Warning! Blub is dead, long live Blub. It was finally knocked down and there’s nothing worth visiting anymore.
Below is the original post (from 2015 and 2020) for archival purposes.
A lost paradise lingers in Neukölln, waiting in vain for the rats to release it again. All they wanted was to swim and frolic like anyone else, but tolerance is on thin ice these days – there’s not enough communication or respect.
“No rats!” locals demanded. The thought of peaceful coexistence never even occurred to them. Allegations were made, accusations, threats.
Then, to fulfill their own prophecies, they themselves became worse than the rats could ever have been. Gangs of youths took over the pools, formed fiefdoms, scared good people away. Nobody could swim there anymore. At least the rats were willing to share.
On Feb. 1, 2005, the Blub swimming and leisure center closed down. The “Al Andalus” sauna facilities persevered but followed suit in 2012. The rats won. Now they have the whole 40,000 square meters to themselves.
Blub, short for Berliner Luft- und Badeparadies (Berlin Air and Bathing Paradise), first opened in Britz beside the Teltow Canal at a cost of 44 million Deutschmark in February 1985. It started off with a splash by sponsoring Hertha Berlin for three seasons.
The “bathing paradise” quickly became one of West Berlin’s most popular swimming pool centers. They were humans initially. Apparently some 600,000 used to come here every year to enjoy the various indoor and outdoor pools, saltwater or otherwise.
There were hot-whirl-pools and no-whirl-pools, geysers and fountains, waterslides including one 120-meter “Great Slide” and a whitewater canal, a sauna garden, water playground for kids and a regular garden for sun worshippers. There was also a fitness center. And in case things weren’t crazy enough already, a “Crazy River” was added later.
I’m not sure if Mauerfall was to blame, if the Berlin Wall had been blocking Neuköllners’ natural migration to other pools like a dam preventing salmon returning to home rivers, but visitor numbers dropped in the years after German reunification. Perhaps that was when the rats first saw their chance.
At 3.40pm, Monday, December 9, 2002, Blub was closed down with immediate effect. Rat shit in the baby pool, rats swimming in the outdoor pools, and rat crap and fresh bird shit in the canteen were reason enough for the local health authorities to step in, according to Der Tagesspiegel.
Blub boss Harald Frisch said the rat infestation wasn’t down to any lack of hygiene. He blamed the proximity of the canal. The damn thing must have moved. He took steps to get rid of the uninvited visitors with traps and so on. A pest control company was hired to monitor the place every couple of weeks – rat security.
But there had been problems before. The city council had already closed parts of Blub in 2000. Hygiene was an issue in the sauna, whirl-pools and kitchen, while changing rooms were dingy. The gangs of youths had already staked their claims and were putting off other visitors (but not the rats). Security was hired to deal with them.
None of this is good for business, of course. Visitor numbers had already halved by 2002. The city council’s closure order was probably the fatal blow.
Blub reopened a week later, but never recovered. A wire mesh fence was put up at night to keep the rats out, but the real fence was the bad publicity that kept people away.
Blub declared bankruptcy the following year, when only 220,000 visitors came. Despite the declared lack of money, Frisch invested €4 million in renovating the sauna to an Andalusia-inspired sauna wonderland with a gemstone steam bath, herbal springs and volcanic sauna, as well as a bigger sauna garden. I won’t pretend to know much about bankruptcy procedures, or saunas.
Blub plodded on another two years before finally succumbing to the inevitable and closing down for good. Nobody wants to swim in rat shit.
Frisch didn’t give up without a fight. He kept the sauna and fitness areas open and tried to get investors on board to resuscitate the ailing complex, albeit with a different focus.
He wanted to turn the whole thing into a sort of health spa and wellness oasis – the kind of thing young gang leaders wouldn’t be interested in – and was hoping to drum up €5 million to complete the work by early 2006.
“After 20 years of Blub we don’t want to run a hotchpotch business anymore but to completely reposition ourselves,” said Frisch, striving for an approach to match his name.
But the investment never came. “It hurts,” said Frisch in 2009, when only the “Al Andalus” sauna area was open.
The property developer Tobias Willmeroth bought the land from the state-owned Liegenschaftsfonds Berlin and planned on turning the site into a holiday resort for families by 2011. However, his high-falutin’ plans also came to nothing.
A Munich investor group, the imaginatively named H-Group, took over with plans on knocking the whole place down and building 450 luxury apartments in its wake. Construction on “Greenpark” was due to start in 2015, but this is Berlin, where plans are treated like pathogens to be warded off at all costs.
Frisch was involved in a dispute with the investors, who had the city on their side. The plans were finally given the go-ahead in 2018. Bad news for the rats, but then they’re used to investors sniffing around.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Blub (Berliner Luft- und Badeparadies) a former swimming park and leisure center with loads of pools, slides and crazy stuff that was immensely popular before the rats noticed it too. Now it’s a blubbering mess.
- Where: Buschkrugallee 64, 12359 Berlin.
- How to get there: The nearest U-Bahnhof is Grenzallee on the U7. It’s a short walk from there. S+U Neukölln is the next stop and on the Ring Bahn for those living further away. It’s all very convenient. Once you cross the bridge over the Teltow Canal turn right into the park and Blub will be a little further on your left. If you can’t tell left from right it’s the side that isn’t a canal. Here’s a map.
- Getting in: This place is embarrassingly easy to get into. The fence is pulled right back practically inviting you in. You can also go down by the side of it if you want to say hello to the gruff dog in the car park. He’s grand. He barks but he’s just looking out for whatever poor soul is living in the hut there. You’ll avoid the dog altogether if you go in through the fence, step through the smashed glass door – it’s no longer what you’d call a door – and walk through the fake palm trees until you find a wide open doorway on your left. This will bring you into the “Al Andalus” sauna area, though it’s a lot cooler now than it used to be. Anyway, you’re in now, good luck!
- When to go: Daytime if you want to see stuff, not that the place is particularly scenic, or nighttime if you want to have a party. In fact, this would be quite a good place for a party. I suspect it will be busier come summertime – if the diggers haven’t already moved in.
- Difficulty rating: 3/10.
- Who to bring: Bring your friends, have a party.
- What to bring: A case or two of beer, ice, a few bottles of Havana Club 3 años, limes, mint leaves and sugar for mojitos, a few bottles of wine and maybe something to nibble on. Bring a good torch too.
- Dangers: Just watch where you step, there are quite a few holes waiting to break your ankle. Rat shit can also be quite slippy, especially on smooth swimming pool tiles. Steer clear of any homeless you meet and don’t bother them – you wouldn’t like to be bothered in your comfortable apartment.
Thanks once again to the irrepressible Mark Rodden for copy-checking. Any mistakes are his fault and his fault alone.
And if that’s not enough Blub action for you, The Guardian ran an edited version of this post on its Cities site here: www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jan/29/berlins-ruined-swimming-palace-blub-in-pictures
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