Escape to paralyze
Social distancing will be difficult once the swimming pools reopen. It’s hard enough already without someone breathing down your neck as soon as you leave your door, or snuggling up close behind you in the supermarket. Berliners had no issue whatsoever with Abstand before, but suddenly now they can’t get near enough to strangers.
You can imagine what the pools will be like – festering cesspits of contact-starved individuals delighted to be in close proximity to others to cough, splutter, spit, sneeze and sweat upon.
The only hope to avoid virus-infested waters is to head to one of the city’s abandoned swimming facilities. Thankfully there are many, though Freibad Lichtenberg has been destroyed, the Wernerbad has regressed into a lake, Blub‘s a sorry mess, and there ain’t any water at Pankow Schwimmhalle.
Strandbad Tegel’s abandoned status looks secure. Campaigners are trying so hard to reopen it, that you can be sure that it won’t be opening anytime soon.
Only the ducks and swans use it now, the former quackling merrily as they amble under the branches of the trees overhanging the sandy waterfront. The playground is still and silent, the restaurant closed and empty. Locker doors hang open expectantly, but no one trusts them with their valuables anymore. Trees are sprouting up to reclaim the land for the surrounding forest.
While others are fighting to get it going again, Strandbad Tegel itself seems to have given up. The rundown 40,000-square meter facility is wallowing in neglect and despair.
Strandbad Tegel first opened in 1933 when a sandy part of the Tegeler See was cordoned off and swimmers’ facilities were built. It was a momentous year, but we won’t get into all that now.
The Strandbad sits on a 500-meter stretch of beach and had a separate FKK section where Berliners and die-hard East Germans could strip off completely without fear of being arrested. FKK stood for Freikörperkultur (free body culture, or nudism) and was particularly popular in the DDR though it was “ingrained as having mayonnaise with your chips” on both sides of the Berlin Wall divide.
The Nacktbaden (naked swimming) website says it was a “lovely” FKK beach but “unfortunately there is only one access point to the lake from the FKK section. The rest of the bank is covered with thick reeds and bushes.” Presumably to spare the poor ducks and swans from the show of wobbly bits.
The FFK section was closed down in 2014. The rest of Strandbad Tegel has been closed since the end of the bathing season in 2016. Even then it was already skating on thin ice with the Berliner Bäder Betriebe seemingly determined to close it down. The BBB is Berlin’s municipal pools authority, the largest in Europe. Berliners love their pools.
The Strandbad’s problems began years before, when the BBB rented it out to investor Dirk Michehl in 2009 but didn’t receive any money in return. Michehl contended that the BBB didn’t keep its side of the bargain. The water was cut off in February 2010 so he had to close the restaurant. He sued for €500,000 in damages.
“Our hands are tied,” BBB spokesperson Matthias Oloew said as legal proceedings were underway.
Michehl even offered to buy the Strandbad from the BBB – for €1.
“Apparently no one wants the Bad. Nothing has happened for many weeks. No one has shown any interest in preserving this historical swimming area. I’d save it and reopen it for the people,” Michehl said in May 2010. But the Strandbad remained closed that year.
The arguments continued even as the Strandbad reopened on an “emergency basis” in the following years, until the BBB shut it down in 2016 for what it said were necessary repairs. The sewage pipe was sealed with cement.
Die Tagesspiegel reported that the cost of fixing the sewage pipe was €450,000 and €1.4 million was needed to renovate the buildings. But the BBB didn’t have this kind of money and wanted to privatize the Strandbad. So it did nothing.
The paper noted that the sewage pipe for the neighboring Scharfenberg Island was recently upgraded. They could have done a combined job. But there was no interest in doing so.
The BBB blamed low visitor numbers. Locals in turn complained about the reduced opening hours, the bus service being scrapped, and the Ordnungsamt rigorously checking cars for parking tickets. If there’s one thing going to spoil anyone’s fun, it’s the fucking Ordnungsamt.
Tagesspiegel also suggested that the BBB was giving false visitor numbers to suggest fewer bathers than were actually using the facility. Local Reinickendorf politician Tim-Christopher Zeelen came up with other, better, figures.
Zeelen, the local mayor, Felix Schönbeck and others formed a committee to fight for Strandbad Tegel’s future, for it to be restored to its former glory. They laid the blame squarely on the BBB for killing their beloved Strandbad.
“From the Bäder-Betriebe’s point of view, there’s no future perspective for our Strandbad!” they wrote in a petition to reopen it in 2016.
They’re still waiting to get their way. The BBB clearly doesn’t give a damn about Strandbad Tegel, which has since been deleted from their website.
It wasn’t until 2018 that BBB got the state-run property management company Berliner Immobilienmanagement GmbH (BIM) involved to look at finding an investor, and even then it was September 2019 before they came up with a concept.
Zeelen and Schönbeck say they have an investor ready to come in and take Strandbad Tegel off the BBB’s hands. The only thing missing so far is a signature. But then the coronavirus put everything in further turmoil. You’d be mad to sign your name to anything now.
Schönbeck has a simple solution.
“Open the doors, set up portable toilets, bring in lifeguards, done!” he said.
This is Berlin, where simple is anything but.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Strandbad Tegeler See, aka Strandbad Tegel, probably the most scenic of Berlin’s many outdoor swimming facilities, surrounded on all sides by forest or water. But the Berliner Bäder Betriebe is clearly not a fan and abandoned it to its fate in 2016.
- Where: Strandbad Tegeler See, 13505 Berlin
- How to get there: Well, one of the reasons it’s been abandoned is because the bus line to it was scrapped and it’s no longer easy to get here with public transport. Bus No. 222 gets closest, but you’ll have to walk 1.2 kilometers from Gerlindeweg. Alternatively, take your bike and cycle. It’s a beautiful route through Tegeler Forst. Here it is on a map so you can figure out your options.
- Getting in: There’s a gap in the fence on the northern side of the premises, near the warnings about lots of dogs dying from algae in the area. Probably best not to bring your dog if you have one.
- When to go: Go now if you’re trying to avoid people. And quick in case they do manage to reopen it! It’s the perfect retreat.
- Difficulty rating: 5/10. Getting here is the biggest obstacle.
- Who to bring: Swimming buddies.
- What to bring: Bring a towel and your togs (or not if you want to try FKK). Don’t forget something to eat as the restaurant hasn’t been open for years. Beers are always a good idea.
- Dangers: Watch out for nosy passers-by. There are lots of them and you don’t want to be spotted by the type who has the Ordnungsamt on speed dial. Just keep your head down, your voice low, and enjoy the serenity of bathing at a deserted beach.
Many thanks to the restless Rudi Marnitz for the tip, and to the eagle-eyed Mark Rodden for proofreading again!
Swimming in abandonment
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.
Don’t jump in at the deep end of Pankow Schwimmhalle or you’ll land on your face with a mouthful of broken glass. No water since it was abandoned in 2002.