River Bath – The Urban Retreat in Berlin Mitte.
River Bath Berlin – Swimming between Humboldt Forum and Bodemuseum. Really? Yes, in December 2019 the Berlin Senate set the course for the realisation of the urban redevelopment project in the old centre of Berlin. Along the Spree Canal, a swimming track for sports and leisure activities, a biotope landscape and an area for the natural purification of the river water will be created.
The urban development project Flussbad Berlin aims to create a future-oriented and joint use of the inner-city river section in Berlin Mitte. Surrounded by historical and contemporary architecture, between Fischerinsel and Monbijoubrücke, a new retreat is being created along the approximately 1.9 kilometre long Spreekanal, in the middle of the urban centre. In the subsequent, approximately 850-meter-long section of the canal, open staircases will provide access to the water at several points and invite visitors to swim.
River bathing establishments around 1900
Already at the end of the 18th century the first bathing establishments were built in rivers. Due to poor water quality, river baths were banned in the big cities from the 1920s onwards. They were replaced in the 1930s by extensive open-air pools in park-like facilities.
“In the centre of Berlin, many different interests meet, and these have to be reconciled. With the resolution of the urban redevelopment area and the construction of the open stairway to the Spree Canal, the existing environment will be significantly improved and a new, attractive place beyond high culture and consumption will be created for Berliners and visitors alike,” says Katrin Lompscher, Berlin Senator for Urban Development and Housing.
Between 2015 and 2019, the non-profit association Flussbad Berlin received 4 million Euros in funding from the federal government and the state as part of the federal programme National Urban Development Projects to further develop and communicate the project. This was followed in 2019 by renewed funding under the Federal Programme with a total of 6.4 million Euros to realise the first outdoor staircase at the Humboldt Forum.
The decision was made to build a spacious bank staircase on the sunny southwest bank of the canal. On the Schlossfreiheit, in front of the main portal of the Humboldt Forum, a place to linger by the water will be created and the first practical water access to the Spreekanal, which will soon invite the Berliners and visitors to swim, will be built.
The open-air swimming area, which is between 15 and 45 metres wide and 835 metres long, begins at the weir level at the European School for Management and Technology ESMT Berlin, in the former GDR Council of State building. The water here is accessible via two flight of steps, which replace the now vertical bank wall at ESMT Berlin and Humboldt Forum. Covered and privacy-protected changing rooms, showers, toilets and lockers will be installed on a wooden pontoon on the bank wall adjacent to the university area. A third access to the water will be created opposite the Bode-Museum – as a narrow pontoon in front of the bank wall, with covered changing rooms and lockers just above the water level.
A clean river
The cleaning of the Spreewater will be done with the help of an ecological plant filter. This gives the swimmers the possibility to dive into clean water. To achieve the natural river cleaning, the 1.9 kilometre long river course will be divided into three sections. The natural watercourse and the filter area form a green band along the water, the swimming area forms the end.
The first section is located between the eastern tip of the Fischerinsel and the Gertraudenbrücke. The stone canal will be transformed into a near-natural watercourse. On the Friedrichsgracht, the second section, a natural plant filter in the middle of the riverbed will purify the river water. A layer of gravel planted with reeds will be piled up on the bottom of the canal. By means of biological degradation processes within the gravel layer, the floating area is to be supplied with filtered water.
At the filter area, places of research and mediation will be expanded. In the information and event platform of the River Pool Garden, which has been in existence since 2017, school classes, for example, can learn about the problems of water pollution. The river bath is presented as a model project on this topic through display boards, guided tours and lectures.
River baths – Switzerland as a pioneer
But the contemporary idea of reconstructing the river bathing culture is not new at all. In recent decades, Swiss cities have played a pioneering role in the development of activities to use rivers as bathing places by opening up the river as a natural public space in the built environment. They serve as a model for other big cities on how rivers can be reclaimed for citizens in order to improve the urban quality of life in the long term.
An exhibition of the DAZ – Deutsches Architekturzentrum in Berlin until August 2, 2020 portrays river baths in Basel, Bern, Zurich and Geneva as well as projects in Paris, Brussels, London, New York, Boston and the river bath Berlin.
About 100 years after the closure of the last river baths in the inner-city Spree, which had to cease operation in 1925 for hygienic reasons, Berlin swimmers soon should be able to swim their lanes in clean Spree water thanks to river water filtration.
With the new river bath, Berlin is reopening its river in the city centre, providing a new experience for walkers, people seeking relaxation and for open water swimming.
All images in the article, unless otherwise noted: (c) Flussbad-Berlin e.V., realities:united, 201967 Likes