Freibad Lichtenberg (and BVG-Stadion)
Summer brings out the Wurst of Berlin. Go to any of the city’s outdoor swimming pools on a hot day and you’ll be confronted by the scent of grilled Bratwurst and a sea of red-faced Berliners sunbathing around chaotic Freibäder, proudly displaying flabby beer bellies, hairy armpits, sweaty nipples and more.
Overfed screaming kids scurry around the perimeters, splashing in and out of the simmering stew of human flesh to complete the authentic Berliner experience.
But some outdoor pools were spared the annual invasion of the quivering masses. Some Freibäder served their time and were left to recover from their ordeal in the relative peace of abandonment.
You had to bring your own water if you wanted to go swimming at the BVG-Freibad in Lichtenberg. It was abandoned after the plug was pulled in the late 1980s and survived its retirement peacefully until the diggers finally destroyed it in 2018.
Despite its historical importance, Lichtenberg Bezirk wasn’t interested in preserving it.
Back in DDR times, the East Berliners used to use the pool for casual frolicking, splish-splashing and general water-based merriment.
Freibad Lichtenberg was once used by foreign swimmers to train for the 1936 Olympics and by native swimmers (I assume) training for the 1932 games. Those were the Los Angeles games, hence the assumption.
There was no swimming at all after the war until the East German authorities reopened it again in the 1970s.
The Freibad was built in 1928 to complement the neighboring BVG-Stadion, known somewhat confusingly as the BVB-Stadion. There’s another BVB stadium in Dortmund of course, the biggest in Germany, but it’s in much better condition than this one was, held together by a net.
It was literally the BVG-Stadion’s last stand before that was destroyed too in 2015. It had Denkmalschutz (protected status) until it was knocked down, which tells you all you need to know about what Germany thinks of Denkmalschutz.
The stadium, which was built in 1920, got its name in 1928 when the city transportation authority Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) was formed and took it over. Evidently they were football fans and they wanted their own stadium. If you ever tried playing football matches in a U-Bahn, you’d understand why.
German army anti-aircraft forces were stationed here toward the end of the war when it became home to a munitions storage facility. This became a magnet for Red Army soldiers advancing along Frankfurter Allee. The bombs rained down, particularly as there was also an industrial area beside it. The old flak towers ended up covered in rubble.
After the war, in 1949, it became home to the newly formed SV Berliner VG 49 sports club, who persist with handball, football, athletics, bowling, volleyball and the likes to this day.
Due to the division of East and West Berlin, the BVG was split as well, with the eastern version becoming the VEB Kombinat Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVB) in 1969. Hence the BVB stadium name. Nothing to do with Borussia Dortmund.
All the companies in the DDR were called VEB something or other, VEB meaning Volkseigener Betrieb or Publicly Owned Operation. Kombinat meant Group, so effectively the BVB was the Berlin transport authority as a publicly owned group.
They did work to restore the stadium in the late 1990s, when they found more than five tons of munitions and a 250kg bomb that had to be defused. No wonder there was an explosive atmosphere at games.
But it’s not the same anymore. The Freibad has been replaced by a couple of volleyball and badminton courts. It used to be full of snail-shells. “Look, more snails!” my young sidekick said as he showed me another handful.
Now the snails are gone, the Freibad is gone, the stadium-stand is gone. As if none of them ever existed at all.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: BVG-Stadion and Freibad, last stand of a once-proud stadium and an accompanying swimming pool that once hosted Olympic athletes. Despite historical importance, they were demolished without a care.
- Where: Siegfriedstraße. 71, 10365 Berlin, Germany.
- How to get there: Don’t bother.
- Getting in: They’re gone, unfortunately, so pick somewhere else to go.
- When to go: In the past.
- Difficulty rating: 10/10. And to think it used to be 1/10!
- Who to bring: Someone who might be able to get them back.
- What to bring: Beer is always good.
- Dangers: Melancholy memories of what used to be.
More sporting heroes
The Sporthotel und Kongresszentrum des Sportforums Hohenschönhausen is in a sorry state, beyond salvation, thrashed and abused. Not even drugs can help.
Blub was a swimming and leisure center with pools, slides and crazy stuff that was very popular before the rats noticed it too. Then it was a blubbering mess.
The abandoned status of Strandbad Tegel looks secure. Campaigners are trying so hard to reopen it that you can be sure it won’t be opening anytime soon.