Kirstin Gernath visits Berlin’s swimming pool in the Spree…
Badeschiff—literally ‘bathing ship’—opened in 2004 as a collaborative art project organized by Berlin’s Stadtkunstprojekte (City Art ProjectSociety), the AMP Architectos (Teneriffa), architect Gil Wilk and local artist Susanne Lorenz. The initial aim was to enliven city life along what was then a long-neglected stretch of the Spree, between the former Osthafen (East harbour) and Flutgraben, a small canal.
The pool is part of a complex of old industrial buildings that were built in the 1920s as a bus depot and slowly redesigned by the organisation Art Kombinat (now ARENA Berlin), from 1995 onwards. The 20,000 square-meter area today hosts an exhibition hall (Arena Halle) and venue (Glashaus) as well as the Arena club—a great example of Berlin’s industrial culture during the first half of the twentieth century.
Until Germany’s reunification in 1989, this area was only accessible for BVG (Berlin Transportation Company) members in possession of a special permit and DDR border soldiers. It was part of the Sperrgebiet (prohibited zone) between East and West Berlin, since the border ran along the Flutgraben and the Spree.
Underwater gate constructions made it impossible to use this area as a point to flee from the eastern district now called Friedrichshain to western Kreuzberg or Treptow. After the wall came down, the area slowly turned into a centre for art and entertainment.
From the buzzing Schlesische Straße in Kreuzberg, I took the pathway that follows the small canal and passes between two of Berlin’s great open air summer spots: the terrace restaurant/bar Freischwimmer and the techno-lovers bar Club der Visionäre.
Already plotting a cooling cocktail following my dip, I followed the signs to the Badeschiff, walked past the main hall, with its distinctive shed roof and huge windows, and the Glashaus next door (partly used for the Badeschiff facilities and as a venue in itself), until reaching the Badeschiff gate, where I could already see the sand—as well as a long queue.
What I hadn’t realised was that the venue holds live concerts in the summer. Fortunately the queue diminished swiftly and I was soon shuffling my feet through the pleasantly chilled sand. I got changed into my swim gear and made my way, via three boardwalk platforms, down to the pool.
The light, clear-blue water of the Badeschiff—which is an impressive 32 x 8 meters large—shimmered with an appealing, almost supernatural quality: a flourescent lozenge embedded audaciously in the natural river. On the other side of the Spree, old and new buildings—offices, loft houses, old industrial architecture—winked and glinted in the sun.
Unfortunately it was too crowded to swim more than a few laps but that wasn’t my aim this evening anyway. Myself and my friends took a place on the underwater bench that runs all around the pool and had a relaxed after-work chat as the sun made its languorous descent.
The skyline from this vantage point was filled with the Oberbaumbrücke, the landmark bridge that today connects the two districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichschain, and Alexanderplatz‘s Fernsehturm. The gentle strums of the concert made their way to us from the beach area further up, providing a chilled soundtrack to a classic Berlin summer evening.
The simple menu at Badeschiff won’t excite gourmets, but the sausages and steaks in Brötchen with classical German sides like potato salad and Krautsalat (cabbage salad) at least mean you don’t have to leave to get dinner elsewhere if you’re enjoying yourself.
Of course the food isn’t the reason to come here. Aside from the music and the general atmosphere, the bar offers a decent range of drinks and cocktails, which you can sip while relaxing on one of the four steel beds or the numerous sun chairs. If you’re lucky—or quick—you can snuggle into the oversize sunbed chair or the double Hollywood swing on the beachy sand area next to the bar.
From there you can also ascend the steps to two other platforms—one right above the stage and the other in the bar building attached to the concert hall. From both you get spoiled with pleasant views over the entire beach club, pool and skyline. When it gets dark the whole area is nicely lit, with spotlights brightening the remarkable architecture of the Glashaus next door. You won’t want to forget your camera.
If you don’t like crowds (it’s busy almost every evening in the summer), but want to check out the Badeschiff you can visit in the morning. Yoga fans might be interested in the sessions of dynamic yoga given by Susen Pijur from the Yoga School Berlin. It’s a very nice way to start a summer day before diving into Europe’s most unique city pool.