According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the participation of people with disabilities requires their “involvement in life situations”. In other words, everyone should be able to participate in social and economic life. A prerequisite for involvement is accessibility. Homes, schools and workplaces, nursing and therapeutic facilities, museums, theatres and concert halls all need to be accessible so that everyone can participate in every life situation. 

Everyone refers not only people with disabilities, but  also to senior citizens and people with small children who often face difficulties or even danger on their way to places that are as important to them as they are to everyone else. That is why making important places as easily accessible as possible makes a difference.


New access to old places

Three things drive the German Savings Banks: attitude, products and initiatives. This attitude reflects the Savings Banks’ values and objectives. One of these objectives is to enable everyone in Germany to participate in social life. Another is to help shape and support the regions in which the Savings Banks are economically and culturally active. A visit to Ettal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, shows how well these social, economic and cultural objectives can be merged.

Ettal Abbey in Bavaria: Benedictine abbey, place of worship, school, economic enterprise and tourist attraction.

After agriculture, the monastery’s brewery is the second-oldest business activity at Ettal Abbey, with more than 400 years of service to its name.

It is an impressive view. The majestic dome of Ettal’s basilica, together with the equally majestic Alps in the background, creates a wonderful panorama: one cannot help but simply stand and admire. Ettal is a lively monastery; home to a community of 35 monks, who strive to live according to the scriptures and the rules of St Benedict. It is also a place of worship, a cultural monument and a boarding school. 

And it is an important player in the regional economy. Ettal is a business – producing, amongst other things, cheese, beer and liqueurs. The monastery runs a hotel and provides employment for around 170 people. It is also a popular tourist attraction, visited by half a million people every year. In line with demographic change, increasing numbers of these visitors are senior citizens. Not only guests using wheeled walkers or wheelchairs, but also those with prams, often struggled with the stairs leading up to the abbey church.

The idea of barrier-free access has been around for many years, but its implementation was hampered by heritage preservation regulations. “However, with the help of the district government and the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, and following extensive negotiations with the competent authorities, we found a solution,” says Father Johannes, who was responsible for the project on behalf of the monastery. At the heart of the development was barrier-free access via the churchyard. The plans also provided ramps at the stairs, an elevator and accessible sanitary installations. There were good reasons for the fairly lengthy construction period, which lasted from 2010 until 2015. Father Johannes explains: “One reason was the difficult financing situation, and we are very thankful for the help we received from the Savings Bank. Their support included favourable refinancing through KfW.” In the autumn of 2014, the Savings Bank financed part of the investments with a €865,000 loan, using funds provided through the state-owned development bank KfW’s “Barrier-Free City” initiative. 

The Savings Bank not only provided a loan, but also a custom-designed electronic offertory box. During the construction phase, visitors could make donations at a terminal using their bank card, and even received a receipt that would enable them to deduct the donation from their taxes. “The terminal attracted a lot of attention and was used frequently,” says Father Johannes. It has already become clear that the investment was necessary – and worthwhile. Father Johannes has noticed that an increasing number of visitors require walking aids.

United against barriers: Father Johannes and Savings Bank Manager Martin Maurer.

Geographically and spiritually, the abbey church – the basilica – is the heart of the complex. Everybody meets here: the monks forming the abbey community, parishioners, pilgrims, locals and strangers.

Kreissparkasse Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the local Savings Bank, wanted to support the project for a variety of reasons, as Manager Martin Maurer recalls: “Ettal Abbey has an excellent credit rating and plays a central role in our tourism-dependant region. While the abbey as a cultural monument is a tourist attraction, other monastery operations support different economic sectors in the surrounding area. Its model dairy, for example, buys milk from local farmers at fair prices, securing a profitable distribution of regional cheese.” In summary, he pointed out that an accessible abbey means more visitors, and more visitors mean more jobs. The investment strengthened not only Ettal Abbey, but the region as a whole – in line with the Savings Bank’s philosophy.