal at sunset, © Dortmund Tourismus
  • Phoenix See in Dortmund, © Carsten Behle
Wheelchair user at the Zollern colliery, © wheeliewanderlust

The former coal mine in the northwest of the city certainly is a highlight in our visit to Dortmund. The “Castle of Labour”, as the LWL-Westphalian State Museum of Industrial Culture Zeche Zollern is also called, is very accessible. All of the colliery’s exhibition rooms and its extensive museum grounds, including the machine hall, freight room, mining tunnels, the sanitary facilities, and the catering area, are accessible to people with walking disabilities and wheelchair users. Guided tours in sign language are available, and the permanent exhibition is equipped with a guidance system for blind and visually impaired people.

Visiting a reconstructed mine gives us an idea of how it may feel to be “underground”. Even fully aware that I am not in a mountain tunnel hundreds of metres underground, the feeling is oppressive, yet interesting and anything but easy to handle. I can barely imagine the undignified conditions under which miners were required to extract raw materials here in the past.

Nothing could have surprised me more than that we football philistines would be drawn to the German Football Museum. Of course, Sportfreunde Stiller, a popular German band, have taught me about the years when Germany took home the world cup before: “54, 74, 90, 2014...”. That is about all the football knowledge I have to my name. However, this is to change abruptly as we visit this museum. The tour begins with a deep dive into the “Miracle of Bern”, which leaves us with goosebumps. The remaining part of the exhibition is also designed in an exciting and vivid manner, with some interactive options in interesting worlds of experience.

Schalthaus 101 on the Phoenix West industrial site is the home of the “Ruhrhochdeutsch” comedy event series. The stage is set for the stars and starlets of the comedy scene here. We join about 300 other guests in a performance of Jürgen Malmsheimer’s humorous sayings and texts. It’s the first event on this scale that I’ve attended since the coronavirus struck, and it feels great. The extraordinary location with its industrial charisma fortunately is large enough to still allow us to distance properly. The special ambience, its nice hospitality, along with the eloquent cabaret artist afford us a varied and, first and foremost, funny evening. The venue is accessed by a very flat ramp at the entrance and to the seats.

Our accommodation is just a few minutes’ walk from the pedestrian zone of the old town and the main railway station. The Cityhotel Esplanade is located directly in the heart of Dortmund. Two of its 83 rooms are accessible. We get a room from the “First-Class” category, though I must admit that I would have liked the rooms named Ruhrpott, Phoenix, or Panorama even better. The hotel has a dedicated parking lot and lift. A miniature step at the entrance must be conquered, and the ramp to the courtyard is, unfortunately, very steep. Of course, that still is better than no ramp at all, and it can be managed with a little help. The breakfast we ordered à la carte during our stay the night before and enjoy in the courtyard now in good weather is particularly delicious.

Author: Kim Lumelius Kim Lumelius is a passionate traveller and photographer, always bringing along “Lutzi”, her faithful companion on four wheels. Kim regularly reports on her accessible adventures on her “wheeliewanderlust” blog.

  • The Phoenix-West blast furnace plant in Dortmund-Hörde, © Dortmund Tourismus
    German Football Museum Dortmund at the main train station, © Deutsches Fußballmusem Dortmund
    Hohensyburg in Dortmund, © Dortmund Tourismus
  • Interior view of the German Football Museum, © wheeliewanderlust
    Westfalenpark in Dortmund, © Dortmund Tourismus
    Machine hall of the Zollern colliery, © LWL-Industriemuseum, Martin Holtappels