Through Corona social distancing, I found a concrete swimming oasis.
Berlin summer outdoor swimming is something I always look forward to. But, in these end times, flip-flopping up for a watery work out has seemed almost out of the question.
Berliner Bäder Betrieb’s pandemic-friendly safety measures, including booking time slots and closing shower/changing facilities, are far from extreme, but they have made it harder to simply rock up to your favourite swimming pool for a dip. Although… maybe you can finally swim without being dive-bombed from all directions by wild, screaming teenagers.
My problem with no changing rooms is, to avoid looking like that girl from The Ring on the train ride home, I’d need to wait for a hot, naturally hair-drying day to go.
When that sun-scorched day finally dawned, I was straight onto the Berliner Bäder website to book myself a time slot – preferably in a delightful Sommerbad like Kreuzberg, Humboldthain or Neukölln, I’d hoped. Nope. All sold out. For the next 10 days, too.
Disheartened, I scanned further down the list of pools. Entering into a realm of the unknown, I landed on Kombibad Gropiusstadt. I had no idea where it was. But a time slot was available. Suspicious, I thought, but worth a shot.
Entering the world of Christiane F.
Before I knew it, the leafy lanes of Baumschulenweg were morphing into cold, concrete monoliths. I had crossed the border into unfamiliar territory. Gropiusstadt. It looked so East Berlin, so brutal, a city of Plattenbauten. And yet, not only was I in West Berlin, but I was in a place of major architectural and historical significance.
Named after Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement and whose architectural style provided the blueprint for the buildings, Gropiusstadt is an area of Berlin I never would’ve ventured into had it not been for Corona.
An unexpected paradise.
Like a shimmering oasis flanked by concrete palms, I finally found the Kombibad Gropiusstadt. Running excitedly towards it, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a giant, 18-storey, semi-circular edifice, thrusting out of the ground before me. The “GROPIUSHAUS”. I had to gawp at its cruel and grey grandeur. But I was there to swim, not sight-see.
At the pool entrance, an apologetic teen took a cursory rummage through my bag. Finding nothing dangerous, I was let in.
Passing a wall of lockers and social distancing markers, I emerged into a bewildering expanse of green. A huge, lush, grassy verge clashed against those towering grey surroundings. I couldn’t stop smiling – surprised at how lovely it was. Best of all: there were changing rooms and toilets. And they were open!
Head-first into the blue.
Having changed into my costume and disinfected my hands, I slipped into the glorious blue of the almost-empty, entirely-laned, Olympic-sized pool. Bliss.
“Arschkalt,” chuckled a middle-aged lady as she clambered down the pool steps, but I was already in pure ecstasy, swimming peaceful lengths in the Berlin summer sun, somewhere beyond the shadows of that gigantic Gropiushaus.
There’s a quiet, ironic joy in that Corona brought me here, somewhere I had completely overlooked over the last six years. Kombibad Gropiusstadt is definitely my favourite Corona-driven discovery so far, and who knows which other hidden delights pandemic-Berlin will open to me this summer.
Top photo: Berliner Bäder Betrieb/Elke A. Jung-Wolff