Sunday, 4 December 2011

Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market 2011 In A Wheelchair

Every year for the last decade Birmingham has played host to a huge Frankfurt Christmas Market, to celebrate the twinning of the two cities. It takes place over the months of November and December. The one of the main shopping streets gets a sweet line of wooden stalls laid down the centre, the main thoroughfare between the shopping streets and the library, art gallery, the ICC, the Symphony Hall, the main 'drinking & partying' street and the council houses also gets stuffed with lovely little stalls.





Every year I see it as the only way to get from my bus stop to the Birmingham City Centre shops is to pass through it. There are some other routes which avoid some of it but to use them I'd have to be able to get my wheelchair up and down a flight of stairs - which is something I cannot do. On the whole there is a really lovely atmosphere. Everything is fun and festive and it makes me feel great to be a part of it. Sadly, those feelings are beginning to dissipate.

You see, on a normal day New Street is busy but that's fine. It's a really wide, pedestrianised street. Folks browsing walk slowly near the shops and those in more of a rush move down the middle. It's brilliant. The market stalls (which sit back to back) halve the amount of space on the street instantly. Victoria Square has even more room taken by the twisting labyrinth of stalls. This would be slightly annoying on a boring Tuesday in May. On a Saturday in early December it became horrific. The regular shoppers/workers were mixed with all the extra Christmas shoppers and those tourists visiting the Frankfurt Market. It was yesterday (a Saturday) that I decided to visit the market with a small group of friends as it was the only day we were all free.


Trying to navigate it all on foot is taxing enough, trying to move an electric wheelchair through the crowd (let alone trying to get it to any of the stalls) was nigh impossible. It was too noisy for my horn, people couldn't hear me shouting excuse me and ignored me tapping them on the arm if they didn't respond to my verbal requests. It often took my companions shouting and holding people back to allow me to safely move. I don't like to think about what it would have been like on my own. There was no way to turn around in my chair given how dense the crowd was, my turning circle is quite small, but still too large for that environment. Sitting just below eye-height also made life difficult as people tried to stand in me or push into the area I was occupying with my chair. No apologies were forthcoming, just glares for being in the way. I hope the pictures used above help illustrate just how busy the place gets.

I'd be miffed if that was simply it though; just some poor civic planning that is very hard to avoid if you are a wheelchair-user. Especially one wanting to access Birmingham city centre with minimal stress and discomfort.

Unfortunately, I neglected to mention that into the melting pot of the Frankfurt Christmas Market a generous helping of mulled wine, cider and other alcholoic beverages had been stirred. Most patrons of the numerous stalls selling warming festive alcohol were very pleasant but a number of others lost there ability to control their rather anti-disability internal monologues. The stalls selling alcohol are all over the market and are very popular. Especially on an extremity freezing winter afternoon. The numerous patrons, ever fearful of loosing their £3 deposit paid for the mug the hot-booze came in, densely pack around the bars and often fill the thoroughfares too. When trying to ask these people to 'excuse me' or to 'just move a little to the right' things got nastier. Here's a selection of the less than helpful replies I got:

"Why on Earth would you come here?"
"Tsk. This is no place for wheelchairs."
"Harharhar, 'Wide-load'! Harhar!"
"Try walking next time sweetheart."
"Tsk, lazy."
"Sponger coming through"
"How stupid to come here with a wheelchair! What were you thinking?"

I just love being made to feel unwelcome in my home city. There is no feeling like it. My friends were wonderful and challenged the comments they heard but still, they shouldn't have had too and I shouldn't have had to hear that abuse. They may as well put up a sign that says "Disabled people only welcome when the market is very quiet". I plan to complain to the Leisure and Culture department at Birmingham City Council with regards to this. It's really not fair that people should be put in a position where they are subject to drunken abuse for simply trying to get from A to B. Actually, it's not right that people should ever be subject to abuse. 'Nuff said.

Hate crime directed against those with disabilities in on the rise in the UK and little things like poor planning can make it far worse than it already is.

6 comments:

  1. Hang in there, was up there myself with me sticks and was stared at all the time. people pushing no excuse me please. I luv bham

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  2. Jesus. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. People can be so selfish, thoughtless and narrow-minded. It makes me so angry that they challenge the self-worth of disabled people when we have just as much right to exist than they do. xx

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  3. How awful, especially the verbal abuse from stupid people, none of whom can know that they will never end up in a wheelchair.

    I have complained to BCC for each of the last three or four years, about lack of wheelchair access from Victoria Square to the South side of Waterloo Street, as can be seen in my picture. Each year, they promise "never again", but nothing changes.

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  4. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

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  5. Reading this makes me sad and angry. I use an electric wheelchair too, and the Manchester Christmas markets were nowhere near this bad, though they did limit the space and had nearly as many visitors. I got a couple of glares and had to do a fair bit of 'excuse me' at the top of my voice to get through, but I only got walked into once and I didn't get any verbal abuse (fortunately, that only seems to happen rarely here, usually on public transport). I grew up near Birmingham and I'm disgusted people would display such an attitude. I wish I could help. I'm sorry you had to go through that.

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