A Visit to the Other Eifel: An Accessible National Park
If I told you I’d just come from the Eifel, you might think I’d been in Paris. In fact the Eifel National Park is one of Germany’s national treasures, with 110 sq kilometres of untouched forest-scape. But the highlights of this park aren’t all naturally occurring; imaginative man made trails are leading the way in accessibility for all. As part of my mini season on accessible travel in Germany I took a tour of the park. We began our day out by hiding from red deer. Or were they hiding from us?
No talking. No sound, except for the wind, and our breathing. We wait expectantly, for a fierce display of head clashing. For a brief but violent battle to win round a female. And before you ask, I’m not talking bedtime in the Wickes household. This is the natural world, in close up. We hide. We wait. We listen. We watch.
And we wait and we wait
And nothing happens. The red deer are either chilling out somewhere having made friends, or they have gone off to the Belgian border to have a private scrap. Apparently there were up to a hundred out on the hills earlier this morning; bashing antlers for Germany. But there is no rutting now. All is quiet. My binoculars are empty of movement. Only the wind is on the move.
This wooden shelter, on an old Roman Road, is a huge attraction in the months of September and October. The car park is often full, and rangers move quickly round refocussing binoculars and readjusting the stand on the telescope. If you catch the deer in anger; they are allegedly breathtaking. If you don’t, then you’ve still had a quiet hour in the wilderness. I can’t tell you the location of the hide as it’s a bit of a local secret. But if you ask a ranger, they’ll point you in the right direction.
An accessible path for all
Luckily, the rutting deer aren’t what we’ve come for. As part of a commitment to making this park ‘barrier free’ for all, The Eiffel National Park has established the unique Wild Kermeter trail; a 5 kilometre path and guided system leading to the spectacular Hirschley viewpoint. It’s all specially constructed so that people with hearing, sight or mobility limitations can make their way alone. There’s a tactile bronze model of the national park for the blind to understand the layout. The information boards are in Braille, with buttons to press to hear the information (in four languages and great fun for kids!) There are resting points every 250 metres and hearing aids are available on the ranger tour.
A special park with special challenges
But how on earth do you begin to make the countryside accessible for wheelchairs? Is it even possible? Well once you have the infrastructure of the trail in place, free from tree roots and with a low incline, it’s actually just a question of hoovering up all the leaves thrown from the native beech trees. Easy? No way. It’s a never ending story, in sun, rain and snow. We pass the ranger in charge of the hoover a couple of times. It reminds me of trying to keep my house clean; no sooner have you finished than you have to start again.
Established less than ten years ago, and one of 14 national parks in Germany, The Eifel is a relatively young set up. But, measuring the size of 15,000 football pitches, it’s a busy tourist destination with hundreds of nearby attractions including museums, a racetrack, spas, and watersports.
Soaking up nature
We cruise across Lake Rursee, eating a picnic lunch as our boat chugs past forest and hill. We absorb the sunlight and the information in the modern visitor stations that explore themes pertinent to the local area. The motto of the park is ‘let nature be nature,’ and it’s the kind of place I could spend a couple of weeks exploring with my family; renting a canoe, buzzing along on electric bikes or simply walking the woodland looking for the wildlife. There are 50 wild cats here, as well as black storks and beavers. There are 1,300 species of beetle alone, and what child doesn’t like to put a beetle down your back?
Unfortunately I don’t have a couple of weeks here; just a few hours. I grab a minute to relax on a sun lounger in the shape of a beech leaf, and enjoy the scenery. Before the guy with the hoover gets here. Like the dedicated mother that I am, I’d feel obliged to help.
This post is part of a short season of posts about accessible travel and tourism in Germany. Follow the link to find other posts on this theme.
There’s lots more information on accessible travel in Germany available from the German National Tourist Board website.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to the German National Tourist Office for their support in helping us to bring you this story.