Berlin Campaigns For Public Baths in the City’s Museum District

Baroque-style nudes may soon be outside the museum too.

Berlin is a city where crazy ideas that wouldn’t work anywhere else thrive, and good ideas that are tried and true in most other cities, fail. The German capital’s latest project of urban regeneration—turning a filthy canal that flows beside the city’s museum district into a swimming hole—is a testament to this reputation.

Developed by the design firm realities:united, founders Tim and Jan Edler have been planning the project since the 90s. The two brothers say that, under the proposal called Flussbad, or river-pool, the canal connected to the river Spree would be filtered, allowing the public to take a dip without fearing for their health.

Despite the inevitable costs, which some estimate could be in the millions, the idea is gaining popularity amongst conservationists, environmentalists, and Green party politicians.

Gottfried Ludewig, a delegate in Berlin’s local council, and proponent of the Flussbad, told the New York Times, “Urban development and politics here should be like music in the city, where you have both the Philharmonic and nightclubs like Berghain.”

He stressed, “We should have Museum Island and also the Flussbad to show we’re still a city where crazy ideas can become reality.”

The campaign culminated in a promotional stunt this summer in which swimmers braved the polluted water. Some participants ended up taking several days to recover.

The museum island contains some of the city's finest museums, and is surrounded by canals. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The museum island includes some of the city’s finest museums, and is surrounded by canals.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

However, some Berliners are also concerned about the cost and potential safety hazards. Not only the water cleansing and upkeep will be expensive, but also the increased policing and security required to keep bathers safe.

The site, designed by neoclassical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, is also one of the few landmarks left intact after the war. Opponents of the idea also argue that unsightly bathers ruining the view of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed site is the last thing that is needed in Berlin.

Whats more, Berliners have gotten fatigued of ambitious projects draining the city’s budget. In addition to the epic scandal surrounding the unfinished new ariport, the senate recently admitted to not having a clear plan for the nearby Humboldt-Forum, a costly and contested construction project. The British Museum’s outgoing director, Neil McGregor, has been tapped to chair the advisory board and hopefully make sense of the new institution.

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