Smiling faces, people holding each other’s arms, and one or the other who wobbles more than stands – the atmosphere in the Paulaner tent at the Oktoberfest is currently good. This also applies to those who could not get hold of one of the popular seats. They stand in the corridors and look ahead as the band sings “Cheers to coziness” again. Cell phones are pulled out, filming the spectacle or taking photos. If you want to go through the crowded aisles of the beer tent, you just squeeze through. But for Markus Dieminger it’s not that easy. He waits in his wheelchair behind the crowd until the others notice him and make way.
Dieminger’s right hand rests on the joystick of his electric wheelchair. He steers forward, then suddenly stops. “Now exactly what shouldn’t have happened has happened,” he says. Someone pushed past and bumped into their hand, which is now off the joystick. Only when Dieminger helps someone to align their hand properly does it continue for him. At the end, a waiter helps him to get through the crowded aisle better with his wheelchair. Again and again the employee shouts: “Attention, watch out!” and “Caution!” until the people form an alley for the wheelchair.
The 23-year-old student is not at the Oktoberfest for the first time this year. As a real Munich child, he must have been there eight times, says Markus Dieminger. He is happy that after a two-year pandemic break, it is possible to go to the Oktoberfest again – or in his case: to drive. Dieminger has SMA, type 3 spinal muscular atrophy – a rare disease of certain nerve cells in the spinal cord. That’s why he’s been in a wheelchair since he was five years old. A personal assistant supports him in his everyday life because his mobility is severely restricted.
When Dieminger drives back outside, the first thing to do is take a deep breath. “You can’t get through and it’s narrow,” is his conclusion after the short detour into the tent. Next time he’ll have to come earlier or reserve a seat in advance, he says. The official Oktoberfest website states that all large marquees have at least 20 disabled-accessible spaces inside and 20 in the beer garden. In addition, each of the large and many of the small festival halls have disabled toilets. Even away from the tents, the Wiesn advertises a “barrier-free folk festival fun”. Many booths have ramps for wheelchair users and some rides that people with disabilities can ride on – for example in the big Ferris wheel.
While Markus Dieminger drives in the direction of the gondolas, rain keeps pouring down on the Theresienwiese. The weather has both advantages and disadvantages for the student that day. Advantages because there is less going on and he can therefore get over the terrain better. However, the wet is unfavorable when Dieminger has to drive over a metal ramp. The tires on his wheelchair could slip more easily as a result, he says. A ramp made of wood would be better.
An asphalt lowered access, which Dieminger discovered at a waffle bakery, is also a good solution for wheelchair users, he explains: “Because it’s rough and you don’t slip.” However, the student does not want to describe the stand as completely barrier-free. As with other Oktoberfest stalls, the counter is too high. The waitresses would only hear a customer badly if they were standing upstairs and you were sitting downstairs. “But in principle you have the problem everywhere,” says Dieminger, “even at the baker’s or the butcher’s.” As a rule, there are enough employees who offer their help, says the student.
Grade 2 to 3, depending on the tent or ride
After a few meters, Dieminger arrives at the white and blue Ferris wheel. On the left he has already spotted the disabled access to the gondolas – but the ride has to be paid for first. However, since the entrance to the cash registers is not at ground level but is slightly elevated, Dieminger has no way of getting there himself. “That’s a very stupid solution and we didn’t think it through to the end,” says the 23-year-old. When asked about the shop assistant, it was said that most wheelchair users had an accompanying person with them who could help with the payment.
The situation looks better with disabled access to the left of the cash registers. Dieminger uses a ramp to get to the two gondolas, which are also suitable for wheelchairs. Here, employees of the Ferris wheel also help with boarding and alighting, if necessary.
Although Dieminger does not always find some parts of the Wiesn wheelchair accessible, he generally rates his visit positively. He would give accessibility at the Oktoberfest a grade of 2 to 3, says the student, “depending on which tent or ride you are in”. For example, he notices that there are more disabled toilets on the site than before. And even away from the Oktoberfest, he has the feeling that more and more people are paying attention to the issue of accessibility: “We’ve come a long way in Munich with accessibility, but there’s still room for improvement.”
Markus Dieminger comes up with various concrete suggestions for improvement for the Oktoberfest: For example, even more stands could lower the sales counters and install ramps. In addition, photos of the disabled access would be helpful on the Internet, says Dieminger. This allows wheelchair users to assess before they visit whether a ride is actually usable for them. Even less would stand in the way of “barrier-free fun at the folk festival”.